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How the 'Human Semaphore' directs traffic

How the ‘Human Semaphore’ directs traffic

April 24, 1915: Los Angeles Crossing Officer F. M. Wilson at Fifth Street and Broadway, demonstrates new silent method for directing traffic.

In 1915, the Los Angeles Police Department introduced a new method of directing traffic. An article in the April 25, 1915, Los Angeles Times reported on the change:

The new system of “human semaphores” in operation at the street intersections of the business district has proved an unqualified success from the standpoint of traffic efficiency and has been given enthusiastic approval by the traveling public.

This statement was made last night by Lieut. Butler, who is in charge of the traffic bureau of the police department. The new regulation has been in effect since last Monday and six days is considered by him sufficient to give it a fair test.

“There were several serious objections to the whistle signals at the crossings,” Lieut. Butler said, “and the new system had entirely eliminated them. Now pedestrians and drivers of vehicles cannot become confused once they understand the system. All they have to do is look for the uniformed policeman. If his back or face is toward them they know traffic is closed, but when they see either side of his face they know it is safe to negotiate the crossing. Under the old system many accidents were narrowly averted because of failure to hear the officer’s whistle and sometimes because of inability to discover in time which way was being opened.”…

F. M. Wilson is in charge at Fifth Street and Broadway. During the rush period between 3 and 6 p.m., he keeps on an average 15,000 pedestrians an hour moving, a fraction more than five street cars per minute and about 1,500 automobiles, wagons and other vehicles each hour…

“This is a big improvement over the whistle,” said Officer Wilson, at Fifth and Broadway yesterday afternoon. “I used to blow the old whistle so much it made my head ache and I know the shrill tone was an annoyance to the public. Now traffic moves more rapidly and with less confusion. I believe that by eliminating the whistle we can be more benefit to the pedestrians, too. In the past we were compelled to interrupt interrogators with a shrill whistle blast, but now we can talk away even though it is necessary to change our position.”…

These photos was published in the April 25, 1915 Los Angeles Times.

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  1. October 21, 2013, 8:22 am

    This is a fascinating look at the very early days of the motor car and specifically Los Angeles traffic. Five street cars per minute at that intersection! My, my!
    Can't help loving history and this posting.

    By: rafachavez
  2. November 21, 2013, 4:32 pm

    A great early photograph of an LAPD officer in uniform and a series 4 badge worn between 1913-1923. All of an officers equipment was hidden under his jacket.

    By: Jim Bultema

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