They’re something that’s ubiquitous today, but if you think about it, pedestrian crossing signs haven’t always been with us, nor have they always existed in their current form. We owe them a lot in the modern day (just ask any car accident injuries lawyer in Denver how dangerous the roads might be without them), so let’s take a look back at how these important informational markers came to be, and how they have evolved over the years.
How Pedestrian Signs Came To Be
A world without any kind of crossing signs? That’s the one humans inhabited until 1868, when English inventor John Peake Knight came up with an idea that would revolutionize society.
His idea? A signaling system to help cut down on the number of individuals struck and killed by horse-drawn carriage traffic. Installed near Westminster Bridge, that first sign was manually-powered, and could caution the roadway traffic of the time that individuals were crossing on foot (and that they’d need to slow down). Though this original design is a fair bit different than what we’re used to today, there were some similarities. In particular, the original street crossing signal used colored lights to make themselves more visible at night — the colors were green and red.
This foray into crossing signs was successful in controlling traffic and safeguarding pedestrians, but it was short lived. Unfortunately, a leak in one of the gas lines that supplied lighting to the sign exploded, injuring the manual operator. The need to protect pedestrians was still around, though, so in both Europe and the Americas, the evolution of signage continued.
Many of those early models were manually powered, but advances in technology after the turn of the 20th Century allowed for some interesting innovation to come in the form of electrically-powered models as early as 1912. That first electric model came about in Salt Lake City, Utah, with other iterations and evolutions following suit from inventors around the country, much more closely resembling what we think of when looking at pedestrian and traffic signs today.
Traffic and pedestrian signs continued to become more and more advanced throughout the 20th Century. Iteration and technological improvements made them integrated, then automated with timers, then, eventually, computerized to better account for the ebbs and flows of traffic.
These have often been paired with lighting to inform motorists when pedestrians are coming, and to alert pedestrians when it’s safe to cross and when they need to halt. Thanks to this ever advancing technology, our roadways have been able to stay just that much safer for those on foot.
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