Intersection of La Salle and Monroe streets in 1912 reflecting the popularity of the automobile and the growing need for traffic control. The Chicago Police performed a study in 1911 showing how important it is for each corner in the business district to be manned by traffic officers.
Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1920
Traffic regulation in Chicago’s downtown district is to be completely reorganized by Capt. Morgan A. Collins, for many years an expert on traffic problems.
Chief of Police Garrity called Collins into his office yesterday and told him here that he would be in command not only of the Central station, but of the traffic squad as well; and that it was up to him to to devise some better system of handling the city’s ever growing volume of traffic.
There are 500 men in the traffic squad, 175 of them being mounted. They have been commanded for the last two years by Capt. Stephen B. Wood. Capt. Wood will go to the Summerdale district, relieving Capt. James Tople. The latter will take command of the Sheffield avenue district. Capt. Thomas Meagher, assigned to Sheffield, has been seriously ill for some time.
Plans Traffic Tower.
Capt. Collins, who has been conferring with Capt. John W. O’Connor of the New York police force, a traffic expert, said yesterday he was considering the erection at State and Madison streets of a tower such as that at Fifth avenue and Forty-second street in New York.
This tower is equipped with colored lights that can be seen for a mile in each direction. When the green light is showing it means the way is open for the north and south traffic; when the yellow light glows the east and west traffic has the right of way. The red light is neutral.
He is also considering the “one-way street” idea. He has called an automobile and signal men for suggestions that would relieve congestion.
Mr. Collins will be aided by Lieut. Martin, known as the “keystone of the traffic squad,” and Lieut. George Wiedling, head of the mounted men. He will have another lieutenant also. The captain will be in charge of 700 men.
Officer Henry J. Klem operates a new manual traffic light at Wilson and Broadway. About 1922
Chicago Commerce Magazine, May 27, 1922
The South Park board voted to accept the offer of John Hertz, president of the Yellow Cab Company, to install traffic towers for signal purposes on Michigan boulevard from E. Randolph street to E. 33rd street. According to the proposal these traffic control towers are to be maintained by the company for a period of two years, after which time they are to be removed, unless the park commissioners decide to purchase them.
Chicago Tribune September 23, 1923
At 7:20 o’clock Tuesday morning the new traffic tower system on Michigan avenue will be placed in operation, according to an announcement made yesterday by the superintendent of the South Park system. Several important changes in traffic regulations will go into effect at the same time.
Most important of these, it is announced, is that no left turns, from or turning around onto, Michigan avenue between Randolph and Seventh streets will be permitted between the hours of 4 and 6:30 p.m. During this period only the “turn lanes” near the center of the avenue will be used for traffic entering Michigan avenue from east and west.
Orders to Motorist.
“At other hours,” it is announced, “those wishing to turn left at any street intersecting Michigan avenue, must place themselves in the lane between the white lines immediately after passing the last street before reaching the one into which they wish to turn left, and must enter the lane at any point further than one block than where they are to turn to the left. Vehicles not in the lane will not be allowed to turn to the left; those in the lane at the intersection will be required to make the left turn.”
The red light will mean “stop;” the amber, “traffic change,” and the green light, “go.”
The time intervals between the signals will vary on different days and different hours of the day from sixty-five to ninety seconds for Michigan avenue traffic and from fifty to sixty seconds for cross street traffic.
Ask Public’s Cooperation.
“It is hoped,” says the statement, “that the public, both pedestrians and drivers, will be as patient as possible while the new system is being tried out and conform as strictly as possible to the signals.”
A special committee made an exhaustive study of Michigan avenue traffic in preparation for putting the new system into effect. The tower system was built by John Hertz, president of the Yellow Cab company, on condition that the city purchase it from him should it prove efficient after a fair trial.
Traffic Tower at Michigan and Jackson
Chicago Tribune September 26, 1923
BY GENEVIEVE FORBES
Mechanically, the traffic control tower at Michigan and Jackson boulevards (above), which yesterday started to regulate boulevard motor traffic from 7th street to Randolph street, behaved perfectly. Chromatically, the teri-color system: red for “stop,” amber for “change,” and green for “go,” was harmonious and pleasing to the eye. Chronologically, the well-timed signals synchronized.
But actually, it took an hour and five minutes, at the peak load period late yesterday afternoon, to travel from 12th street to The Tribune building.
Many Conditions Blamed.
Dumb pedestrians, dumber motorists, turn lanes, no left turn between 4 and 6:30 in the evening, and finally, the shape and disposition of Michigan boulevard, were blamed, variously, for the confusion.
Before 4 o’clock in the afternoon all drivers desiring to make a left turn had to wriggle into the turn lane, next to safety islands. During the morning hours at least 10 per cent of each hundred motorists found themselves unwittingly, in the lane. The traffic policeman, under orders, compelled them to make the left turn against their wishes.
Later, after 4 o’clock, no one except busses, mail trucks, and fire and police department vehicles were permitted to make a left turn. This made complications and ran up taxi bills.
It is to prevent motorists on the extreme right from turning to the left, thus cutting off all others, that the new center lanes have been marked off in Michigan avenue. A few moments’ study of this diagram will help the driver understand the new system of traffic. Watch the lights! Red means stop. Amber means get ready. Green means go.
Some Tour to Keep a Date.
“How in hell can I get to my wife? She’s at the Art institute,” pleaded an erstwhile pompous man in a limousine, going south on Michigan avenue.
The rules forbade the chauffeur turning left to keep the domestic tryst in front of the lions at the Art institute. It was the man’s third trip down the boulevard. The officer sympathetically directed the car either to turn in again at Adams to Wabash, and turn in again at Jackson, cutting across north, or to go south to 7th street and then turn.
Scores of women and dozens of men, doing problems in mathematics and towers, rushed westward to get their taxis, far from the lane that had no left turning.
Here is the little device which governs some 30,000 motorists daily along Michigan avenue. It is the electric control box installed in the three high towers of the automatic traffic control. On the left is the main switch which throws the system into gear and keeps the amber service lights operating after hours. The dials regulate the time given for north and south and east and west traffic to use the boulevard. The middle switch automatically operates the signals over any certain block. At the right is the local manual switch which can be thrown into service to control the single interaction. This device is made by the National Signal company. These master control boxes are used in each of the three high towers of the system, but individual control boxes are also available at all of the crossings so that officers can take immediate control of his station should an emergency arise..
Tower View Is Different.
Meanwhile there was the other side. High up in the traffic control tower the operators saw the big pattern of the system. When the red light went on, and all the cars stopped, they saw how pedestrians synchronized. Mrs. Brown was crossing the boulevard in safety at Madison, just as Mr. Smith was making a peaceful journey at the Monroe intersection, and Mrs. Jones, free from worry, strolled across Adams.
The human equation, traffic experts and the public agreed, is the main difficulty with the system. And this equation, it is predicted, is a temporary snag.
Expect Early Adjustment.
Motorists, knowing they are to make a left turn off the boulevard, during the rush hours, are urged to turn off Seventh street, or north of Randolph street. Within a week, it is expected, most of the city drivers will have become accustomed to this.
Time intervals, it is pointed out, are the result of six weeks’ intensive study of traffic. The east and west traffic period varies, approximately from 45 to 60 seconds. The north and south interval ranges from about 55 seconds to a maximum of 70 seconds. At the peak period, the two periods are nearly the same.
The periods are virtually equalized at the rush hour, the officials declared, because the traffic disgorging from the loop, although less than the continuous stream of north and south vehicles, takes a longer time, on the average, to get into the boulevard stream.
Gratified by Results.
“The new system is working as well as can be expected for the first day,” said Capt. T. E. Richards of the South Park police. “But it will be necessary to educate the public.”
“I am gratified,” said John Hertz, president of the Yellow Cab company, which erected the towers, “to learn that the lights are working. I feel confident the system will prove so successful on the boulevard that it will be extended into the loop, and into the outlying points of traffic congestion.”
Summing up the day’s minor difficulties, and the system’s general plan, Mr. Hertz pointed out that the individual motor may be delayed at one corner, but that the general pattern of boulevard traffic will be simplified, and speedier, and rendered safer.
Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1923
Success for the new signal system in Michigan avenue was predicted by traffic policemen and those in charge yesterday, following its second day of operation. Considerable confusion was caused during the rush hours last night by a change in rules which rescinded the order prohibiting left hand turns from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Excepting this, it was said traffic moved much more expeditiously.
“Because people could not turn left from Randolph to 7th street,” said J. F. Foster, superintendent of the south park system, “it caused a great deal of confusion in the loop on the cross streets. Everybody crowded down them so we decided to permit left hand turns all day.”
This procedure befuddled the motorists. More than one, thinking no left turns were permitted, crawled into the turn lane and found himself forced to turn around and go the other way, meanwhile blocking traffic.
It was 5 o’clock, the rush hour, and all was well with traffic along Michigan boulevard under the new signal tower system yesterday. The picture indicates an absence of the usual jam and hurlyburly and a new orderliness which is credited to the towers. Except for some confusion over an order restoring left hand turns between 4 and 6:30 p.m., it was said traffic was expedited.
Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1926
BY J. L. JENKINS.
From the motorist’s standpoint, Chicago’s new traffic control lights regulating the human tide in loop streets was an instant and unqualified success yesterday.
Aside from the theoretical “economic savings” which the automatic control system brought about on its first day of operation in heavy traffic, estimated variously at from south $75,000 to $100,000 daily by traffic experts, the lights actually made it possible during the rush traffic hours to drive from Van Buren street, on the south, to Lake street, on the north, at a speed of twelve miles an hour and with but one stop at a cross street intersection.
On the east and west arteries they saved the average motorist from one to three minutes in his laborious battle through the teeming canons from Michigan avenue to the river.
When this seemingly individual savings is multiplied by 162,000 vehicles, or the average number using loop streets every day, some idea of the system’s value to the public comes to light.
A Race for a Train.
In order to get the picture of the new loop order of things from a steering wheel angle, let’s take a little ride, as THE TRIBUNE observers did for some five hours yesterday, and test the system practically.
Climb into his car parked on the west side of Michigan avenue across from The Tribune Tower. It is just 11:35 a.m., and we will try and reach the Northwestern station for an 11:55 train. Before the new light system went into affect, this run required from 12 to 22 minutes, according to the traffic “breaks.”
Pulling into the traffic line and around a bus we’re well under way when the traffic officer at the link bridge blows his whistle and stops both boulevard lines for one taxicab to swing in to the curb.
Across the bridge the line is stopped again while two buses make a full turn, but the boulevard lights are with us to and around the corner of Michigan avenue and Washington street and a cheerful green light blinks over the Washington street-Wabash avenue crossing.
Women Disregard Lights.
Four women have stepped from the north curb and are scurrying across Washington street against the lights. An old man is standing bewildered between the two stream of traffic and a boy is dodging across the street at an angle, but by slowing down all of the cars miss them and proceed to State street; where the first red light orders a stop.
Here two buses are maneuvering, one to turn north into State and the other to pass the first. Both are tangled up with sidewalk crowds and block all west bound traffic for an entire “go” period. The next green light releases west bound cars, however, and the line crosses Dearborn street before that intersection is blocked.
A momentary stop at Clark street. A somewhat longer wait at La Salle, and the line is off again. We swing across the Washington street bridge and draw up at the Northwestern station. Time from The Tribune Tower to the station: 8 minutes 3 seconds. Old record: 11 minutes 24 seconds.
Breaks Madison Street Record.
From the station back to Michigan avenue via Madison street requires exactly 7 minutes. The best time checked under the old traffic regime was 9 minutes. The delay on Madison is due, we find, not to the working of automatic lights, but to the “bottle neck” at Madison and Clark streets created by a crowded safety island, to parked taxicabs along Madison street, and to street cars turning south from Madison into Clark.
From Dearborn to Michigan the automatic lights allow a steady run without a single blockade. At the world’s busiest corner traffic officers have succeeded in keeping pedestrians moving with the traffic lights and clearing the intersection.
A North and South Test.
Now we’ll try out the north and south loop streets. The log, starting north from Van Buren in State street at 12 noon, reads this way:
North in State from Van Buren.
Green light at Jackson.
Green light at Adams.
Green light at Monroe.
Green light at Madison.
Stop at Washington, car unloading passengers and flivver parked too close to safety island.
Stop at Randolph street behind heavy unloaded truck.
Stop at Lake street.
Time, 4 minutes 52 seconds.
Old record, 6 minutes 28 seconds.
About here the idea strikes us that loop traffic must be unusually light. The traffic officer at State and Madison wrecks the possibility once and for all.
“This intersection has handled more cars to noon than at any period I can remember,” he says. “They slip through here like oil. You don’t hear the horn tooting and fuss we usually get at noon. Look at the drivers. They’ve all got smiles on their faces. I found myself smiling a little while ago and wondered what it was all about. I’m for these lights and agin’ the old whistles.”
A Clark Street Fairy Tale.
Continuing our ride, we may as well tackle Clark street, one of the most difficult traffic streets in the loop. The Clark street log, starting from Van Buren north at 12:30 p.m., reads like a fairy tale:
Go at Jackson.
Go at Adams.
Go at Madison.
Go at Washington, but headed in behind a horse drawn wagon.
Stop at Randolph.
To Lake street in 4 minutes, 50 seconds!
In the evening rush hour we ride from Michigan avenue west to the Northwestern station through Washington street in exactly 3 minutes.
High Praise by Collins.
Officially, the new control system was met with enthusiastic praise.
Chief Collins said: “The lights are working far beyond our expectation. There has been no trouble with wheeled traffic. The pedestrian is our one big worry. Please ask the Chicago pedestrian for me to have patience and walk with the lights.”
Commissioner of Electricity John T. Miller, under whose general direction the system was installed, was equally enthusiastic. “Traffic has been speeded up and the ‘kinks’ taken out of it,” he said. “The lights add safety for both driver and walker, but the walker must conform to them if they are to be an entire success.”
Capt. Patrick Hogan, chief of the traffic division, found the lights a big help to his department.
NEW LOOP TRAFFIC CONTROL LIGHTS ARE TURNED ON
Traffic being held back at State and Madison streets while pedestrians cross the street unhurried by fear that the autos will suddenly shoot forward.
Maj. Kelker Is Amazed.
Maj. R. F. Kelker, city traffic expert, just returned from a traffic control campaign in California, was amazed by the first day traffic improvement.
“The lights work,” he declared, after a careful inspection. “Now if we can get 100 per cent pedestrian cooperation and clear some of the parked cars from the loop, Chicago will be free temporarily of traffic jams and our street capacity can be increased to four or five lines.”
Charles H. Wacker, chairman of the Chicago Plan commission, sees in success of the new system general relief for Chicago Traffic.
State Street looking north from Washington Street, showing installation of Electric Traffic Signal Post. Two hundred eighty of these electric traffic signals have been installed on one-hundred thirty-six intersections. The system of control is unusual in that it provides for progressive movement of traffic through the loop. This also allows control of the speed of vehicle in both directions, as the average speed of vehicles has been calculated and a vehicle exceeding this average speed runs into a red signal at the next intersection and must wait to resume its course. The control of these forty-nine loop intersection signals is effected from the basement of the City Hall where the electric control boards and power units are installed, and from which cables to each signal lead. The installation of this system has shortened the actual running time of vehicles through the loop.
A typical installation of Chicago Electric Traffic Signal System is an outlying section of the city. These signals are controlled by individual controllers placed at the intersection. Controller for the timing and operation of these signals is shown on corner at left-center of picture.
Channelization, safety island and traffic control at 55th and Archer and Narragansett help to prevent accidents at a potentially dangerous intersection.