HOW NY IRISH CHANGED TRAFFIC LAWS - 1925

Rockaway Ol`times
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The City of Syracuse, New York installed a traffic signal at the main intersection of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue in 1925. Irish families had settled on Tipperary Hill for almost 100 years previous, but the deep-rooted, politically-fueled resentment that many Irish felt toward Britain hadn’t faded a bit. The idea that a red light appeared above the green on the traffic signal was interpreted by many in the neighborhood to mean that Britain (red) was in some way superior to Ireland (green). Neighborhood pride rallied immediately and the red light of the traffic signal was knocked out by thrown rocks repeatedly.

Therefore, a red-on-bottom traffic light in Tipperary Hill, Syracuse, NY was installed. A local alderman named, John “Huckle” Ryan proposed that the green and red light positions in the signal be switched, so green would appear above the red and the Irish pride would be put to ease. The town agreed that it was a good solution and it worked perfectly until the State of New York overruled the idea and made them change it back. State officials highly underestimated the hubris of the neighborhood, because taking away the solution only caused the vandals to become even more enraged than before, and the light was broken each time it was replaced.

Finally, on March 17, 1928, a meeting took place with local residents and city officials, where the residents stated in no uncertain terms that the light would continue to be broken if it remained with the red appearing above the green in the signal. Government officials caved, and the light was changed back to showing green on top, yellow in the center, and red on the bottom, the configuration that remains to this day. It is believed to be the only place in the world where the traffic signal remains upside down.

 

Katie Lucev is the daughter of the late Rockaway Beach historian, Emil R. Lucev Sr. (1933-2018).

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