This Riverside Drive traffic signal looks like a relic from another era

The plastic covering is cracked, electrical wires are loose, and the sad pole this traffic signal is affixed to is crudely cemented to the pavement.

Clearly this two-red-light signal isn’t in good shape. But the more curious thing is how old-fashioned it looks. Could this seemingly forgotten piece of DOT infrastructure at the end of 93rd Street at Riverside Drive be the oldest traffic signal left in Manhattan?

Dating this light has been difficult. New York City didn’t get its first traffic signal until 1920—powered by a police officer sitting in a tall tower at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. (See the stylish postcard below.)

Later that decade, many major avenues had traffic lights as we know them today, but they only flashed red or green, according to Christopher Gray in a 2014 New York Times article.

Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in the 1920s, via Transpress NZ

I’ve seen a similar red light at dead ends; see the image of Sutton Square at 57th Street below. But that one has the lights arranged vertically, not horizontally. It’s also in much better shape—or at least it was when the photo was taken in 2019.

If the Riverside Drive traffic signal proves to be a relic of another New York, perhaps the DOT could call out its historical significance by spiffing it up—it should look as proud as the circa-1915 bronze Joan of Arc statue behind it.

A two-light traffic signal at the end of Sutton Square

See more relics on Riverside Drive, plus Gilded Age mansions and monuments, on Ephemeral New York’s Riverside Drive walking tour this Sunday, June 19 at 1 pm!

[Third image: Transpress NZ]

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4 Responses to “This Riverside Drive traffic signal looks like a relic from another era”

  1. mitzanna Says:

    A traffic light signal or just a signal light? I used to see these at dead ends of a street flashing sometimes, but not always, interchangeably on and off. They were always red on Staten Island when I used to live there in the 70’s.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I’m not sure I know the difference between a signal light and traffic light signal! I pass it by regularly and have always been curious about it, and a tour-goer on the Riverside Drive tour also thought it was a strange remnant. I’ve never seen another one like it in Manhattan.

  3. seanglenn47 Says:

    This signal at Sutton Square is actually a NEW ONE!!! About six weeks ago, a construction truck backed into the original, vintage one, circa 1950s, and destroyed it. A fellow from NYCDOT replaced the crushed one with this one about three weeks ago.

  4. countrypaul Says:

    For street light geeks, many sites are out there. https://forgotten-ny.com/category/street-lamps/ is just one department in this exensive website. I knoiw there are more….

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