‘Ancient’ traffic light in Center City gives drivers mixed signals

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Traffic lights have but one job: To tell drivers, pedestrians and bikers whether to stop, slow or go.

However, one errant stoplight at 20th and Sansom Streets in Center City was giving cars some mixed signals, stuck in “Christmas tree” mode on red and green.

Philadelphia’s chief traffic engineer Kasim Ali says the error was caused by a mechanical problem when a contractor moved the signal’s control box to dig up the street.

It’s a rare sight, as traffic signals installed in the last several decades have been programmed to flash red if there’s a problem. Ali says the light at 20th and Sansom, an electro-mechanical controller, dates back to a whole different era.

"With electro-mechanical controllers, there were some ancient ones,” Ali says. “Companies like Crouse-Hinds which built them, went out of business in the ‘60s! But Philadelphia is as old as the country itself, so we do have our share of electro-mechanical controllers."

Ali says if you ever run into one of these “ancient” traffic lights that’s malfunctioning, you shouldn’t take a chance with your safety, whether you’re driving, walking or biking. Make sure you stop and alert the Philadelphia Streets Department by calling 311.