Traffic, traffic, traffic! Ugh! I absolutely cannot stand being in bumper-to-bumper traffic! And the traffic along my regular route to work can be so unpredictable at times it’s absolutely maddening!
Well at least the lights were working yesterday morning at the intersection of Upper Waterloo Road and Shortwood Avenue. The other day my skills as a driver were tested significantly – and not to mention my ability to keep my cool under pressure! – when these lights weren’t working. [Yep, I got me some skills as a driver!] I’m convinced that once you can drive in Kingston you can drive anywhere!
So the traffic lights got me thinking: when were these introduced into Jamaica’s traffic management history? My initial search for such information from the websites of the relevant Government agencies, including the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing (MTWH), did not produce a thing. So … to the Jamaica Gleaner Newspaper Archives!!!
Here is a brief look at the evolution of Kingston’s traffic management regulations since the 1930s, ending with the introduction of traffic lights in the City.
The Introduction of Traffic Constables
The traffic situation facing Kingston and other major towns across the country today is nothing new. Just on September 9, the Sunday Gleaner reported that the National Works Agency (NWA) announced a new plan to ease congestion in the town of Mandeville, Manchester (Sunday Gleaner, September 9, 2012). Back in the early 20th century, the local authorities in Kingston were pondering on a solution to this very same problem.
On page three of the Friday, November 24, 1933 edition of the Daily Gleaner, the following announcement was made: “The Signals Used in London to Regulate Traffic Adopted Here.” The article declares the following: “The Constabulary authorities in Kingston have just adopted signals that are used by the London Metropolitan Police in connection with the control of traffic in the city. …” The rest of this article can be viewed in the snapshot below.
The following picture shows a traffic constable directing traffic along what looks like the intersection of Harbour Street and King Street in the 1950s.
In the July 1959 issue of the Key to Jamaica Tourist Guide Magazine, the following picture shows King Street as the main business avenue of downtown Kingston. Although the picture focuses on the department stores and speciality shops along King Street, you can definitely see the traffic constable positioned in the centre of King Street, close to the intersection with Barry Street.
The “Stop and Go” System of Regulating Traffic in the City
By 1936, however, the Daily Gleaner newspaper reported continued and even worsening traffic woes in the city. In a move to provide another solution to the city’s traffic problem, to work alongside the traffic constables, in December 1936, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) adopted “the resolution of Councillor R.K. Nunes for better control of motor traffic in the city” (The Daily Gleaner, Thursday, December 24, 1936, pg. 27) called the “Stop and Go” system.
This “new regulation [called] for all motor traffic to come to a stop before crossing certain specified intersections at the busiest points in the city in place of that speeding through regardless” (Daily Gleaner, Thursday, December 24, 1936, pg. 27). This was how it was initially proposed for the “Stop and Go” system would work:
By 1938, the Daily Gleaner reported an “appreciable reduction in the collisions on public thoroughfares since drivers of motor vehicles acquired the habit of stopping their cars or trucks at points where the warning “Stop” is printed on the thoroughfare” (Daily Gleaner, Thursday, September 15, 1938, pg. 9).
It seems Kingston was experiencing some amount of success with this new regulation that other parish authorities, like St. James’ local authorities, agreed to introduce this regulation in that parish. On Thursday, December 2, 1937, at the regular monthly meeting of the St. James Parochial Board, the Board’s Town Committee, in it’s report dated November 24, 1937, agreed “that these “Stop and Go” regulations be adopted in Montego Bay for St. James Street” (Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 20, 1937, pg. 27).
Isn’t St. James Street in Montego Bay still a traffic nightmare?
Introduction of the Electric Traffic Signals in the City
The first mechanical traffic signal system was first introduced in London, England on December 10, 1868. Invented by British railway engineer and superintendent, John Peake Knight, this first traffic signal was “intended to mimic the arm movements of police manually directing traffic” and consisted of “a tall pole with two semaphore arms—one that extended horizontally to signal “stop,” and another set at a 45-degree angle to signal “caution.”” For night-time usage, a gas lantern was installed on top of the pole that indicated green for go and red for stop. This early signal system had to be man-operated as it required an attendant to monitor the traffic and to turn a lever at the signal’s base to notify drivers. Police officers were the attendants to ensure that pedestrians would heed the instructions (Maranzani 2012).
This mechanism would be modified over the years until the modern electric traffic signal was invented in America and introduced there as early as 1914. And the rest, they say, is history.
So when were electric traffic signals introduced into Jamaica? I think this newspaper advertisement from the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA) in the Daily Gleaner of Monday, June 29, 1959, pg. 13, answers this question:
Indeed, in 1946, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) announced that traffic light control in the City was not practicable as there was “no traffic intersection in Kingston over which there is a continuous flow of traffic” (Daily Gleaner, Friday, November 1, 1946, pg. 1).
The KSAC installed the first set of experimental traffic lights in 1959 “at the junction of Trafalgar and Waterloo Roads with Hope Road … and will be tested by the police for six to eight weeks before a final decision is taken” (Daily Gleaner, Friday, June 26, 1959, pg. 10).
By November 1959, however, the KSAC announced that they were shelving “the award of a contract for the installation of traffic lights in lower St. Andrew” by Christmas based on the following reasons (Daily Gleaner, Friday, November 13, 1959, pg. 16):
(1) Further technical advice was needed before awarding a contract.
(2) The Christmas season was not a proper time to instal traffic lights because of the traffic hazard involved
It wasn’t until April 1960 that it was announced that a full roll-out of traffic light installations would occur throughout Kingston and St. Andrew. The Daily Gleaner for Monday, April 4, 1960, pg. 12, made the announcement as follows:
Within the next few weeks Kingston and St. Andrew will blossom out with new traffic lights to supplement the trial sets installed at the intersections of Dunrobin Avenue and the Constant Spring Road and Trafalgar Road and Hope Road.
It is the hope of the municipal authorities that these lights will help to keep motor traffic in the city moving swiftly, safely and in orderly fashion.
This signalled the increased installation of traffic lights throughout Kingston and St. Andrew, of course not without hiccups along the way.
So there you have it folks: from the introduction of traffic constables, to the “Stop and Go” system to electric traffic signals, the city has seen quite an evolution in its traffic management history. All three methods of traffic control are stll used today in 21st century Jamaica to properly manage the country’s traffic situation.
Until next time…
The Daily Gleaner, Saturday, February , 1936, pg. 1.
The Daily Gleaner, Friday, November 24, 1933, pg. 3
The Daily Gleaner, Thursday, December 24, 1936, pg. 27
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 20, 1937, pg. 27
The Daily Gleaner, Thursday, September 15, 1938, pg. 9
The Daily Gleaner, Friday, November 1, 1946, pg. 1
The Daily Gleaner, Friday, June 26, 1959, pg. 10
The Daily Gleaner of Monday, June 29, 1959, pg. 13
The Daily Gleaner, Friday, November 13, 1959, pg. 16
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, April 4, 1960, pg. 12
Key to Jamaica Tourist Guide Magazine, July 1959