Charles Marshall's colorful, analog traffic signal

In 1936, Australian civil engineer Charles Marshall designed an analog, rotary traffic signal that was widely used up until the 1970s. I love the elegance: it's simply a one-handed clock that quickly sweeps through color-coded green, yellow and red signals. It also has the advantage of conveying to drivers exactly how much time they have to fiddle with the tape deck, apply lipstick in the rear view mirror or verbally abuse their spouse before the drivers behind them lean on the horns. And it even looks like the sort of traffic signal that might have been used in The Village. I'd imagine these are pretty easy to muck with, but I'd still love to see a Marshalite renaissance. Marshalite alternative traffic light [Infosthetics via MAKE]
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13 Responses to Charles Marshall's colorful, analog traffic signal

  1. El Mariachi says:

    I could swear I’ve seen a modern version of this, with each of the three lights surrounded by LEDs in a ring. When a light is on, its ring gradually blacks out in clockwise fashion, counting down the time that light will be active. It may have been a prototype or a dream though.

  2. TK says:

    Now, make a steampunk version of this.

  3. Itsumishi says:

    Hmm I don’t know if these things were widely used up until 1970. I can’t remember the details exactly but I know that they still have at least 2 of these things in exhibitions around Melbourne.

    The one pictured above is at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and I remember just the other week reading the caption. I believe it stated that the last one was finally decomissioned in 1970 (after most were removed well before).

    The other one I’m aware of was kept at Science Works I believe. However for all I know they’re the same one. I haven’t been to Science works since I was a kid and it could have been moved.

    Whilst at a first glance it does seem to have the advantage of showing drivers exactly how much time they have, this has a major disadvantage. Drivers will step on the pedal to make sure they hit that intersection before the Green goes bye byes.

    It is very elegent though!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if there’s a physical interlock to make it impossible for both directions to have a green light.

    Also, how to do a Pedestrian Mosh cycle… just repaint? Nice.

  5. BuildUupBuzzKill says:

    This amazing piece of engineering needs to be modified for our road system and put into action emediataly

  6. visibleprocrastinations says:

    There used to be a working set of Marshalite signals at the Chelsea railway crossing (Chelsea Road – Nepean Highway) and I think that this was the set that lasted until c.1970.

    This set was re-installed into the Mount Chelsea park lands as a working pedestrian crossing. You can just see their shadows in the google map photos. There is also a photo of this set on the web site. The “walk/do not walk” labels were fitted for their function as the pedestrian crossing and are not part of the original design.

    cheers :)

  7. Enochrewt says:

    #12: I had a teacher that was colorblind, and whenever they tipped the lights on their sides (as they occasionally do in certain American cities) he couldn’t tell what the hell was going on and had to guess whether to go according to the flow of traffic.

  8. furious says:

    That is just awesome. Why is modern life so sanitised?

  9. wil9000 says:

    A friend once told me that the traffic signals in England go Red, Yellow, Green, Yellow, Red, as opposed to the United States, where they go Red, Green, Yellow, Red. This system seems to make a lot of sense, but it would be hard for us to adjust to, I expect.

    The other day I was thinking that with LED technology, you could have one signal with all three color LEDs in it, to save space, but then I realized that a potential problem would be that it could be disastrous for color blind people, unless the diodes actually spelled out GO, STOP, and GO VERY FAST. (For those of you who remember the movie Starman.)

  10. Alan says:

    That’s so beautiful, something I thought I’d never say about traffic control devices. The design, the color, the functionality, the aesthetic, everything. They’d be even cooler if they were back-lit.

  11. License Farm says:

    There should be a slide whistle that ascends and descends with the spin of the arrow. Maybe at yellow a googly-eyed bird in a white pith helmet can pop out and do the cha-cha.

  12. Enochrewt says:

    I think the real beauty of this thing is that you would know about how long you had until you could go. Trying to change songs on the iPod or changing the CD? You still have half of the red portion to go.

  13. technogeek says:

    Just wondering: “Widely used” where? Australia, I presume?

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