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Red Light, Green Light

Dear Matthew Alice:

How did the traditions of using red lights for stop and green lights for go start? It seems pretty arbitrary to me. But I'm sure there's some weird logic behind it. And that seems to be your department, so what's the answer?

-- Mark, Leucadia

You prefer maybe a nice Navajo white and, oh, maybe a deep mauve? Spare us designer traffic lights please. If you want the very old weird logic behind it, it goes back to all Western associations of the color red with war, specifically, and danger in general (spurting blood being a universally recognized sign that something's not going as planned). Newer weird logic is railroad logic. Red lights became the standard stop signals for trains in the mid 19th Century; red's complementary color, green, became the go. When Cleveland, Ohio, installed the first automobile traffic signals inn 1914, the inventor just borrowed an already established system.

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Dear Matthew Alice:

How did the traditions of using red lights for stop and green lights for go start? It seems pretty arbitrary to me. But I'm sure there's some weird logic behind it. And that seems to be your department, so what's the answer?

-- Mark, Leucadia

You prefer maybe a nice Navajo white and, oh, maybe a deep mauve? Spare us designer traffic lights please. If you want the very old weird logic behind it, it goes back to all Western associations of the color red with war, specifically, and danger in general (spurting blood being a universally recognized sign that something's not going as planned). Newer weird logic is railroad logic. Red lights became the standard stop signals for trains in the mid 19th Century; red's complementary color, green, became the go. When Cleveland, Ohio, installed the first automobile traffic signals inn 1914, the inventor just borrowed an already established system.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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