The Battle of the Traffic Light

How Irish nationalism in Syracuse, N.Y., resulted in a world-renowned upside-down traffic light.
by | January 2015
David Kidd

Settled by the Irish in the 1800s, the Tipperary Hill neighborhood of Syracuse, N.Y., is home to the world-renowned upside-down traffic light. How the green light came to be on top and the red light on the bottom, though, is the stuff of urban legend. When the traffic light was first installed at the intersection of Milton Avenue and Tompkins Street in 1925, it was a normal light. But when the locals saw it, it is said, they became incensed and threw stones at the traffic light, breaking it. The neighborhood Irish wouldn’t allow the British red to sit atop the Irish green. The city promptly replaced the signal, and again the locals broke it. This cycle of destruction and replacement went on for a while until the city council finally relented. Ever since then, the green light has remained on top. In 1997, the city demolished an old building adjacent to the intersection and built Stone Throwers’ Park, where a statue of an Irish family memorializes the story. The boy has a slingshot in his back pocket, just in case.

GOVERNING Logo
David Kidd | Design Director | dkidd@governing.com