Chief Kenlon Submits Practical Traffic Plan

Chief Kenlon Submits Practical Traffic Plan

Outlines a Co-ordinated Police and Traffic System, in Report to the Mayor, Which Should Prove Most Effective

THE following plan, embodying not only a system of traffic control so as to facilitate the movement of fire apparatus in crowded sections of a city, but also constituting a complete system of police surveillance, has been submitted by Chief John Kenlon. of the New York Fire Department to Mayor Walker, of that city. Chief Kenlon’s report is one of the most complete and comprehensive plans of police supervision ever devised, combining, as it does, the regulation of traffic from “fixed posts” and the keeping in constant touch between the men on these posts and the police and fire departments, so that they can be prepared to intelligently function in all cases of fire, robbery or other events requiring police attention. Chief Kenlon’s report follows:

Chief John Kenlon, New York City


As you realize, the present efficiency of the fire department is only maintained by constant endeavor to anticipate and provide for changing conditions which affect fire protection and prevention.

To date we have been successful in overcoming most of our difficulties by speeding-up and transmission of alarms; by installing a prearranged plan of company assignment making for prompt and rapid response to fire calls; and by cooperation with the police department, who clear a way through traffic for us.

In line with the policy of trying to anticipate developments that probably will affect the operation of this department, I have recently completed, a study of certain conditions in the Borough of Manhattan. This study was made because of a conviction that with the completion of the fire alarm system, the motorization of apparatus and the installation of the new assignment card; the continued efficiency of the fire department could only be maintained by an adequate system of traffic control. The same degree of control over traffic now existing must be continued but under greatly increased street traffic congestion conditions that statistics indicate are inevitable.

In developing this study a solution to the problem has presented itself which promises not only a logical system of traffic control, but also suggests a method—utilizing the spare wires now existing in the fire alarm cable plant—whereby the service rendered the public through the fire and police departments can be improved.

Outline of the Proposed Traffic Plan

Briefly, the plan contemplates the following:

  1. Utilizing some of the spare wires now existing in the fire alarm cables for establishing a signaling system terminating at fixed points throughout the Borough of Manhattan.
  2. Establishing 329 of these fixed points and stationing a policeman at each one to direct traffic and answer police alarms transmitted over the proposed signaling system.
  3. Making use of the alarm system to notify policemen at the fixed points to be on the alert and open traffic for fire apparatus on the streets in their vicinity; to look out for criminals speeding their way or respond to local calls for police protection.
  4. The establishment of an assignment card or system whereby nearby officers are assigned for duty at a particular location in a strength proportionate to the alarm with provisions on the card for filling in by police reserves of posts left vacant by officers answering alarms.

In analyzing thig study it must be borne in mind that there has always been a cotnmon purpose and therefore a sympathetic bond of understanding between the police and fire departments. Both departments arc organized to protect life and property. The police are particularly charged to maintain order, prevent ami detect crime and enforce law ; the fire department to prevent and extinguish fire.

The common objective is arrived at through different avenues of approach but both departments make common use of the streets in pursuing their activities. Therefore it is evident that conditions in the streets will affect the efficiency of each department and they are particularly concerned in the control of street traffic.

Much time and thought, not to mention money, has been devoted to the traffic problem. But to quote from the report of the Committee on the Regional Plan of New York and It’s Environs:

“Many of the expedients put forward to solve the traffic problem are doomed to failure because they are designed solely to relieve traffic and have no regard for the other functions of a street.

“In addition to the functions it performs as a highway in accommodating the movement of vehicles from place to place, the street is the right of way that affords access to and from all abutting buildings for all purposes of business, residential use. policing, scavenging and fire protection.”

The fire department is principally interested in the streets insofar as they affect fire protection. However, the department also realizes that if it has any facilities inherent in its organization that are available for promoting the common good, then the use of these facilities should be proffered to the proper authorities.

It was this spirit that sponsored the following discussion which not only contemplates a control of traffic for fire department purposes but also indicates a method of notifying policemen of robbery or other police matters by coded audible signals transmitted over the spare wires in the fire alarm cables that now completely cover the Borough of Manhattan.


Probably the most highly desirable method of traffic control would consist of a system of automatic signals controlled from a central point and so designed as to be adaptable to the hourly changes of traffic congestion.

One cannot help but conclude after a study of traffic conditions, that there is no signaling system available at this time permitting control of the entire area of the city from one central point.

An analysis of information available also indicates that traffic conditions are so variable at different street intersections in various parts of the city, that it is questionable whether a centralized system of synchronized traffic control ever will be available.

Variations in Traffic Conditions

To indicate the variation in traffic conditions it is only necessary to cite a few statistics. For instance: Of the estimated 205,000 vehicles constituting the total vehicular traffic entering Manhattan south of 59th Street on a week day, 65 per cent comes from the north, 27 per cent from Long Island, per cent from New Jersey and 1/2 per cent from Staten Island. The average speed of vehicles in Manhattan is 11 miles per hour, varying from a maximum of 15 to a minimum of 7 miles per hour. Along Fifth avenue this speed may be as low as 5 miles per hour at times of congestion. There is also a variation in the type of traffic. Crosstown traffic is principally motortruck whereas motor truck traffic on Fourth avenue, Manhattan, is only 1/6 of the passenger car traffic and 1/3 of the taxicab and motor bus traffic. Regulation of traffic has probably been carried so far as practicable in many of the congested areas.

The latest trend of expert thought is evidently toward coordinated traffic control or the continuous movement of blocks of traffic at fixed intervals so timed as to permit continuous moving crosstown traffic to pass through appropriate gaps, somewhat similar to the method of train despatching.

These thoughts are brought forward simply to accent the fact that as conditions now are—probably the most satisfactory and elastic method of traffic control is obtained by the use of policemen at fixed points.

This is not entirely the old fixed post idea, for through the lise of modern traffic control signal units it is not necessary for the policeman to remain in one spot all the time. He may patrol a limited area after setting the time clement on his automatic traffic signal to a proper interval for conditions as they then exist, changing this interval to meet changing conditions.

The “Fixed Post”

There is no refuting the logic behind the “fixed post” idea. It may have to be curtailed because of lack of money or manpower, but it cannot be denied as the solution to many problems, not only traffic but other police problems.

No system of policemen stationed at fixed posts would be warranted, if they were used for nothing but traffic control, as traffic law violations constituted only 20 per cent approximately of the 346,270 arrests made in 1924.

One of the greatest objections to the fixed post has been raised because of the exposure to the policeman who was forced to stand at one point in all sorts of weather. The objection is removed under this plan as it is proposed to have the policeman control traffic from an auto-manual traffic control box located m a small shelter which should also contain a telephone, police alarm, fire alarm, heating device and other facilities.

In addition to their value in traffic control the fixed post policeman would also be of immense value because of the practicable impossibility of hold-up men or other criminals escaping through the cordon of police at the fixed post location particularly as these policemen have been instantly notified over the alarm system to be on the alert.

In considering the relatively small number of fixed posts suggested it must be remembered that this force is considerably augmented by the regular traffic police and others assigned to patrol duty.

Attention is also directed to the possibility of better coordination of police effort through the use of the fixed post in combination with the proposed police telegraph system. Because of the better control and supervision of the police force possible under such a system, it is probable that police activities could be enlarged or improved without increasing the numerical strength of the force.

Proposed Signaling System

As previously noted it is proposed to establish, in addition to, but separate from the present police signaling system, a signal system connecting all fixed posts to a central point utilizing some of the spare wires at present existing in the fire alarm cables.

The present fire alarm plant in the Borough of Manhattan is new and complete. The cable plant is made up of a system of feeder cables supplying all fire alarm boxes and fire stations through a system of smaller distribution cables. This cable is entirely underground and totals 468.02 miles in length.

In designing the fire alarm cable plant a certain percentage of wires were allotted as spares. The number of spares is not a percentage of the working wires and could not be so, due to the necessity for limiting the number of various sized cables and certain splicing conditions which had to be met. These are details not essential for this discussion, however, our greatest interest being in the number of conductors available for use in the proposed police signaling system. Suffice it is to say that generally there is a surplus of 25 per cent in the feeder cables and 200 per cent in the distribution cables. This is sufficient amount to provide for the police signaling system without materially affecting the reserve strength of the fire alarm cable plant.

The location of the fixed posts having been selected, and as at each such post it is proposed to install police signalling equipment—a tapper bell, morse key and sounder—the thing that remains to be determined is the method of electrically connecting them.

“The fire department is principally interested in the streets insofar as they affect fire protection. However, it also realizes that if it has any facilities inherent in its organization available for promoting the common good, then the use of these facilities should be proffered to the proper authorities.”

Analysis of the fire department running card indicates that in responding to alarms, fire apparatus most generally follows a north and south route. The electrical connections or circuits to fixed posts have been so developed as to, wherever the cable plant permits, alarm only those points in areas through which fire apparatus must pass. It is estimated that the total number of circuits will be approximately 25 for which adequate wire is available in the fire alarm cable plant.

As the fire alarm cable plant terminates in the fire alarm central office located on 79th street and Transverse road in Central Park, it is proposed that use be made of the balcony in the main building or that a separate building in the rear of this structure be erected for police alarm purposes only.

In this building it is proposed that suitable cable terminal facilities, motor generators, and selective signaling and registering devices be installed to permit proper operation. In addition the police operators at this point are to be in direct communication with police headquarters by telephone, teletype and telegraph so that they can immediately transmit over the signaling telegraph system appropriate signals warning of fire, hold-ups, or similar happenings. Details can then be ’phoned to the fixed posts using the present police signaling and telephone systems which should be rearranged so that a telephone box occurs at the same location as the fixed post.

Method of Operation

On receipt of a fire alarm the police operator is notified simultaneously with the fire companies. He immediately transmits five sharp taps at fast time over the signal circuits affected resulting in five blows on the single stroke bells located in each fixed post shelter. This warns the policeman at each fixed post to be on the alert and prepares him to control traffic so as to expedite the passage of fire apparatus.

Similarly in case of other police alarms. For instance, the police operator at signaling headquarters is notified of a robbery, receiving information over the telephone, that the criminals are speeding away in an auto. The operator immediately sends a warning signal indicating a highway robbery, say ten taps, to all fixed posts. The police telephone operator in the meantime is telephoning the details to the policeman on each fixed post.

While some form of printing telegraph is preferable to the use of the telephone for transmitting this information, it is not felt that the fixed post policeman will be handicapped by having to concentrate on a telephone conversation and at the same time handle traffic. When the telephone call is received he can set his traffic control box for automatic operation.

Again in case of a telephone to police headquarters asking for police aid. The police signaling operator at fire alarm headquarters can be notified. He then immediately transmits over a selected group of circuits a fixed post assignment number. In the meantime the nearest fixed post policeman to the call has been telephoned and sent to the place where the call originated. On receipt of the assignment number policemen consult their assignment book and certain ones designated in the book to do so respond to the fixed post. The policeman at this fixed post has written on the slate in his booth the location of the call and the responding policemen hasten there. Traffic is now being controlled automatically at the posts left vacant by responding policemen. This system has the benefit that the policeman who is first due at the call knows he will shortly have help at hand.

(Continued on page 267)

Location Map Showing Proposed Fixed Post Police Telegraph, Telephone, Fire Alarm and Traffic Control, Borough of Manhattan, New York City.

Kenlon Submits Practical Traffic Plan

(Continued from page 234)


I11 a study of this kind it is not possible, of course, to accurately determine costs to the nearest dollar. But from data available as the result of numerous fire alarm contracts and figures furnished by manufacturers of signal lights, it is estimated that the cost of the installation suggested herein would approximate §500,000.

This is based on the installation of 329 fixed posts consisting of a fire alarm box. a police telephone, a police telegraph panel mounting a telegraph key, tapper, bell, sounder, and test switches and a combination manual and automatic traffic controller, all set in a sentinel Ixix type of shelter equipped with an electric heater unit, a desk shelf, and having provisions for the storage of the policeman’s raincoat and boots.

There need be no cost in connection with the installation of the fire alarm box as the sentinel box shelter will he alongside the fire alarm post to facilitate connection with the fire alarm cable plant wires it is proposed to use. Similarly a number of police signal telephone boxes occur at the same intersection and the only cost will be the removal cost in this case. The main item of expense is the cost of the shelter and the traffic signal unit.

The traffic unit considered is the pedestal type for a 4-way signal and is electrically lighted and controlled.

Considerable of the expense of the installation, in fact practically one-third could be eliminated, if a one-light traffic unit having 4 lenses, 2 green and 2 red, and a semaphore in combination was installed on a mast-arm and the illumination furnished by a self-contained, kerosene-gas lamp similar to those used in marine and railroad work with provisions by means of a mechanical device for turning the signal unit to control traffic. If the policeman had to leave bis post he could set the semaphore and the light to indicate the free movement of traffic in all directions.

There would lie certain fixed charges in connection with the furnishing of electricity to light and heat the fixed post facilities and also for the telephone. The telephone cost is already carried in the budget and the cost of supplying electricty could be included in the street lighting contracts and the pro-rata expensecharged to the police department thereby securing the benefit of quantity purchasing. Some of the present traffic signal lights are maintained at a cost of 848 a year.


Under the premises advanced it is apparent that the initial cost of the fixed post proposition is less than the average annual salary paid 300 policemen. The maintenance cost also shows a greater saving using the same comparison.

The fire department credits much of its efficiency to its ability to instantly communicate with every branch of the service over its signalling system. Any man on duty in the fire department can be reached in less than 2 minutes. The location of every fire company is always known. The movement of the entire force is under constant surveillance. This system keeps the men on their toes and promotes efficient operation.

It is felt that the advantages that would accrue to the police department by the installation of a signaling system and fixed post such as proposed would more than offset by many-fold the services of 300 policemen as conditions now are.

The ability to instantly communicate with 329 policemen scattered at strategic points throughout the borough and to control by means of a prearranged assignment or plan of action the movements of 3 or 4 times that number of men will not only result in a speeding up of police service, but because the men know they are under constant surveillance and may be called at any moment it will result in a constant endeavor on their part to be on the job.

While this study was primarily instituted in a desire to promote fire department efficiency the plan as it developed has unfolded a way whereby the police department can be assisted in its very difficult work by a proper use of certain facilities available in the fire department.

The whole proposition has been brought to your attention in an unselfish desire to aid and I believe enough practical advantages have been disclosed to warrant the development of a detailed plan.

Respectfully submitted,


Chief. New York Fire Department

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