In 1964, Scott Brodie got his 1st pair of glasses.
Standing in his Burr Farms Road kitchen — looking at the house next door — the 12-year-old was stunned by how clearly he could see.
Fifty years later — after time on Riker’s Island (see below) — vision is still at the core of his life.
After graduating from Staples High School in 1970, and Wesleyan University (where he did 3 majors and a master’s in 4 years), Scott embarked on specialized study.
In 1985 — following 15 years at places like Rockefeller University (biophysics), Cornell Medical College, Harvard Medical School and NYU Medical Center — he was ready to begin his ophthalmological career.
Besides research, teaching, treating extremely rare retinal disorders, and publishing enough papers to fill 14 single-spaced pages on his CV, Scott consulted for the medical examining division of New York City’s Department of Personnel.
For 10 years — until Mayor Giuliani abolished the office — Scott helped set official standards for public safety positions.
That involved touring Riker’s Island to see (ho ho) whether it was okay for a prison guard to have only one eye (no), and whether night blindness would disqualify them for work (yes).
He also determined whether someone who lacked depth perception could operate a crane transferring garbage from a transfer station to a barge. (Yes; the candidate had done similar work on city streets for 20 years without an accident.)
Scott spent a lot of time working with color-blind police officers. (It’s not very good when they’re on the witness stand, and can’t describe the color of the getaway car.)
Which brings us — in a roundabout way — to Westport traffic lights.
I was talking to Scott about all this because he’d emailed me after reading a recent “06880” story about the odd tint of the Post Road/Morningside light.
He sent several paragraphs of fascinating, highly detailed information about traffic light colors. It began:
The basic color scheme for traffic lights was inherited from the scheme developed by the railroads in the 19th century. Red was early on selected as the signal for “stop” as it was considered to carry universal connotations of warning.
The original color for “go” was white, but this was changed to green after a disaster caused by a red lens falling off a stop signal, thus causing it to be confused with a white “go” signal.
Green was chosen as the color thought to have the highest contrast against red; yellow was added later for “caution” as the next brightest and contrasting color available after red and green.
However, Scott said — and I’m paraphrasing here — in the mid-20th century it was realized that red and green are the most problematic colors for people with color blindness and deficiencies.
Thus, the Institute of Traffic Engineers adopted standards that shade the “red” light a bit toward orange, and the “green” a bit to blue.
Here’s a chromaticity diagram. (The colors of traffic lights are found on the periphery of the diagram, rotated somewhat in the counter-clockwise direction from the “reddest” red and the “greenest” green.)
Clear as day. Now I understand!
So, I asked, has Scott actually seen that Morningside light? After all, his parents — his dad is 95, his mom 86 — still live in the house on nearby Burr Farms Road they built in 1955.
“I have to say, I haven’t noticed it,” Scott admits.
“But I’ll check it out the next time I’m in Westport.”
(Bonus fun fact: Westporter William Phelps Eno — who created the stop sign, pedestrian crosswalk, traffic circle, one-way street, taxi stand and pedestrian safety islands [but NOT traffic lights] — was one of the first honorary members in the Institute of Transportation Engineers.)