You Are Being Watched

Control Center in the 1960s.

Control Center in the 1960s.

Actually, you have been watched for over half a century if you drive on the John C. Lodge Freeway near downtown. The burgeoning television craze of the 1950s led not only to an increase in broadcast viewership, but also to a new alternative use for the technology: surveillance.

For two weeks in June of 1955, a pair of closed-circuit cameras was tested on the Lodge Freeway with the hope of demonstrating faster emergency vehicle response times and analyzing traffic flow. The experiment also helped determine how far the cameras could efficiently see and how many would be needed to watch a larger area. The idea proved successful, but it may have been a lack of funding or technological limitations which prevented widespread deployment of this system until the next decade.

Instructional pamphlet for drivers.

Instructional pamphlet for drivers.

In May of 1962, Detroit became the first city in the country to use expressway cameras to remotely monitor traffic and employ overhead illuminated road signs which displayed variable speed limits and alerted drivers to lane closures ahead. Observers in the control center had the ability to pan, tilt, and zoom the view of each of the fourteen cameras which covered a three-mile stretch of the Lodge Freeway(M-10) between the Davison Freeway (M-8) and Edsel Ford Freeway (I-94) interchanges.

The use of traffic cameras is now ubiquitous, but the system of illuminated signs never quite caught on. It may have been too expensive, ineffective, or confusing to drivers. At least this pamphlet explaining the new system offers some timeless advice, “Don’t veer suddenly to the adjacent lane.”

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