Crosswalk conundrum


All over the US, many crosswalks will have a button on them. The purpose of this button is to alert the system that you wish to cross. I have long wondered whether these do in fact link to any system, or are merely there to make the control-happy residents of this country feel as if they have some measure of power over something when in fact they have none. Perhaps it is just the equivalent of the “barber pole” progress bar prevalent in so much software. The bar doesn’t do anything other than alert you that a process is happening (and often times is totally faked), but it does give the illusion that progress is being made and thus calms the user. Similarly, perhaps the button is false comfort, but comfort nonetheless since it supplies the illusion of input or control. What do you think? Does the button actually do anything? image


  1. peeky says:


  2. gabe says:

    It absolutely does in some jurisdictions.

    Some cities operate lights on a request-based system. That’s why cars/bikes need to trip the “circular pads” in the ground in order to make the lights change. Same diff for the crosswalk controls. If you don’t press it (or a car doesn’t arrive) at some intersections, the light never changes.

    But most (newer) cities also use a traffic flow computation system. The crosswalk request is fed into the computer, and based on the flow order of the day, it’s factored in as a *request* to change the light. The change happens only when the traffic flow algorithm decides it’s appropriate to do so.

    Note that Manhattan has few (if any) buttons, as all the signals change all the time).

    But I did appreciate the zen-cynicism of the question. :)

  3. Josh says:

    I’ve been living in lots of places with request-based systems, which was a bit of a shock coming from NYC. In many cases, it’s irrelevant if the pedestrian has the light or not — many drivers make right turns without even looking.