New Yorkers Keep Pushing Useless Traffic Light Buttons

from the even-dogs-learn... dept

Growing up in NY, I remember someone telling me very early on that the buttons on street corners to change lights didn’t work. We used to call them “idiot buttons”, because only idiots would bother to push them (and, indeed, we used to laugh at those who bothered). I was told (and believed) that they were only there to make people feel as if they had some control over the situation. Watching people press the buttons and seeing nothing happen supported this belief. However, since moving out of New York, I eventually learned that street crossing buttons elsewhere (such as here in California) do seem to work just fine. At this point, I’m so used to using them again that I’d pretty much forgotten the rumor that the ones in NY didn’t work – and assumed that I’d been tricked as a kid. However, it turns out whoever told me that was completely right. The vast majority of street corner buttons don’t work in New York. They’re relics of a different age when they were more necessary. Most have been disconnected, but left in place because it would be too expensive to either connect them or remove them. And, still, the people push. Some are surprised that the buttons don’t work, but many keep pushing, just out of habit. Of course, some of the buttons do work – so you get a casino-effect, where people will probably keep pushing on the off-chance that this time the button will work.

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Comments on “New Yorkers Keep Pushing Useless Traffic Light Buttons”

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Geoff Jones (user link) says:


Here in UK the buttons are connected but in the majority of cases have no effect as they only allow the user to cross in the normal traffic light sequence. i.e. They don’t assign priority to the pedestrian.
Now the old zebra crossings with Belisha beacons the pedestrian is king! The traffic HAS to stop and yep no technology involved.

Norvell says:

Re: Buttons

I think in Boston the buttons often don’t really cycle the light but merely cause the “walk” light to come on during the appropriate time. A result of this is that since most people don’t bother to push the buttons (which are sometimes far away and we’re not sure if they do anything anyway), we’re walking against the “don’t walk” light most of the time. As a result, we (jay)walk when we really shouldn’t. People who prefer to wait for the walk sign but arrive too late to activate the walk light for that cycle get confused in large and complicated intersections and put themselves and others at risk because it seems like the light never comes.

IMHO, there should be no buttons, pedestrians should get a walk light when it’s time and shouldn’t have to look at the auto signal, and drivers shouldn’t have to look at the pedestrian signals. Intersections where the button really does cycle the light should be clearly marked as such with some feedback that your push actually did something.

Any traffic engineers out there?

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