Push Button for Walk Signal

I've long suspected that those buttons on corners that you're supposed to push to get a walk signal are a bizarre hoax. Just a facade created by city governments to let us pedestrians feel like we possess some small measure of control. Now this article (NY Times, reg. req.) largely confirms my suspicion. The article only discusses New York City, but I think the situation is the same throughout most of the country.


Posted on Mon Mar 01, 2004


Yeah, but staring at the buttons on the elevator still makes it go faster, right???
Posted by roy the chimp  on  Mon Mar 01, 2004  at  05:31 PM
roy the chimp makes a good point about human behaviour, which explains why the walk signal buttons are designed as dummies.

We've had the same thing in the UK for decades. I noticed that pedestrian crossing lights changed whether or not you pressed the button at road junctions. They will change green at the right phase anyway, so the buttons are merely pacifiers to make people think they should expect the green man. Otherwise, people would wonder whether to ever expect a green man - hence roy the chimp is right: unless I press a lift button, how can I be really sure a lift will come, even if it would come anyway? And if I'm not happy, I can press the button again for free!

What really spooked me about UK crossing was those that are not at a junction, but merely across a road. Here, there are two kinds:
- One has another pacifier button, but the lights change automatically every 2 mins (seems like half-an-hour, doesn't it?) to stop whatever traffic exists whether you press the button or not! Of course, it's needed - how would a stranger know whether to expect a green man if there was no button to press?
- The other will only change if you press the button, sometimes instantly, sometimes after two mins. However, the worst case is people would bash this button, find the road cleared before 2 mins was up, cross over, and then an irate driver would shout at them for causing the light to change red after they crossed. Jaywalking is not illegal in the UK.

In Germany, it's different. The green man only appears at the right phase *if* you've pressed the button. If you forget, you have to press it and wait another cycle - jaywalking is illegal in Germany, punishable by a fine.

So, maybe not a hoax, but a necessary cruelty?
Posted by Anon  on  Tue Mar 02, 2004  at  04:46 AM
To roy the chimp -

No, staring at the buttons won't make it go faster. However, pushing the button repeatedly while grumbling and looking at your watch will definately work. 20 million people can't be wrong, now can they?
Posted by Charybdis  on  Tue Mar 02, 2004  at  08:45 AM
Oh it works. On occasion it is indeed a "pacifier button" but that is only in high traffic areas where there are people crossing the street each time the light changes. In other areas where minor traffic exists the man will appear for a short time if the button isn't pressed. But when it is it lasts far longer. At intersections with almost no walking traffic the button will work everytime. The timing differences depend on how recently the light was last triggered. It is the same deal with the pressure plates under the road that trigger the light.
Posted by J  on  Wed Mar 03, 2004  at  01:57 PM
I live in a suburb of Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, and I believe this article. I push the button... wait... wait... and finally it changes after 10 people have pushed the darn thing.
Posted by Alex  on  Thu Mar 04, 2004  at  04:49 PM
why would the goverment spend millions remodeling crosswalks just to keep people pacified? oh wait. this is the bush admienstration.
Posted by kid-messing-around-during-class  on  Wed Mar 10, 2004  at  02:11 PM
Actually, I know of one which does work
(I avoid that street like the plague
when driving). It is in Glen Vawerley,
a suburb of Melbourne. It is at the
pedestrian crossing on Kingsway, just
outside Dan Murphy's grog shop, when
heading east to the ANZ back on the other
side of the road. It works almost as
instantly as could be. Say, 30 seconds
for the light to turn amber, and 10
seconds more to stop the traffic. Go
there and try it if you don't believe
Posted by Jacques Guy  on  Wed Mar 17, 2004  at  08:38 PM
I'm from New York City and the buttons never worked for me here and so I kind of assumed that they never worked anywhere else either. Until I was in LA two years ago trying to cross a street. The light didn't change for about 7-8 minutes and the cars were infrequent so I stepped onto the road. A police car jumped out of nowhere and the police woman was screaming at me, "What the hell are you doing? Do you want to get arrested?" Naturally, I stepped back onto the curb (bewildered that jaywalking was such a serious offense in Cali,) and that's when I spotted the button on a pole nearby. What do you know, it worked.
Posted by innewyork  on  Wed Mar 24, 2004  at  03:26 PM
Didn't read the article, but the buttons have NEVER been about changing the light faster. All they do is make it so the light stays green in the direction you're going for a set amount of time and that the 'walk' signal comes on.

Try it sometime. Go to an intersection and do not press the button, the 'walk' sign probably won't come on when it's your turn to go. Press the button and it does.
Posted by scott  on  Wed May 19, 2004  at  04:53 PM
Scott, what the NY Times article reveals is that the buttons (at least in New York City) aren't actually hooked up to anything. The wiring was removed years ago. So you'd have as much luck trying to get a walk signal by clapping your hands as you would pressing the button. Of course, in other cities the buttons may still be functional. At some intersections here in San Diego, if you're stuck at a red light in your car, you can hop out, press the walk signal, and trigger the light to change to green. It seems to work, though it could just be wishful thinking.
Posted by Alex  on  Wed May 19, 2004  at  05:04 PM
Do you guys realize that we are all wasting our times debating about the stop lights and weather or not they work for pedestrians? Come to Canada, the street lights actually have sensors so that if you push the button and the sensor picks up a pedestrian the opposite walk sign will automatically start flashing me the finger 😊 Canada ROCKS!!!
Posted by Micheal J. Dox  on  Thu May 20, 2004  at  09:17 PM
"why would the goverment spend millions remodeling crosswalks just to keep people pacified? oh wait. this is the bush admienstration."

Wow, that's paranoia... I'm really sure that there was a high level meeting in the white house about waiting at street lights.
Posted by Bob S. Yunkle  on  Mon May 31, 2004  at  09:53 PM
I'n Geelong australia they work - when I was a kid late at night I would stand at the pedestrian crossing on a busy motorway -the cars do about 110km/h - As soon as you pressed the button the lights would change so I would judge it so the cars either had to run the orange or slam there brakes on to stop in time - very funny and amusing as a kid 😊 I would then work across in front and do the same again to other direction!
Posted by dan  on  Tue Jun 01, 2004  at  07:10 AM
In places where the buttons do work, its for efficiency. Pedestrians take longer to cross the street than a motor vehicle or bicycle. So when no one presses the button, the system does not have to keep the pedestrian light on while other traffic waits. This is obvious. But on simple cross shaped intersections with traffic it doesn't make sense to have buttons. Cause traffic is either going one way or another. So perhaps these buttons are dummies.

Here in the Netherlands there are some cool buttons with lights around them. You press 'em and they all light up, then as the time nears for it to become green they turn off one by one, so you know exaclty when its gonna become green.

Anyways, it makes sense to have buttons that work. If there's no one walking you don't have to wait for the pedestrians to cross and you can have more cycles per hour.
Posted by CvD  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  08:21 AM
The walk buttons at several intersections around my university most definitely do work. The pedestrian light never comes on if the button isn't pressed. This is easy to verify because when the pedestrian signals are on, all directions at the intersection are red and without pressing the button you can watch a complete cycle take place.
Posted by jdevers  on  Wed Jun 02, 2004  at  09:31 AM
In the UK, from my experience, the length of time between pressing the button and being able to walk is related to the length of time since the lights were last red.
Try it. Late at night, when no-ones about, the lights change immediately when the button is pressed. In the rush hour you can wait ages for the damn thing.
Posted by Monkey Boy  on  Tue Jun 08, 2004  at  11:44 AM
This is in regards to MonkeyBoy's first post...the reason the lights change quicker at night is because the traffic lights are programmed to handle *gasp* traffic, you idiot! They respond to heavy traffic with delays in light changes, so that cars are not hopelessly stuck in an intersection. At times of light traffic, obviously they will be more responsive to the pedestrian, since there is no delay made for the drivers...In the UK...you twit, it is the same everywhere.
Posted by Gordon  on  Thu Jun 10, 2004  at  09:53 PM
They've started adding traffic lights in Glasgow which actually display a countdown (seconds) to when they next go to 'walk'. Which is immesurably neater than having to guess - even if the inevitable result is that someone always runs across the road on the amber signal........
Posted by aw  on  Sat Jun 12, 2004  at  08:30 AM
i used to live in Vegas and they had tons of countdown push for walk buttons... but one time it showed a red hand even though i should be able to go and when i pushed the button it INSTANTLY turned into a white stick figure walking. I think that the walk signal will only change if you press the button, and that's it's all it does
Posted by john  on  Sat Jul 03, 2004  at  08:31 PM
I've always suspected that the button isn't hooked up to anything, and after this was mentioned on Buffy it caused quite a debate between me and my friends! I live in Australia and I'm pretty sure that with some of the buttons in busier areas it makes no difference whether or not you press, the lights will still change the same, but in quieter areas the lights will never change for hours unless someone presses them (I know this, I sat with a friend at an outside table at a cafe and watched!). So maybe they only bother with certain areas.
Posted by Kiara  on  Fri Jul 16, 2004  at  02:04 AM
There are various types of pedestrian signals (in the UK alone!), but nearly all are 'demand dependant' (the exception being busy town centres during office hours), which basically means that at a junction they are given a 'window of opportunity' within a full traffic cycle - if there is no pedestrian demand then the traffic phases are extended.
At a Pedestrian crossing the green man should 'gap-out' when there are oncoming vehicles detected, they should not change instantly if there is an (immediate) risk of the vehicles having to slam on their brakes to stop in time, when the gap-out period expires the signals should give a green to Peds. If there is a break in traffic the signals should change almost instantly.
But like most electrical equipment, traffic signals develop faults, like the ones previously mentioned, these should be reported to your local authority or the police to investigate. (BTW, flashing your lights at traffic signals doesn't make them change, but don't tell the Taxi drivers, lol).
Posted by Darren  on  Fri Jul 16, 2004  at  12:32 PM
Hey kid in class wasting time, the pedestrain buttons have been around longer than the Bush administration, so read up a little so I dont have to support you through welfare, dumbass
Posted by Bush Supporter  on  Fri Jul 22, 2005  at  01:11 PM
okay . how do you make the street lights change qwuicker like therews gotta be some morse code .
Posted by Nadia  on  Fri Nov 18, 2005  at  02:19 PM
the button is not a hoax, you have to understand it to be able to use it right. I am an engineer so I think I finaly got it figured out!

there is what is called a capicator behind the button, if left unpressed for too long, it builds enough power to change the light signal. However, after you press the button, the capacitor uses it accumulated power so it is emptied out. It also gets emptied out when the normal cycle/pattern of green, yellow, red go.

In others words. If the green man JUST became red for pedestrians, you do not have the power to make him green again, but if it was a long time ago since the green man was present, you have the power to get him back!!
Posted by somaia  on  Fri May 11, 2007  at  11:57 AM
On main street in front of the waterfront, there is a tall post with a signal on top of it. The signal is viewable from the other side of the street. There is a button on the post, but no signal on the other side! there never was! This is proof that the buttons go to nothing. It is just for gullable retards who like to hear the clicker click just like a baby. Also, the signals change by themselves every 30-45 minutes (seriously) whether or not you press the clicker. Also, the clickers are just strapped onto the posts, and if you hit it hard enough, thewhole box moves. Also, one of the clickers on stillwater is so loose that you can make it do a 360 around the post with just one push
Posted by Braden  on  Sat Nov 08, 2008  at  03:29 PM
I was walking to the mall one time, and I saw something very strange. There were construction people putting up new walk signal buttons. They just strapped them on without any electrical connection. They are fake
Posted by Braden  on  Mon Nov 10, 2008  at  05:31 PM
I saw the one on Main Street. It is so easy to know that the buttons are fake. Braden, you are right to call them clickers. That is the only thing that they can do. I saw one the other day smashed open with grafitti nearby. It was one of the bright yellow ones with the HUGE silver dome in it. The dome was on the ground, but there are no wires inside of it. There is a pipe goinge fromit to the signal, but it is to trick people.
Posted by Alex  on  Thu Nov 20, 2008  at  03:48 AM
Everyone knows the disposable camera shocking you. When you press the flash button without anything over it, just the bare metal, you get a big shock. Think about this: If the metal buttons are real with any power going to them, you would feel a small shock or vibration of your hand when you pressed it. They are made so smart people know right off the bat that they are fake, but dumb gullible people think they are real. There is a crossing gaurd on most intersections before and after school hours. They are there so kids dont get hit by walking when the signal says to. They only say walk when cars are coming, and still at the exact same time if you press the clicker. The underground traffic sensor controls the traffic lights, and also the signals!
Posted by Braden  on  Thu Nov 20, 2008  at  03:54 AM
I know that the buttons are fake because they press just like a spring. The yellow ones are obviously fake because most of them are welded to the housing. The city officials call this the "pre-pressed" version of the button so you dont have to push it to cross.
Also, there is a button around the Hampden area that is attached to a crooked wooden post. I know that it is fake because they have moved the post to different spots to see where the most people notice it and press it.
Posted by Elton  on  Wed Nov 26, 2008  at  01:52 PM
On state street, the walk signals change automatically at the same time no matter if the clicker is pressed or not. It looks retarded when they change by themselves and the clicker just looks stupid as it is there, but does absolutely nothing but click. There is a gap between the box that the clicker is on and the clicker itself. This is proof that the clickers have no electrical connection between them and the post/walksignal.
Posted by Braden  on  Thu Dec 04, 2008  at  04:29 AM
The walk signal pushbutton does nothing after the first push. It just sends a signal to the traffic controller to light up the walk signal some time during the intersection's cycles. Just as pushing an elevator button does not make it come faster; the command has already been sent to the mechanism to come to your floor. And, as Anon says above about "pedestrian crossing lights [changing] whether or not you pressed the button at road junctions", they always light up in New York City. Well, almost always,. There are pushbuttons near my house that give a "walk" command to signals which otherwise show a orange hand and sometimes a red zero.
Posted by some monkey  on  Sun May 06, 2012  at  11:48 AM
The push to walk buttons in the two cities I have lived simply make the next green light longer. This gives people walking more time to cross the street than the green light normally allows. Especially helpful to seniors, children, wheelchairs, etc. I have even timed some of the ones I used regularly to make sure they worked and they did.
Posted by Kiko Irvine  on  Fri Jul 06, 2012  at  09:04 PM
In the 1960s, New York City first installed pedestrian push buttons at various signalized intersections throughout the five boroughs. At the time, most signalized intersections were semi-actuated. With that said, a pedestrian signal changed from "DONT WALK" to "WALK" only upon request. Pedestrian push buttons were okay for a while; however, traffic volume significantly increased in New York City by the 1970s. Pedestrian push buttons were inadequate, because they interrupted the flow of traffic. As a result, the city disconnected many pedestrian push buttons from useful service in the 1980s, and most signal controllers were converted from semi-actuated to pre-timed (as most are today in New York City). A pre-timed signal controller normally follows one time plan for a signalized intersection it controls, while a semi-actuated signal controller has variable time plans (with the presence of a form of either vehicle or pedestrian detection). Despite the fact that most pedestrian push buttons in New York are inoperable as of present day, some are still functional in certain locations of New York City. I am aware of one that still works in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Now, why are inoperable pedestrian push buttons still intact in New York? Well, the reason is that they are quite costly to remove. The city would have to pay at least $400 for each removal. So, with that said, it is understandable that the city wants to save money.
Posted by Steven G.  on  Thu Jan 31, 2013  at  11:17 PM
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