Thursday, May 1, 2008
Push to walk buttons - power or placebo?
By John Greenfield
[This also runs in Time Out Chicago, www.timeoutchicago.com]
What’s up with those push-to-walk buttons at intersections? Do they work or are they just there to make you feel empowered?
Good question. The New York Times reported NYC deactivated most of its pedestrian switches in the 1980s but thousands of sucker buttons were still in place by 2004. CDOT’s Brian Steele assures us this isn’t the case here. “When you press it activates the walk signal and lengthens the green,” he says. Does rapid-fire jabbing help? No, says Steele. “It’s like an elevator – pushing once is enough.” Some newer stoplights are programmed so that, late at night, side streets never get a green unless a waiting motorist or ped is detected. Under-pavement sensors automatically register cars but if you don’t notice the button you’ll never get a signal. Unfair, but Steele promises CDOT’s researching pedestrian-triggered automated walk signals. ‘Round midnight we tried to cross busy Chicago Ave. at sleepy Paulina St. and found Steele’s right. If we pushed the button in any manner, or if a driver was also waiting to cross, we’d get a walk signal in about a minute. Not pressing meant our light stayed red indefinitely. So as Curtis Mayfield sang, “Keep On Pushing.”