For An Exercise In Futility, Push a Pedestrian Crossing Button In NYC

For years, at thousands of New York City intersections, well-worn push buttons have offered harried walkers a rare promise of control over their pedestrian lives. To cross the street, all they had to do was push the button, wait for the “walk” signal, and move safely across the street. Today, those buttons can't be trusted. That’s because the city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as the unwitting public continued to push them. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function as mechanical placebos, and any benefit from them is only imagined. In 1975, with about 750,000 cars entered Manhattan daily and over a million during the holidays, pedestrian crosswalk buttons were a necessity to keep people moving. However, by the late 1980s, most of the buttons had been deactivated. Unfortunately, the city never bothered to publish an “obituary,” so the black-and-white signs identifying the buttons stayed up. Even though many people have caught on to the fact that the buttons do nothing, they still push them in the off-chance that they might save a couple of seconds. There are 750 locations where the buttons actually do work, and they’re located where the walk signal will never come on unless the button is pushed or a car trips the sensor. So why hasn’t the city taken the useless buttons down? Simple — money. At $300-$400 per intersection, it would cost about $1 million to remove the disconnected mechanisms.