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Old 03-14-2012, 10:17 PM
elkpapa elkpapa is offline
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RE: Do "push to walk" buttons at intersections ever actually work?

Markus, you will be happy to know that in Vancouver, Canada, you can press a button for bikers that changes the light- most of the time, immediately. Take a trip up to Vancouver to see it for yourself! I recommend the biker button at McLean and Hastings. I use it as a pedestrian EVERY time I want to cross quicker, and it works like a charm! C:

(The reason for why the city is more inclined to appease biker's impatience rather than pedestrians, I'm guessing, is because bikers notoriously run stoplights, so perhaps the cops don't have to hand out as many tickets?)

Article : http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...-actually-work

Last edited by elkpapa; 03-14-2012 at 10:19 PM. Reason: (forgot link)
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Old 03-16-2012, 04:49 PM
pdmarquardt pdmarquardt is offline
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Unfortunately, I can't find the story, but I distinctly remember reading a newspaper story, I believe in the DC area, saying that the vast majority of the push to walk signals had been deactivated when more sophisticated traffic light timing software was installed. When asked why the buttons hadn't been removed, the DOT spokesperson said that they'd considered it, but physically uninstalling all of them would have cost tens of thousands of dollars for no real benefit.

FWIW. At least it's plausible.
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Old 03-16-2012, 04:54 PM
InternetLegend InternetLegend is offline
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Here in Albuquerque, where historically no one in their right mind walks more than a block, the walk button will light up the "walk" sign and make the cycle long enough for a person to make it across the street at a reasonable pace. At a light that has a fairly long green cycle, this may not make any difference, but at a light with a very short cycle, it really matters.
  #4  
Old 03-16-2012, 04:55 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pdmarquardt View Post
Unfortunately, I can't find the story, but I distinctly remember reading a newspaper story, I believe in the DC area, saying that the vast majority of the push to walk signals had been deactivated when more sophisticated traffic light timing software was installed.
Not believable. How could more sophisticated timing software detect that a pedestrian was waiting to cross? How could it make the "walk" signal time more usable? Longer? Shorter?

Some signals have "don't walk" in all directions at all times unless the button is pressed. If you don't press it, the software assumes there are no pedestrians waiting.
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Old 03-16-2012, 04:58 PM
cochrane cochrane is online now
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You do realize the column is a Straight Dope Classic©, don't you? Markus sent in his question in 1993.
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Old 03-16-2012, 05:30 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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You do realize the column is a Straight Dope Classic©, don't you? Markus sent in his question in 1993.
What? No updates? Are all Classic©TM columns frozen in time?
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Old 03-17-2012, 03:31 AM
cochrane cochrane is online now
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I was just pointing out that the coincidence of Markus stumbling across this thread 19 years later and noticing he was being addressed in the OP would be pretty amazing.
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Old 03-17-2012, 07:59 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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What? No updates? Are all Classic©TM columns frozen in time?
Sometimes there is minor updating, like when an old column is updated to appear in a book. And sometimes there is very minor updating, when a staff member notices something obvious as a classic is posted (but that's rare, since it needs Cecil's OK, and he usually doesn't want to be bothered.) But mostly the "classic" appears as "classic. "

Just as the movie WIZARD OF OZ still has that opening that says "For nearly 40 years...[the book has entertained children]" when it's now over 110 years. And CONTRARY to George Lucas continually updating STAR WARS.

Last edited by C K Dexter Haven; 03-17-2012 at 08:00 AM.
  #9  
Old 03-19-2012, 10:04 AM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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Originally Posted by Musicat View Post
Not believable. How could more sophisticated timing software detect that a pedestrian was waiting to cross? How could it make the "walk" signal time more usable? Longer? Shorter?

Some signals have "don't walk" in all directions at all times unless the button is pressed. If you don't press it, the software assumes there are no pedestrians waiting.
Some signals have the "walk" signal built into the timing, and always display a "walk" pattern. The buttons aren't required.

The more sophisticated timing software doesn't rely on a pedestrian button, it relies on the light cycle timing to flow traffic, with the pedestrian cycle built in.

In some places, all the button does is activate a "walk" light at the appropriate point in the existing cycle. The button doesn't change the timing of the light cycle at all, it just gives the feedback to the pedestrian "walk" now, hurry up and finish crossing, "don't walk".

The point of the more sophisticated timing software is making the automobile traffic flow better, usually across multiple intersections.
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Old 03-19-2012, 02:41 PM
gamerunknown gamerunknown is offline
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The point of the more sophisticated timing software is making the automobile traffic flow better, usually across multiple intersections.
Not always useful compared to letting pedestrians get across faster... There's a light near my house that always takes about 2-3 minutes and people always run across. Two kids were killed there and their mother was injured trying to cross when one lane of traffic stopped for her (just before the light) and another didn't.
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Old 03-19-2012, 03:44 PM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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The Walk button usually means "We don't expect a lot of pedestrian traffic." People expect to press the button and get a Walk signal in a few seconds, but that rarely happens.

I've seen it used to cross busy wide streets where the side street light lasts only a few seconds -- just enough go get two or three cars through. You press Walk, and still have to wait for the side street light to change. But, then the side street light will stay green long enough for you to cross.

Sometimes, side streets don't get a green unless a car is waiting by the intersection. In that case, a Walk button will alert the light that, when it gets around to it, it should change to green to allow a pedestrian to cross. This usually happens to keep the street lights on the major street timed enough to allow people to make several lights.
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Old 03-21-2012, 04:18 PM
BigT BigT is offline
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I still am certain I remember some traffic lights back when I was a kid that worked near instantly. You push the button, and, in a few seconds the light would change. I even remember being told that the reason the buttons existed was because the traffic light had sensors for cars , and thus would never change if you didn't press the button.
  #13  
Old 03-22-2012, 10:46 AM
Powers Powers is offline
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Originally Posted by BigT View Post
I still am certain I remember some traffic lights back when I was a kid that worked near instantly. You push the button, and, in a few seconds the light would change.
I don't think this is unusual even today. The light has no doubt been green in the perpendicular direction for some time, so when you push the button, the logic software feels it can safely put up a yellow light pursuant to swapping directions.

Most light controls are set to require a certain minimum amount of "green time" for each direction, ensuring that sufficient vehicles travel through the intersection to prevent serious congestion. So if you push the "Walk" button after that minimum time (which could change depending on time of day and day of week) has been reached, it'll change immediately; otherwise it will wait and change once the minimum has been reached.

In other cases, it will use in-pavement vehicle sensors to determine if there are still cars moving through the intersection before deciding when to switch.


To sum up:
  • The majority of push-to-walk buttons do actually function.
  • Most of those that appear not to function are probably just redundant during certain times of day or week, and function as you would expect during off-hours.
  • When you push the button, it merely registers your intent to cross; it doesn't guarantee immediate permission.
  • The delay in switching can be anywhere from zero seconds to a few minutes, depending on the existing light cycle, available sensor inputs, time of day, day of week, and surrounding traffic.


Powers &8^]
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Old 03-22-2012, 11:43 AM
BigT BigT is offline
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The minimum time must have been rather short on that intersection at that time, because I amused myself for a good ten minutes pushing the button and walking back and forth across the street. It was the first traffic light I'd seen with a button.

Also, s it also normal for the walk sign to light up even if you don't press the button? That was another thing about these traffic lights that I remember but people think is weird.
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Old 03-22-2012, 12:27 PM
Floater Floater is offline
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If you ask me it's a major design flaw if I, as a pedestrian or cyclist, don't get a green signal unless I press a friggin' button. If the signals change for cars according to a certain cycle there's no reason whatsoever that they don't automatically change for non cars as well. The only exception I can tolerate is if pedestrians get a special car-free-from-all-directions passage if the button is pushed. An example: On my way to and from the railway station I have to pass a quite heavily trafficked road. In the evenings outside rush hour traffic there's no need to announce my presence as it is safe to cross anyway, but in the mornings I am forced to press a button to be able to pass at all and it's especially idiotic that I have to press it a certain time (have no idea how many seconds) before the signal is due to change or I have to wait through a full cycle.
  #16  
Old 03-22-2012, 12:46 PM
sachertorte sachertorte is offline
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The walk buttons in Cambridge MA are fantastic. As long as there hasn't been a walk signal recently, pressing the button by my house changes the light immediately to yellow. I find it amazing, and it makes me feel powerful.
  #17  
Old 03-22-2012, 01:42 PM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Floater View Post
If you ask me it's a major design flaw if I, as a pedestrian or cyclist, don't get a green signal unless I press a friggin' button. If the signals change for cars according to a certain cycle there's no reason whatsoever that they don't automatically change for non cars as well.
In pedestrian heavy places (such as New York City), there are no "Push to Walk" buttons because the walk signal will change all on its own.

These buttons are used in places where pedestrian traffic is rare, and the light wouldn't normally last long enough for pedestrians. A lot of side streets don't change to green unless a car is sitting there waiting for the light. Sometimes the sensor is in the street, but I'm now seeing a lot of them on top of the light (looking like red light cameras).

The preference is the camera signals rather than the embedded signals because it works even if the street is covered in snow.

Quote:
It's especially idiotic that I have to press it a certain time (have no idea how many seconds) before the signal is due to change or I have to wait through a full cycle.
You just have to press it once, and wait. Multiple pressings and pressing and holding isn't going to make the light change any faster. You have to wait until the light finishes its cycling which could be a few minutes. I was thinking it would be nice if a light could detect multiple presses, so it has an idea how many pedestrians are waiting. But, then if the pedestrians figured that out, they'd sit there pressing it over and over again.

Last edited by qazwart; 03-22-2012 at 01:42 PM.
  #18  
Old 03-22-2012, 03:20 PM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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What Floater means is if he is too late in the light cycle with pressing the button, it will not register and give the walk signal that cycle, but the following one. Too close to the time the light triggers, it won't accept the signal. I have had this happen with some car triggers as well. It's annoying either way if you just miss the opportunity. It's especially frustrating when you get there clearly before the light cycle starts to change, but it still doesn't recognize you that round.
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