Question: Do those buttons at pedestrian crossings actually do anything, or are they just there to make people feel better? John, Tacoma
Answer: Most Push Button for Walk Signal buttons are functional, but they dont work the way many people think theyre supposed to. Repeatedly hammering on them definitely does not help.
In most cases the buttons dont make a green light appear any sooner. They cause a walk signal to appear on the green cycle at intersections where it otherwise would never happen.
If you dont press the button, the walk indication will not be displayed, said Joe Nollan, Tacomas senior signal lighting electrician. It could be argued that pushing the button does make it come on faster. Its faster than never.
As an example, Nollan cites the intersection of South 46th Street and Pacific Avenue.
The signal will dwell green for Pacific, waiting for someone to push the button, he says. When the button is pressed, the controller will end the green for Pacific and cycle through the pedestrian intervals, which provide adequate time to safely cross the street.
If the signal is only actuated by a car, Pacific traffic will be stopped for a shorter period because a car can get across the street quicker.
In the middle of the night, when theres practically no traffic, the response to pushing the button may be immediate, Nollan says. During the day the response would be delayed, waiting for the designated period in the red-yellow-green cycle.