Sunday, February 18, 2007

I knew it

Yesterday, I walked to a gym near 59th and Park. Walking in NYC is a study in rushing to the next Don't Walk signal. At the corner of 59th and Park I noticed a shiny new silver and yellow button with the a sign labeled, "Press Button and Wait for Walk Signal."

I've always assumed the "walk buttons" at NYC intersection don't work. Most of them look like worn out, long forgotten technology. Yesterday's shiny new one in the heart of one of the city's most expensive zip codes looked functional, so functional it made me suspicious. Praise Jeebus for the Google.

From the NYTimes a few years back:
Millions of dutiful city residents and tourists have pushed them over the years, thinking it would help speed them in their journeys. Many trusting souls might have believed they actually worked. Others, more cynical, might have suspected they were broken but pushed anyway, out of habit, or in the off chance they might bring a walk sign more quickly.

As it turns out, the cynics were right.

The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on, according to city Department of Transportation officials. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined.


There are 750 locations where the buttons actually do work, Mr. Primeggia said. Some of them have been installed more recently, while others are holdovers from two decades ago. The working buttons are only at intersections where the walk signal will never come unless the button is pushed or a car trips the sensor, Mr. Primeggia said. He cited two examples, one at Hicks and Summitt Streets in Brooklyn and the other on Flatbush Avenue just south of the Belt Parkway exit ramp. But other working push buttons are hard to find. A random survey of more than 30 intersections in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan found one, at Marathon Parkway and 51st Avenue in Little Neck, Queens, that worked.