Waiting for the little green man

By Paul Charman

Push the button and wait - it does work and you'll soon be crossing

Pedestrian buttons enable traffic lights to detect pedestrians and register their demand to cross the road. Picture / Brett Phibbs
Pedestrian buttons enable traffic lights to detect pedestrians and register their demand to cross the road. Picture / Brett Phibbs

Plenty of people don't bother to press the button at pedestrian crossings. But do they know something others don't?

It can seem like the longest two minutes of your life, if you get to a road junction just as the red man appears. But if it's a busy intersection, you still might see people who seem happy to ignore the button.

Ask them and they'll tell you it doesn't do anything.

And that's not an absurd theory. In New York, these things are sometimes referred to as "placebo buttons", as in many places they appear to have no effect.

But does pushing the button make any difference in New Zealand?

Yes, it certainly does, says Auckland traffic services manager Ken Lee-Jones.

"Pedestrian buttons enable traffic lights to detect pedestrians and register a pedestrian demand to cross the road," he says.

"When the button is pushed, the pedestrian crossing phase of the traffic lights is called, and the red person is lit up to acknowledge the call."

Lee-Jones says this means the traffic signal controller receives an input to activate the pedestrian crossing "green man" in the next cycle of the traffic lights.

At some crossings, the red man is lit up all the time, but the pedestrian button still must be pushed to ensure the pedestrian crossing call is activated.

"In this case, a small light on the pedestrian button housing will indicate the call is activated.

"If the button is not pressed, the pedestrian crossing phase is not activated and the green man will not come up.

"The call needs to be activated only once - repeat pushing of the button does not change the fact that the call has been accepted or make it come any sooner."

Holding the button down does not make the phase come any quicker either.

"Once called, the pedestrian phase will be activated in the next cycle of the lights.

"And the green man indicates that it is once again safe to cross."

- NZ Herald

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