“So why not press the button on the off chance that this one will work?”
October 27, 2016 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Pushing That Crosswalk Button May Make You Feel Better, but … [The New York Times] “It is a reflex born of years of habit: You see a button, press it and then something happens. The world is filled with them, such as doorbells, vending machines, calculators and telephones. But some buttons we regularly rely on to get results are mere artifices — placebos that promote an illusion of control but that in reality do not work. No matter how long or how hard you press, it will not change the outcome. Be prepared to be surprised — and disappointed — by some of these examples.”
posted by Fizz (79 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
The problem is that there are just enough buttons that you have to press to get a signal and there's no way to tell the difference until the walk signal fails to light up for you.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:13 PM on October 27, 2016 [32 favorites]




Yeah, it's the fact that sometimes the buttons actually do work that makes this so frustrating.

I call it "the superstition button," or I used to when I was able to walk to work regularly. I variously pushed it or didn't depending on how much whimsical futility I was carrying that day.
posted by Scattercat at 6:28 PM on October 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


I work in a building where the elevator-close button definitely works. I've timed it. Yes, the inconsistent property of these buttons actually makes the habit "stickier." Thanks, unpredictable reward schedule.
posted by penduluum at 6:31 PM on October 27, 2016 [23 favorites]


For as long as I can remember, my dad has worked in hotels. Back when I was still pretty young, and he was the general manager of a Holiday Inn, he pointed out that he's seen the insides of elevator button panels, and often the "close door" button wasn't even attached to anything with wires. Just 100% placebo effect.

On the other hand, having spent the entirety of my adult life in Japan, it's abundantly clear that in the vast, vast majority of Japanese elevators, the "close door" button very definitely closes the doors, immediately. The crosswalk buttons still don't really do much in most cases, though (and in fact most of them are equipped with lights that light up to say "please wait a moment" when you push the button, many of which are just sort of permanently lit).
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:32 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


It is a reflex born of years of habit: You see a button, press it and then something happens.

Indeed.
posted by mattdidthat at 6:38 PM on October 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm confused by the article. At some intersections I use regularly, I don't press the crosswalk button so that the light will change, I press it so that I get the white crosswalk figure rather than the angry red hand.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:45 PM on October 27, 2016 [25 favorites]


I'm confused by the article. At some intersections I use regularly, I don't press the crosswalk button so that the light will change, I press it so that I get the white crosswalk figure rather than the angry red hand.

It's definitely the case in car-heavy places, like Atlanta, that if you don't press that button, then you'll never get a walk sign. Of course I always wondered why I needed a walk sign at all, except as something to angrily gesture towards while someone tries to run me over in the intersection.
posted by dis_integration at 6:50 PM on October 27, 2016 [37 favorites]


I could never understand why an elevator even had a close door button. Who is so impatient that they can't wait the extra 20 seconds it takes the door to close? Why wouldn't you wait and see if someone else might like to use this magical box that transports you up and down a building? It's not like you need it to yourself. What is the possible use case for that button? I always assumed it was just to be asshole to someone rushing to catch the elevator.
posted by neonrev at 6:57 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Riding in an elevator with strangers is a source of serious anxiety for some people.
posted by a strong female character at 7:00 PM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm relatively sure that the door close button works on the freight elevators I've used in the past, but I believe it for general use elevators.
posted by codacorolla at 7:02 PM on October 27, 2016


You really can't think of any possible uses for a close door button? Here's one: I work late and am often the last or almost last person on my floor. Very often at that point I'm exhausted and just want to get downstairs, but it ends up being just me standing in the elevator waiting for the doors to close. I know it's just 20 seconds or so, but why shouldn't I be able to close them? I'm not inconveniencing anybody or trying to be a jerk, because there's nobody else there. I just want to go home.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:04 PM on October 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


Who is so impatient that they can't wait the extra 20 seconds it takes the door to close? Why wouldn't you wait and see if someone else might like to use this magical box that transports you up and down a building?

GREETINGS, BIZZARO ME.
posted by Literaryhero at 7:06 PM on October 27, 2016 [14 favorites]


This article is very US specific. The key legislation is the American with Disabilities Act. Codacorolla is right - Freight Only elevators may have functional door closed buttons - but mixed use freight/passenger elevators are still required to comply with the ADA wait period.

Intersection controllers will almost certainly recognize that a button was pushed but may choose not to respond to it during programmed rush hours. One can verify by going out at say 4am.

In Hong Kong (amongst thousands of other places throughout the world with high population densities and high rises) the door close button *absolutely* does work - and work fast.

In Korea (or Seoul at least) the crosswalk button is a weight sensor under the street, the lamp post button is for hearing assistance. It's the only place where a local got frustrated at me *for* pressing the button.

And the thermostat thing? That's just cruel, nanny-state office management.
posted by pmg at 7:11 PM on October 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


30 some years ago when I was a courier in DC, some of the Close Door buttons did still work, and I did feel like my time was sufficiently important that I was happy to use them to save myself 20 seconds.

I confess that I did use them once or twice when someone was trying to catch the elevator. I always tried to shape my body language so it looked like I was lunging for the Open Door button. When I actually wanted to hold the elevator, I always used my hand on the safety bumper rather than trying to hit the Open Door button.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:12 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


posted by neonrev Who is so impatient that they can't wait the extra 20 seconds it takes the door to close?

The same people who walk up escalators.

Also people it's stand on the right, walk on the left, yes that's why I'm banging my feet as I climb up behind you while you're standing on the left side of the escalator facechatting or snaptexting or whatever the hell you kids are doing these days just get out of my way please thank you.
posted by mattdidthat at 7:14 PM on October 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


I guess I just grew up in a town without a building taller than 3 stories, and the only elevators I knew about were the ones in the school and hospital which I assume were required by law. I guess I can understand being impatient with an elevator that takes you to where you live (INSANITY), but in the vast majority of where I think of elevators being used, generally public spaces, it seems weird to prioritize your own needs over those of anyone else who might want to go up. Maybe if I'd used them in personal situations it would be different. Maybe it's my farm-boy ethics acting up, because I also check to make sure no one else is approaching the elevator when I go in, and if they are I hold the door until they get in or I'm sure they are walking past. I've been annoyed far more times missing an elevator than I have been waiting for the doors to close, and it's a far greater annoyance to wait for the next one than just hang out for a sec.

This article is very US specific.

I think this article is very NY specific. Crosswalk buttons definitely worked in my hometown and where I went to college. I imagine it's only in cities large enough to merit the cost of a totally automated lights system that it works that way.
posted by neonrev at 7:16 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


My small city has both active and inactive crosswalk buttons.

Small side streets tend to be active, the walk/pedestrian cycle will not occur if you don't press the button and when you do, it takes effect immediately.

Big arterials are on a set rotation, it makes no difference if you push the button or not, you are going to be waiting for the walk signal and your turn in the rotation.
posted by madajb at 7:17 PM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


The pedestrian scrambles (diagonal/all-way pedestrian crossings) around where I live won't go off unless you press the button, they'll just skip the scramble phase and go into the next phase for cars. Also, when you press the button it queues up the scramble in the next cycle rather than the current one. Nothing is worse than arriving at an intersection and having to wait through two cycles because nobody bothered to press the button.
posted by Pyry at 7:17 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


The article is New York City specific.

I have a decent mental map of which traffic lights around me can be triggered by my bicycle and which require me to hit the pedestrian switch if there's not a car also waiting to cross. This is not a placebo effect, I need to waddle over to the side of the road so I can hit the button if I remember wrong. Humiliating.

Since I'm sure you're all curious, the worst is Woodside and San Carlos in Redwood City heading north, which has the ugly combination of a non-bike sensitive trigger, not enough traffic in that direction that you can trust a car to hit it for you, and no crosswalk on that side of the intersection. It is not possible to cross the street legally at an early hour without dismounting walking across on the left side. And the next street down, Valparaiso, is almost as bad.
posted by mark k at 7:22 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


The same people who walk up escalators.

This utterly baffled me when I was like 12 and went to a real airport for the first time. I THOUGHT THE ENTIRE POINT WAS THAT YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO WALK WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!?

Then years later I had to reach a connecting flight all the way across MSP and then oh yeah, that's why.


I also missed a possible joke earlier by being too earnest.

The only elevators I knew of growing up were filled with corn and soybeans.
posted by neonrev at 7:23 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


The article is New York City specific.

From the article:
ABC News reported in 2010 that it found only one functioning crosswalk button in a survey of signals in Austin, Tex.; Gainesville, Fla.; and Syracuse.
posted by Pyry at 7:25 PM on October 27, 2016 [3 favorites]




My experience loading heavy shit into freight elevators, is that they have a door close button because they also have a "hold door" button. In addition to starting the lift earlier than the timer, it also acts as a toggle switch for the door hold, which you can use as an easy way to keep the door open as you're loading up an elevator with gear, and which beats having your arm stuck between the electric eye sensor.
posted by codacorolla at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2016


Also the thermostat thing is extremely fucked up, especially considering that almost all office buildings are kept no warmer than 72°F at most, which is a problem for women and not so much for men.
posted by a strong female character at 7:35 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ugh, I hate when these articles come out then dummies don't press the crosswalk button. Do people think cities pay money to put in buttons so people feel better about crossing?

I'm sure in some places they are put in and then decommissioned or break and never replaced, like NYC. But I have now lived in multiple cities (Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Houston, and Buffalo) where these buttons need to be pressed. Sometimes it will turn without them during daytime hours but require them at night, other times it won't ever turn. Then there's times where the traffic light will turn but not the walk signal, which matters because the traffic light time is too short to cross while walking. Also, there's times the button exists because it helps blind people, so you have to press it to get the signal with accompanying guidance "WALK SIGN IS ON TO CROSS MAIN WALK SIGN IS ON TO CROSS 3 2 1."

So unless you are 100% sure, just press the damn button. My university had a major intersection on campus between the big dorms and classes. And there were times where 40 people were waiting but the walk sign never came because no one PRESSED THE DAMN BUTTON.

Also, I thought Close Elevator buttons closed the door once you held it open using the Door Open button, thereby fulfilling the minimum. Am I wrong? Also, those saying the button isn't hooked up to anything are also saying the firefighter operation doesn't use it?
posted by ALongDecember at 7:36 PM on October 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


The less-modified ex-SGI buildings at Google, e.g. Building 41, have working door close buttons.
posted by w0mbat at 7:39 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I mean, as long as anecdotes are presented as counterexamples, I can confirm that the crosswalk buttons at the big intersection near where I work do nothing at all, not even change the walk signal while the traffic lights are with you. The light will change when it wills. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.
posted by Scattercat at 7:42 PM on October 27, 2016


Sure, Boston's trains may fill with smoke, forcing people to kick out the windows to escape, but at least our Walk buttons work. Well, mostly (I'm looking at you, non-functional buttons at Washington and Cornell in Roslindale).
posted by adamg at 7:46 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


But I have now lived in multiple cities (Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Houston, and Buffalo) where these buttons need to be pressed. Sometimes it will turn without them during daytime hours but require them at night, other times it won't ever turn.

I can tell you that the light at 14th and Chicago in Minneapolis is one of these sometimes needs to be pressed, sometimes doesn't lights. I think the cut-off is 8.30pm--the walk signal on Chicago will flash red and count down and then go back to walk. When I taught at night, it was hit or miss whether I'd get there by 8.30 and so I'd sit there and watch the stupid walk signal cycle round and the light on Chicago stay green. It's the only place I've availed myself of the fact it's legal to run a red light on a bike in Minnesota if you have good reason to believe the light will not change for you.
posted by hoyland at 7:49 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Personally I imagine a bell ringing when I press the button, then I salivate.
posted by sammyo at 7:58 PM on October 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


I have always pounded on the walk buttons as a way to relieve stress. If it makes the walk signal switch any faster is immaterial. It's more acceptable than pounding on the hood of the jackass who is going to rev his engine at me when I'm crossing, because I made him stop at the light.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:58 PM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can confirm that the crosswalk buttons at the big intersection near where I work do nothing at all, not even change the walk signal while the traffic lights are with you. The light will change when it wills.

Sounds like a broken button. Call 311.
posted by ALongDecember at 8:01 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't know about *all* buttons in the Boston area (I have my suspicions about a few), but I can think of one crosswalk near me where the light doesn't change *unless* you hit the button (at which point, if the cars have had a long enough turn, the light will change almost immediately). Once I was walking home and the button on my side of the street was clearly broken, and I had to wave to the people on the other side and shout "you need to press the button!"
However, I do believe there are a lot of button placebos (and thermostat placebos) around...I'm surprised this isn't a double.
posted by uosuaq at 8:08 PM on October 27, 2016


It is a reflex born of years of habit: You see a button, press it and then something happens.

When I was eight, my family moved into a seven-storey apartment building. In the lobby there were two call buttons for the elevator (one with an up arrow, one with a down): I suppose nominally you pressed the down to go to the basement and the up to go, well, up. In practice, either one called the car.

When I was ten, the elevator was out of service for a day and during the repairs something was switched in the wiring: the down button worked as before (i.e. just summoned the elevator), but when you pressed the 'up' call button and the elevator was already on a higher floor, the empty car would descend past you to the basement, open there and pause, then return to the ground floor. It took me maybe four days to spot this. Occasional experiments over later years proved that this continued to be the case: without fail, the 'up' button sent the car to the basement first.

I moved out when I was twenty-one. My family moved out a decade later, and I was back there frequently over that span. Every time I was back, I saw that there were long-term tenants who had clearly never noticed that when they pressed the 'up' button that it sent the elevator to the basement for an extra thirty second wait. For years on end.

ZSA (Zero Situational Awareness) is a terrible affliction. Please give generously.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:17 PM on October 27, 2016 [11 favorites]


Crosswalk buttons

'Round these parts, we call them beg buttons.
posted by aniola at 8:20 PM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


I live in NYC and I use door close with a vengeance. There is usually a bank of elevators: we don't all have to ride in the same one! It's slow & claustrophobic & OMG people have been letting "one more" in for the past minute. Jesus. In my building where there's just one & its huge? Sure. But otherwise, this is not the last elevator out of Saigon. You can wait.
posted by dame at 8:31 PM on October 27, 2016 [14 favorites]


Many years ago I was visiting the US Capitol, I had to call for an elevator, so I pressed the button. Nothing happened. So I pressed it again, still nothing happened. So then press-press-press-press-press-press-press, and then I waited. The elevator arrived, the doors opened and there was an elevator operator working the elevator. She didn't have to say anything because the look she was giving me said it all, but she explained how I only needed to press the button once.
posted by peeedro at 8:41 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


My office building's door close buttons work, but only if you hold them down for half a second or so. Not sure if this is some secret backdoor workaround to the ADA requirements or just an oversight, but it's nice to use if you know there's nobody in the lobby who wants to board.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:05 PM on October 27, 2016


Of course I always wondered why I needed a walk sign at all, except as something to angrily gesture towards while someone tries to run me over in the intersection.

Where I live, getting the walk signal ensures that the light will stay green for whatever amount of time the city has decided is long enough to cross that street. I've seen green lights as short as 5-10 seconds when I failed to push the button in locations with little cross traffic. Interestingly, though I come across physically jammed (unpushable) buttons somewhat often, the failure mode seems to default to producing walk signals every cycle. That's good design, if it's intentional at all!

Here's my peeve: At a majority of intersections near me, you can't raise a walk signal after the light has turned green -- but at some intersections, you can. If you don't know which kind of intersection you're at, then pushing the button (assuming it works at all) may buy you more time to cross the street, OR it may hasten the end of the current cycle. So it's sort of a gamble.
posted by aws17576 at 9:06 PM on October 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


The New York Times? I'm pretty sure the entire concept of the crosswalk does nothing in New York.
posted by Artw at 9:09 PM on October 27, 2016


Certainly where I live in the suburbs the crosswalk buttons work. The lights will just stay green in the more popular direction forever unless a car triggers the road sensor or a pedestrian pushes a button. If you don't push the button you'll be standing there all day long.

There's a crosswalk near a retirement home that keeps the walk light on for a very, very long time. They must have timed it for how long an elderly person takes to cross the road. I was impressed by that.
posted by eye of newt at 9:12 PM on October 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, in Ottawa if you don't press the button, not only will you not get a Walk Man signal, at many intersections you won't have as much time to cross before the light changes.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:16 PM on October 27, 2016


Why wouldn't you wait and see if someone else might like to use this magical box that transports you up and down a building?

I don't know about you, but at this time of year I don't want David Pumpkins ruining my night.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:16 PM on October 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


Your. Mileage. May. Vary.
posted by kozad at 9:17 PM on October 27, 2016


The control code for each and every elevator bank is bespokeky created during the white boarding stage of software development interviews, accounting for each having its own flaws and idiosyncrasies.
posted by Artw at 9:20 PM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Here’s a video from DEFCON about elevators and elevator security.

It’s more interesting than an hour‐long presentation on elevators has any right to be.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 9:40 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


something something intermittent reinforcement?
posted by atoxyl at 9:57 PM on October 27, 2016


The control code for each and every elevator bank is bespokeky created during the white boarding stage of software development interviews, accounting for each having its own flaws and idiosyncrasies.

One of Knuth's examples in The Art of Computer Programming was implementing the logic behind the elevator bank at his building in MIX. The thing was so complicated--and I mean the logic was complicated, not the MIX program--that I picture Knuth spending days pushing buttons, riding up and down floors, and running up to stairs to observe empty elevators opening and closing their doors.
posted by mark k at 10:39 PM on October 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I live in Portland, OR. Red lights, stop signs, and crosswalks are meaningless. I don't expect a button to do anything.
posted by bendy at 10:58 PM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Where I live in California a voice says WAIT when you push the button. So of course I push the button repeatedly WAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAIT.
It's more fun if others are waiting and people can't see you pushing the button.

I am always hoping that the person who wrote the software for this programmed it to say STOP IT! if you pushed the button more than 72 times.
posted by boilermonster at 12:14 AM on October 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


Two major use cases for the elevator close button are 1) when it's closing, the safety sensors see a ghost or dust mote or fly and freak out, retriggering the ADA-length open cycle. The elevator I use most often doesn't let you close on first cycle but if the doors bounce back open you can use the close button then.

The other use case is 2) when your toddler sticks his hand in the door when it's closing and retriggers the open sequence and you must shame-press the button before strangers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:39 AM on October 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I hate it when people press the pedestrian crossing button a million times and then get all smug when it changes mid press. It was going to change anyway! Because I pressed it once and waited patiently! You don't get the credit!

People who are first at the lights and don't press it, thereby leaving their fellow people to wait in frustration for another entire cycle of light changing because we TRUSTED them to do their job deserve all the death stares they get. On the other hand, I get offended if I'm standing there first and someone else presses it too because hello, I am clearly not one of those annoying people. I think I spend too much of my life waiting to cross the street that these are issues I've pondered but I'd rather avoid another scolding by the police. The last one I got was nearly word for word the kind of lecture my dad would give me.

The best elevator button ever was in a hotel, it said "express" and when you pressed it you skipped all the other floors. It was fabulous.

We had an emergency red button in the hallway of our old building. Oh god was that ten years of torture. I wanna press it!
posted by kitten magic at 1:46 AM on October 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Back when I was still pretty young, and he was the general manager of a Holiday Inn, he pointed out that he's seen the insides of elevator button panels, and often the "close door" button wasn't even attached to anything with wires.

This is illegal nowadays. The door close button doesn’t have to do anything in normal operation, but it needs to be wired up so that firefighters can use it when operating the elevator in manual mode.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 1:48 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


... if you pushed the button more than 72 times.

As a former embedded systems programmer myself, I'm here to tell you the limit would be an integral power of two, 32, 64, 128, or 256.
posted by Bruce H. at 3:59 AM on October 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


Peeve venting time: If someone held the elevator door open for you, you are not allowed to hold the door for someone else.
posted by whuppy at 6:10 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a button that peeves the fuck out of me by the nearest light rail stop. There's a crosswalk. You push the button and warning lights come on over the roadway. Then the recorded message plays. "Wait! Vehicles may not stop!". Thanks for reminding me. It's important to remember that people feel entitled to break the law in a way that jeopardizes my own life. No need for a billboard reminding drivers of what a fucking crosswalk is, since they all seem to have forgotten. No. Just let me know I don't matter and nobody gives a shit.
posted by idiopath at 6:22 AM on October 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's definitely the case in car-heavy places, like Atlanta, that if you don't press that button, then you'll never get a walk sign. Of course I always wondered why I needed a walk sign at all, except as something to angrily gesture towards while someone tries to run me over in the intersection.

There is, unfortunately, no mute button for the smug dudes who walk up and tell you you're "wasting your time" by pressing the crosswalk button because "haven't you ever heard of placebo buttons?"
posted by duffell at 6:51 AM on October 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


We recently moved to a town with functional walk buttons. The town also has a crazy, giant triangle shaped downtown with one-way streets and crazy 5 way intersections at the corners necessitated by the fact that it's an old mill town with narrow streets and a river in the way of everything.

Pressing the walk sign at the top of the triangle will stop traffic in all directions at like, 4 different intersections. This leads to an interesting situation where cars will almost always stop to let you cross at crosswalks between the intersections (because please oh god don't press the button we're going to be sitting here forever if you do that). My husband and I actually got yelled at for pressing the button once when traffic wasn't particularly heavy and we would have been able to get across easily anyway.

So now I only press the buttons when (1) I see somebody else at the intersection, or (2) I want to cut across diagonally.
posted by damayanti at 6:57 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


There is, unfortunately, no mute button for the smug dudes who walk up and tell you you're "wasting your time" by pressing the crosswalk button because "haven't you ever heard of placebo buttons?"

That's the phrase I hate. "Placebo buttons" makes you think they are intentionally deceptive. Office thermostats may be, but I have not heard of an example where crosswalk buttons are. Where a city puts them in, spending thousands of dollars, to make people feel better for some reason. If they don't work, they are just obsolete and not removed. Close Door buttons aren't a placebo either, why would the elevator care how you feel about closing a door?
posted by ALongDecember at 7:03 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I came across an energy efficient set of crossing lights in SE Bavaria in the summer. They had no lights on at all until you pressed the button, at which point after a shot delay the light for traffic went red followed by the green light for pedestrians to cross came on. Then it all went back to sleep, so clearly that button did do something but the energy load must be way down.

This sort of thing may not be ideal for a crossing in the middle of NYC obviously.
posted by biffa at 7:05 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Where crosswalk buttons still do, or should, work in NYC is intersections with an accessible pedestrian signal (APS). Here's a list of intersections.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:16 AM on October 28, 2016


OTOH, those could be placebos too, even if they are broadcasting audible signals for the light change, now that I think about it - i.e., telling you when they change but not affecting when they change.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:33 AM on October 28, 2016


My son is obsessed with the new crosswalks they've put around where I work and where his grandparents live (he's an odd child), so I have had a lot of experience with them. They are accessible for the vision impaired and the buttons most definitely do things. They don't make the light change but they do turn on the voice that tells you when to wait and when to walk and which street is safe to cross. And at some intersections they give the option of a 4-way stop that is not part of the normal light cycle unless someone pushes the button.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:35 AM on October 28, 2016


The only working crosswalk button that I have ever encountered was by Poly Prep on 7th Ave. in Brooklyn. It allowed students to cross 7th Ave to the school. The parents of said students were all very well off, as was the school. No surprise there.
posted by Splunge at 7:52 AM on October 28, 2016


There must be two dozen articles exactly like this now, they have been around forever. Because of them I have tested and tested and tested, I am not a young man, I have lived and worked many places, in 100% of the neighborhoods I have lived in the crosswalk buttons work and in 100% of the buildings I have lived or worked in the elevator close button worked, I have literally never tested an elevator where it DIDN'T work.
posted by Cosine at 8:40 AM on October 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


In my ideal crosswalk button software, some sort of proximity detector plus a fingerprint detector or something would track button presses by owner, and if you casually walk up to a button with someone patiently waiting beside it, and press the button, it shrieks "what, do you think they're an idiot? They pressed it already!" at you.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


A guy in my neighborhood repairs elevators for a living. He says that when the electronic switch behind one of the buttons dies, it's common practice instead of paying for a new one to have the repair tech swap it out with the "Close Door" button, since that one is no longer required. So most "Door Close" buttons you see that don't work are just victims of a combination of entropy and cheap landlords.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:58 AM on October 28, 2016


Who is so impatient that they can't wait the extra 20 seconds it takes the door to close?

I'd say the Doctor, I'd he's being chased by manequins made of living plastic.

I mean obviously you never know when you might be chased by manequins, so let's keep those "close" buttons wired up.
posted by happyroach at 9:30 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


People who are first at the lights and don't press it, thereby leaving their fellow people to wait in frustration for another entire cycle of light changing because we TRUSTED them to do their job deserve all the death stares they get. On the other hand, I get offended if I'm standing there first and someone else presses it too because hello, I am clearly not one of those annoying people.

WAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAITWAIT...
posted by boilermonster at 9:34 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here in Minneapolis, the button definitely, positively works. There are some intersections where you still have to wait up to 10 minutes to cross (38th & Hiawatha, I'm looking at you). But if you don't push the button, you never get a signal at all.

Maybe more interesting are the camera-based signals we're getting (made by Image Sensing Systems). They can detect cars of course (and even know whether their blinkers are on), cyclists, and supposedly even count the number of pedestrians (so if there are 10 people waiting to cross, it would give them a signal faster). Of course it's up to traffic engineers to use the data to make the lights work better.
posted by miyabo at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2016


Who is so impatient that they can't wait the extra 20 seconds it takes the door to close?

I work in a special collections library, and we have an elevator intentionally set to have a very long door delay, in part because one time we were moving a large flat object on a cart and the door closed on it. Happily, it was just a facsimile mounted on foamcore for an exhibition. Anyway, our Close Door button definitely works, because elevator rides would be interminable without it.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2016


Living in Texas and then in Georgia I came to the conclusion that crosswalk buttons do nothing but taunt us. But here in Bellingham Washington every damn button works and they are responsive as fuck. It's like a little miracle every time I step outside -- push a button and I get a signal that it's "safe" to walk. (Of course it's not actually safe to walk -- you cannot ever trust any human driving any car ever under any circumstances even if you make eye contact with them while you are walking in front of their car. They will forget you are there in about .5 seconds and run you over.)
posted by bfootdav at 1:07 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


This leads to an interesting situation where cars will almost always stop to let you cross at crosswalks between the intersections (because please oh god don't press the button we're going to be sitting here forever if you do that).
Oh, I can top this!

In greater Boston, north of the Davis Square T stop, there's a small intersection where a side road comes off a main artery. Vehicles on the main artery have a blinking yellow for caution. Vehicles entering the artery have a blinking red to stop. Pedestrians can press the button to turn all the street lights red and get their walk signal. This all makes sense! So far so good.

Except actually, most of the time, and especially during rush hour, there's more pedestrian traffic crossing the side street going to and from the T stop than there is vehicle traffic going on and off it. Pedestrians use their numbers and sheer force of will to just cross the side street willy nilly. And drivers generally prefer this because they still end up waiting less than they would against the red light.

This is so ingrained, the drivers expect it. So much, that if you're a pedestrian with a generosity of spirit, and you try to wave a car onto the side street before you cross it, you will freak them out. Almost always they'll wave you on, even if you've already waved them on. It's not uncommon that they'll just sit there in the middle of the intersection, locked up, waiting for you to cross so they can go.

So no matter what you think or how nice you are as a pedestrian, the best thing you can do for traffic flow is to cross as if the side street wasn't even there, like it's just an extension of the sidewalk. Ideally keep your head down. Maybe even scowl. Don't acknowledge the possibility that there are cars around you to concern yourself with. Anything less risks creating a multi-car pileup as someone turning yields to you, even when they clearly have the legal right of way.

It's kind of amazing.
posted by brett at 7:16 PM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


People are just compulsive button pushers, really. Witness Jianyu on The Good Place. Or Fargo who "inappropriately pushed button" thirty-eight times.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:19 PM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some elevators used to have an express mode where you held down the floor you wanted to go and it would skip every other floor. This is rare nowadays or require a key.
posted by daninnj at 9:20 PM on October 28, 2016


Where I work we've got a lift (I'm a Brit - lift = elevator) where all the buttons except door open and the alarm are on the outside. It's apparently more efficient (at least one of the lift shafts contains two lifts) but it confuses and annoys everyone, especially the first time they try using it. You have to step up to the controls and pick a floor. It will then display which lift to get in when it next turns up.
posted by Francis at 5:13 PM on October 30, 2016


Crosswalk buttons in Denver. Ours mostly work (if way too slowly). We've also got a smattering of intersections with cameras that can register people on bicycles and trigger the signal to change, no button-press required.

It'd be nice if it took less time to get a pedestrian crossing signal on days when it's particularly hot, cold, or rainy. As long as motorists are going to make our lives worse by venting exhaust in our faces, splashing us, or (oh yeah!) killing us, they can wait a little longer now and then for us to cross the street.
posted by asperity at 8:40 AM on October 31, 2016


The worst I've encountered is a dedicated bicycle crosswalk button installed at a timer-and-car-sensor-only intersection right next to a gutter and a broken section of street, and positioned precisely so that the bicyclist has to try and not fall off due to (a) the gutter, (b) the broken gash in the street asphalt or (c) the excessive distance between the button and the edge of the street. If the cyclist manages to reach and push the button without falling off the bike, nothing continues to happen until some car cruises by and triggers the in-pavement detectors, or the timer kicks in.
posted by christopherious at 4:47 PM on October 31, 2016


« Older Very prophetic but it is a watermelon   |   DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments