Do crosswalk buttons in the Bay Area really work?

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Do crosswalk buttons work or are they just something to keep you occupied while traffic lights go through their motion? Here's a look at the surprising results. (KGO-TV)

In downtown Santa Rosa, at the intersection of 3rd and E Streets, you'll see pedestrians pushing crosswalk buttons, for no good reason at all. Those buttons don't work. Neither do the crosswalk buttons at 2nd and E Street.

To be fair, in Santa Rosa most other crosswalk buttons do change the traffic lights. The three that don't are set to be upgraded soon.

But how about in your town?

In San Francisco, "every crosswalk button has a purpose," Paul Rose of the Municipal Transportation Agency noted.

There are 1,200 signalized intersections across the city, he explained. Of those, 259 will change a traffic pattern after pushing a button at the crosswalk.

So, what do the crosswalk buttons do at the remaining 941 intersections?

They light up the walk sign and trigger the audio meant to help the visually impaired know where to cross. The buttons rarely change the timing and don't put pedestrian in front of the line.
It makes sense. Traffic is complicated and often computer controlled. One person pushing a button can't always be allowed to change things.

In San Jose, pushing the walk button doesn't do much on major thoroughfares. They are already set up for pedestrians, but on streets with fewer walkers, pushing the button adds time for pedestrians to cross.

What about the myth of pushing the button more than once?

It does not help. "There is no Morse code involved when pushing the button," said Rose.

Here's what we found from other cities around the Bay Area:

Napa: 55 intersections with crosswalk buttons and signals. When pressed, the button puts a call into the computer and uses software detection to determine whether signal changes. No voice audio feedback as of yet.

San Jose: 950 intersections with crosswalk buttons and signals. Pressing the button may not change traffic pattern.

San Rafael: 89 intersections with crosswalk buttons and signals, 19 have voice audio feedback when pressed. Pressing the button may not change traffic pattern.

Santa Rosa: 210 intersections with crosswalk buttons and signals. 167 have voice audio feedback when pressed. In the downtown area, several signals will defer to pedestrians pushing the "walk" button, even if the button is activated, to keep up with pedestrian demand.

Walnut Creek: 450 intersections with crosswalk buttons and signals, 110 have voice audio feedback when pressed. Pressing the button may not change traffic pattern.

Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
Related Topics:
traffic7 On Your Sideconsumerconsumer concernspedestriansSan FranciscoSanta RosaSan JoseWalnut Creek
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