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.
It seems that most of New York City's intersections are computer-controlled. They have automatic timers, and the value of allowing pedestrians to control them is vastly lower than than the value of keeping traffic smoothly. So the pedestrian lights flash on schedule, and everyone is happy.
Apparently, it's expensive to remove the buttons. So they don't.
That's not the part that bothers me. This is:
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.
There are 3250 walk buttons. 2500 of them don't do anything. 750 of them do. There is no visible difference between the sets. There is no clear way to know which one they are. And if it works, it has a 90 second delay.
Interestingly, this problem reminds me of the challenges that public health educators have with safe sex messages. "Most of the people you have sex with don't have a disease. Of the ones who do, you won't always catch it. And of the ones who catch it, you won't know for a couple weeks or months."
Irregular, delayed feedback is an interesting problem. I've heard it suggested that the elevator "door close" is often just as much a fake--or also has a long enough delay to be nearly meaningless
Any other favorite examples?February 27, 2004 10:31 AM | in Design