The truth about New York’s traffic buttons

‘Mechanical placebos’: “For years, at thousands of New York City intersections, well-worn buttons have offered people a rare promise of control over their pedestrian lives.

The signs say: To Cross Street Push Button. Wait for Walk Signal. Dept. of Transportation.

Millions of dutiful city residents and tourists have done just this. Many may have believed they actually worked. Others might have suspected they were broken but pushed anyway, out of habit, or in the off chance that a walk sign might appear more quickly.

As it turns out, the cynics were correct. The city disconnected the vast majority of the buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, Department of Transportation officials have admitted.

More than 2500 of the 3250 pedestrian walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos.” —Sydney Morning Herald Growing up in New York City, I can tell you that the buttons did nothing (except contain impatience) even thirty or forty years ago. My suspicions were confirmed when I moved to Boston for college; the lights actually changed almost immediately in response to pushing the buttons, and they still do.