## Tuesday, March 23, 2010

### Push Button, Cars Stop, Pedestrians Walk

It's time for you to confess! When you are walking along and come to an intersection, do you:
1. run across
2. wait for drivers to stop for you
3. press a BUTTON on a pole, then wait for the signal to indicate it's safe
4. don't bother to go to an intersection but cross wherever you want
Here are a few of those BUTTONS, in case you aren't sure what I am talking about.

There's some debate about what the BUTTON does. Some people think the BUTTON does nothing at all but give the pedestrian a good feeling. Others insist the BUTTON makes the signal change sooner, and others are certain it allows more time at that signal for a slow person to get across.

What about repeated pressing of the BUTTON? Does pounding the BUTTON mercilessly make the signal come faster?

In our city, pressing the BUTTON often starts lights flashing, buzzing and beeping tones, numbers counting down, etc. It definitely throws the signals OUT of synchronization. And it introduces a challenge to that huge moral point best articulated by Mr Spock, in Star Trek:

"The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few or the One."

What do you think? When it comes to pedestrians attempting to use crosswalks or zebra crossing, should the cars rush on, or stop? Should we who are in cars live by the contrary philosophy stated by Captain Kirk?

The need of the one outweighs the needs of the many?

I'll leave that up to you to decide for yourself, but sometimes when I am in a mile-long line of cars inching along due to the zealous after-school BUTTON-pressers, I feel less generous than I do at this moment.

In case you were wondering where is the math?, try to calculate how much longer your favorite signal takes to change with a BUTTON pressed compared to not pressed. Then see if you can determine whether the signals near you were re-timed when daylight savings time changed!

If you want to study this subject further, you can check out this site: Accessible Pedestrian Signals or you can study this patent for a solar-powered crossing system.