Why is NYC Adding Crosswalk Buttons?

On one of my first days in sunny Los Angeles, I was waiting patiently to cross the street (yes, people do walk there). The lights cycled through, but I never got a walk signal. Puzzled, I looked around and spotted a crosswalk button. Sure, we had those things in New York growing up, but they didn’t work; pressing the button was just something to do to kill time while waiting. Turns out in Los Angeles, they actually work. Lesson learned.

crosswalk button

Some old-fashioned crosswalk buttons are still around. Don’t work, though.

Lately, I have seen crosswalk buttons popping up all over Manhattan. I am just as puzzled as I was that day in Los Angeles — there are always people crossing the street. Why do we need buttons?

This one at Columbus Ave and 66th St. is particularly baffling.

New fancy crosswalk buttons.

New fancy crosswalk buttons.

At first, it didn’t seem like it was working — you would press the button but not get the walk signal. So I walked anyway.

But then I realized I was not supposed to get the walk signal; I had to wait until the lights turned red for cars going both ways, then we could cross in all directions.

Several problems here. Number one, doesn’t stopping cars for longer periods of time (because not only do cars going North-South get a red light while East-West cars get the light, they all have to stop for another pedestrian cycle) increase gridlock? And second, if you are crossing Columbus on the North side of the street, you should be allowed to cross when East-West cars have the red light because cars can’t turn right onto Columbus.

And if you are going to do this, you should allow pedestrians to cross diagonally through the intersection, since cars are not coming, anyway. They do this at the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, as well as in Beverly Hills and Pasadena, both equally as sunny as Los Angeles.

Shibuya crossing.

Shibuya crossing.

Still, though, this does not answer the question of why we need crosswalk buttons in New York.

Sign. I hate this city.