Does That Button at the Crosswalk Actually Help You Cross Faster?

You’re eager to get to your destination. Or maybe you’re just late, plain and simple. You frantically push the crosswalk button at an intersection so that you can walk or ride your bike to the other side safely.

But seconds pass, and the cars just keep on coming. “Does this stupid crosswalk button even do anything?” you wonder. It’s a good question, and one that many of us have had while anxiously waiting to cross the street.

In most instances, yes, these buttons work, but not immediately. They’re designed to let the system know that a pedestrian is waiting and make adjustments, not automatically stop traffic.

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You should also know that some cities put these crosswalk system into something called “recall mode,” during which the buttons don’t really do much because pedestrian crossing windows are already built into the timeline.

Often, though, these buttons just don’t work, period. In New York City, for instance, just 100 of 1,000 crosswalk buttons actually functioned in 2018.

If these things are so complicated and/or rarely working, why are they even there at all?

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The answer: Control. They give us the illusion that we have agency over our own lives and walking paths. They’re basically placebos!

“Taking some action leads people to feel a sense of control over a situation, and that feels good, rather than just being a passive bystander.

Doing something typically feels better than doing nothing,” says Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer.

The next time you’re at a crosswalk, you might as well push the button. After all, what do you have to lose? You’ll be waiting either way.

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What’s your biggest pet peeve while out taking a walk or riding your bike?

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