Good Question: Do pedestrian 'walk' buttons actually work?

April 16, 2018 06:56 AM

Have you ever wondered what happens when you push those walk buttons at intersections that are meant for pedestrians?

Pat Taney was asked about that for this week's Good Question report.

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Sisters Julia and Marin Jaeger asked about this one after waiting a long time to cross a local intersection.

"It is taking a long time after I push the button so I am suspicious that it works," Julia says.

"Do the buttons for the crosswalk actually work?" Marin asks Pat.

He took that question to Lois Furioso who is the traffic signal maintenance engineer for the New York State Department of Transportation. She works to set up the signals in our area.

Taney: When I push the button, does it actually do something? 

Furioso: Sometimes it does, but not always.

There are a few things to consider, Furioso told us.

"It depends on the location of the intersection, time of day, and the volume of traffic," Furioso says.

In cities like Rochester where there are a lot of walkers, traffic signals and pedestrian buttons are on a fixed cycle.

"Fixed time means that the intersection is going to run its full cycle and it's going to provide time for the pedestrians to cross," Furioso says.

In rural areas and the suburbs where there are few pedestrians, the signals are likely actuated. That means when you hit the button to cross...

"The cycle doesn't change," Furioso says. "It's not going to send it to walk right away."

But hitting the button will activate the countdown on the display clocks to give you enough time to cross.

Some other things we learned -- pushing the button repeatedly doesn't make the light change any faster.

Also, have you ever wondered how the countdown time to cross is determined?

Engineers measure how long it would take some of the slowest walkers to get across each intersection. It's determined by 3.5 feet per second -- that is the time for the countdown.

Furioso says no matter which intersection you are at, fixed or actuated, walkers should always push the button to cross. That will activate the countdown and give you enough time to make it. This is all about safety, so the more signals or communication you can have at intersections, the safer we all are.

If you have a question you'd like Pat to answer, send him an email at


Pat Taney

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