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August 5, 2013

Placebo Buttons [Bumped]


Final fears confirmed:
"Computers and timers now control the lights at many intersections, but at one time little buttons at crosswalks allowed people to trigger the signal change. Those buttons are mostly all disabled now, but the task of replacing or removing all of them was so great most cities just left them up. ォ You Are Not So Smart

Posted by gerardvanderleun at August 5, 2013 9:13 AM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

I make my living maintaining traffic signals. If this article is true, it's an isolated true. I've met signal techs from all over the country and we can only wish this was true. Pedestrian push-buttons give us more headaches than just about any other piece of gear. We do get a certain glee out of wondering how times someone thinks they have to push the button to make them work. The answer (if the button is working) is once.

Posted by: David McKinnis at August 4, 2013 4:13 PM

In our city one of the mayors past put a switch in the road so that when he left his house the traffic light would change for him. He also included a push button cross walk for the children. This worked as a kid, I remember pushing the button and riding my bike over the street sensor, you could hear a click and the gears start to rotate in the switch box.
The traffic light is down, the wire is still across the street, the cross walk buttons and switch in the road are still there.
Can't think where I crossed recently but you needed to hit the button or you wouldn't get the green man and the less than three second street crossing count down unless you pushed the button.

Posted by: Potsie at August 4, 2013 4:18 PM

At intersections near my house, they have widened the road and upgraded the traffic signals. The new signals still include pedestrian buttons.

But the article reminds me of of another story I read once, about some building at some location (maybe an airport?) where there were elevators that only served two floors. Since, once you got on such an elevator there was only one destination (the other floor), the designer designed the elevator with no floor buttons. Apparently this made many people nervous, and many refused to use the elevators. So they modified the elevators to have floor buttons which -- you guessed it -- did nothing but ease the minds of the patrons.

Posted by: Grizzly at August 4, 2013 4:51 PM

They do actually work where I live. The crosswalks are always don't walk unless you hit the button. I don't know if they make the slightest difference to traffic signal time - I suspect not - but they do something.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at August 4, 2013 5:47 PM

Grizzly, at one place I worked it was only two floors, I liked getting on the elevator and saying "(the other floor) please" with a big smile and the people would always respond with "oh!" and push the button again and then think about it.
It was easier to take the stairs but seeing how you could always get someone to push a button gave me a laugh.

Posted by: Potsie at August 4, 2013 5:48 PM

David McKinnis, I think you have the coolest job. Don't ask me why but ever since I was a kid I have found traffic lights fascinating.

Posted by: Potise at August 4, 2013 5:50 PM

Potise, it is interesting work. One day I will be trouble-shooting microprocessors and the next I'll be running a crane to put up a pole someone knocked down. It's the ultimate handy-man job.

Posted by: David McKinnis at August 4, 2013 8:42 PM

David, so you're the guy who times the lights so that I have to stop at every friggin' intersection with my car spewing out more CO2 and my breaks wearing down so I don't rear end every grandma who decided to drive downtown during rush hour.


Posted by: Doug at August 5, 2013 5:51 AM

Doug, I'm the guy that makes sure the signals do exactly what the engineers want. Though I suppose that's a little like saying "Look I put fifteen gypsies in the ovens like you said. If you wanted jews you should have told me".

Posted by: David McKinnis at August 5, 2013 7:19 AM

David, how many geared traffic lights are still in use do you think? A percentage would be fine. I still want to purchase an old geared four sided traffic light.

Posted by: Potsie at August 5, 2013 8:28 AM

Potsie, If by "geared" you mean electro-mechanical, I'm still maintaining one out of three hundred signals. Many cities and counties can probably boast the same amount. As far as a four-way with a controller inside, I've heard of them but have never seen one.

Posted by: David McKinnis at August 5, 2013 1:53 PM

Yes, electro-mechanical, No it wouldn't have to have the controller inside. I would just be happy with a single set of red/yellow/green. I like electro-mechanical items, arcade games, machinery, etc. I like seeing "stuff" work. With a processor there is no magic.
My home town once was listed as a city with the most traffic lights. They have taken many of them down, replaced them with stop signs, the lights that remain are original (50/60s) but the controllers have been replaced by microprocessors in many cases.
Someone once told me and I tested it, you could drive from one end of the city to the other at 37mph and get all green lights. The speed limit was 30.

Posted by: Potsie at August 6, 2013 3:50 AM

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