Sunday, August 4, 2013

A friend in need's a friend indeed

Here's an interesting blog post.  It has to do with placebo buttons.  These are just what they sound like: fake peyote buttons you press to give you something to do, but that don't do anything in themselves.

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. You still press them though, because the light eventually changes.
In an investigation by ABC news in 2010, only one functioning crosswalk button could be found in Austin, Texas; Gainsville, Fla.; and Syracuse, NY.
The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on, according to city Department of Transportation officials. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined.
- New York Times, 2004
The thing to note is that as far as traffic lights go, I already knew this.  I've heard much the same thing through other sources.

And yet I still press the buttons.  Even at crossings where the light never changes from "Don't Walk" to "Walk" I'll keep hitting it in blatantly false hope.  (I live near one of those, by the way.  Technically I can't cross the street to get home without jaywalking.)  So yes, I guess you do have to grasp at straws sometimes in order not to feel helpless.

Door close buttons on elevators are a different subject.  I never press those in the first place, because if the door closes on someone trying to get on I don't want to be blamed.


susan said...

I suspect this may also be true of the walk buttons at regular traffic lights here, but Halifax has many pedestrian activated crosswalks that allow you to push a button to light yellow flashers that stop all the traffic. Drivers here are very conscientious about pedestrians.

Elevator door close buttons likely don't work anywhere.

Ben said...

Conscientious drivers. That's good to know. It's one of those fairly positive Canadian stereotypes.

One hopes that at least the door open buttons on elevators work.