I don’t know about you, but when I’m waiting at a crosswalk to make my way across a road, I press the button a lot. Once when I first arrive, again after nothing seems to happen for a few minutes, and then at least three more times before the lights finally change. In my mind, it helps speed up the process of waiting for the lights to change. But according to one TikToker, it really doesn’t.
While doom scrolling through the usual mix of mountain bikes, road bikes and gravel bikes that fill my For You page this morning, I came across this interesting clip from Traffic Light Doctor. Real name Steven Harmon, his page is packed with secrets about roadway and lighting infrastructure across America.
In the clip that caught my eye this morning, Harmon explains just what happens at an intersection when you press the button to cross a road, and it’s quite the complex process.
Harmon explains that a press of the button sends a signal to a logic board in a nearby control box. The heart of this box is a unit that takes inputs from the pedestrian buttons and other cameras and sensors to control what can or can’t move across an intersection.
When you press the button at a crosswalk, the signal travels to the control unit via the logic board and another machine. Then, the signal alerts the control unit that someone is waiting to cross, this Harmon explains is a “call” to action for the control unit.
The control unit leaves the call sign in place until the correct crosswalk can be illuminated, then the command is cleared from the queue. But repeatedly pressing the button doesn’t give the control unit repeated signals that someone is waiting to cross.
As Harmon shows in his demo, the control unit just indicates that one crossing has been called for, and not the number of times it has been requested. In fact, he says that the button cannot be activated once again until the initial call to action has first been cleared and the crosswalk has let you pass.
So the next time you’re waiting at a crosswalk hammering the button, remember that you’re only doing it for your own good. It won’t actually make the crosswalk change any faster. The more you know.