IF YOU’VE ever repeatedly bashed the pedestrian crossing button, expecting the lights to change soon after and lead you safely towards your destination, you may have been barking up the wrong tree for the past 24 years.
Whether smashing the button has any effect on the lights at all has been the subject of vigorous debate across the county for many years.
But the answer varies depending on which state or city you’re crossing the road in.
Unfortunately for Sydneysiders, if you’ve been pressing the button in attempt to speed up the signal change between 7am to 7pm on Monday to Thursday and from 7am to 9pm on Friday — you have been taken for a fool for a long time.
That’s because in many parts of the city, the signals during these times are set to “automated pedestrian phases”, which means the big clicking button is rendered useless. And, it has been that way since 1994.
It changes slightly on Saturday, when the automated phase is shifted to run from 8.30am to 9pm. However, serial button bashers will be pleased to discover that Sunday is a day when you can really make a difference.
For this special day of the week, the automated phases are disabled and, for the entire day, your button pressing skills will have a direct impact on halting traffic.
A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said these automated phases run in areas where there is a “high level of pedestrian activity, at specific times of the day”.
“These phases are constantly reviewed against demand profiles of road users and other changes that may affect the network,” the spokeswoman said.
“Shorter wait times have kept pedestrians moving and could potentially reduce the risk of jaywalking and pedestrian crashes.”
The system will also adjust automatic times to account for larger volumes of pedestrians during things like major sporting events.
It comes as the Harbour City looks to cut down on its pedestrian crossing waiting times.
Numerous studies have shown that if pedestrians are forced to wait more than a minute to cross the road, it results in more illegal crossings.
In January, the waiting time for cars, bikes and pedestrians in Sydney was cut for the first time ever.
Waiting times dropped from about two minutes to 90 seconds — this should be the absolute maximum time you should wait to cross the road in anywhere in the city.
At many crossings in the CBD, there are now “double-phased” lights which slash waiting times for pedestrians down to about 45-55 seconds.
A Transport for NSW spokeswoman told news.com.au these automated phasing crossings were all centred in the CBD, North Sydney and Parramatta. For everywhere else in the state, the general rule is: Pushing the button makes a difference.
However there is still a long way to go for Sydney, as studies show 30 seconds is the optimal time both children and adults are willing to wait before indulging in risky crossing behaviour.
Many major cities across the world are also looking to cut pedestrian waiting times. London, for example has successfully slashed its waiting times at 200 intersections to a maximum of 40 seconds.
HOW DOES IT WORK IN OTHER STATES?
It’s all about the timing in the Queensland.
A spokesman for Transport and Main Roads said during busy pedestrian times the signals will run on automatic timing meaning pushing the button doesn’t make a difference.
“Outside of these hours, all pedestrian traffic signals require the pedestrian to push the button to activate the pedestrian crossing,” he said.
Pushing the button does matter.
A Main Roads WA spokesman said pedestrian crossings are not on an automatic timer.
“When a person activates the pedestrian signal button that interrupts the traffic phase of the signals, incorporating the pedestrian request to cross in the signal phasing,” a spokesman said.
At the Top End, crossings signal green as part of an automatic cycle, but it’s good to push it just to be sure.
“Pushing the button at the crossing will register a request with the signal management system, and will prioritise the pedestrian crossing,” a spokesman for the Department for Transport said.
Pedestrians in Victoria get the same deal as the Northern Territory.
VicRoads director of road operations Dean Zabrieszach said pushing the button sends a signal that people are waiting to cross, but it won’t make it go green any faster.
“The timing of the activation of the green walk sign depends on the flow of vehicle traffic and the status of signalling in adjacent intersections.”
The ACT has the same system, where pushing the button registers that someone is waiting, and the green man will appear at the next point in the cycle.
How long you wait depends on where the intersection is. Some operate in a linked network while others are independent.
“Where the intersection is part of a co-ordinated network the wait time varies. Sometimes pedestrians may have to wait for the intersection to run other demanded phases before returning to the phase where pedestrians can cross the intersection” a spokesman said.
Wait times at independent intersections depend on the volume of traffic.
The short answer is yes, pushing the button does make a difference to how long you wait, said a spokeswoman for State Growth.
But it depends where you are. If the traffic light is part of a fixed plan, the green man will appear based on an automatic cycle.
At off-peak times and non-work days the green man only appears if you push the button. Wait times depend on how busy the intersection is.
But most importantly, State Growth confirmed: “The myth of rapidly pushing the button to quickly call the pedestrian green man, is just a myth.”
In South Australia, a computerised system runs pedestrian crossing sequences.
“In the CBD, some traffic signals go into the pedestrian phase automatically. This occurs at busier intersections between 6am and 10pm, seven days a week,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure said.
The wait time will vary depending on how busy the road is and when the button is pushed. Some places, like pedestrian areas or shopping zones, have reduced wait times outside peak hours to give walkers priority as well.