There’s something satisfying about pressing that button at the crosswalk. Whether it takes five seconds or a minute to change the traffic signal from green to red, it’s natural to enjoy the feeling of control over the world.

Chris Herring
Unlike most of the crosswalk buttons in New York City, this button at the corner of South State Street and East William Street is functional. (MAX COLLINS/Daily)

In some cities, though, the buttons are a sham.

In New York City, more than 2,500 of the 3,250 crosswalk buttons don’t work.

LSA junior Kelli Meulenbelt said she fears that Ann Arbor’s crosswalk buttons are also non-functional.

“I don’t think they really work,” she said. “At Hill and Washtenaw, I push them and they don’t really do anything.”

Which raises a question philosophers have pondered for millenia: Are we really in control? Or is it just an illusion?

Pat Cawley, Ann Arbor’s city project manager, said almost all of the city’s crosswalk buttons work at any given time.

“Most of our buttons are in pretty good condition,” he said.

Mike Bergren, the city’s assistant field operations manager, said in an e-mail message that the city repair crosswalk devices the same day it receives a complaint. Maintenance workers repair about three buttons per month, he said.

“We would like to say that all of the approximately 287 pushbuttons located on our 77 actuated signals are in operating order,” he said.

All crosswalk devices are controlled by a central system monitor, which regulates traffic flow depending on the time of day and the season. At most intersections, pressing the crosswalk button inserts the walk phase into the system, which causes the walk signal to appear once the current traffic cycle has completed.

But when that’s not fast enough, many students ignore the crosswalk buttons and rely on luck or their car-dodging abilities.

LSA junior Mike Vickers said he normally files in with the rest of students that cross without a signal. LSA junior Drew Davidhizar said he does the same.

“I never push them,” he said, “I just jaywalk like everyone else in Ann Arbor.”

E.J. Horstman

Have a campus mystery you want the Daily to solve? E-mail hchris@umich.edu.

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