How often do you stand at an intersection, popping away at the pedestrian button, and have Johnny Rotten’s famous quote run through your head: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Well, if you live in the city of Sydney, you’ve likely been spot on – for more than two decades.
Since 1994, most of the red “don’t walk” men in the city switch to green after a pre-determined time.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, pressing the button does precisely nothing from 7:00am to 7:00pm Monday to Thursday, 7:00am to 9:00pm on Fridays, and 8.30am to 9:00pm on Saturdays. The sign switches after the determined time elapses, regardless of whether you pressed the button a million times or didn’t even bother.
The only day of the week where it makes any difference is Sunday, because of Sunday drivers and all that.
And, in fact, it’s not just in Sydney. A Transport for NSW spokeswoman said at the start of September that these pre-determined times are in place in “high level of pedestrian activity, at specific times of the day” around Sydney CBD, North Sydney and Parramatta. In country NSW, the button should work.
A 2014 report by news.com.au looked at every state in Australia and came up with the following results:
- Victoria: A press of the button registers your intent to cross, and means the signal will turn green when it is safe to cross. However, it will not change the behaviour of traffic lights any faster than normal.
- Queensland: Buttons do nothing during peak times, but do need to be pressed outside of these hours.
- Western Australia: Buttons work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hooray!
- South Australia: A mix of everything – some buttons do nothing, others are essential and others again reduce your wait time.
- Tasmania: Pushing the button in some areas will make the green man appear sooner, but do nothing in some busy areas during peak times.
- Northern Territory: Similar to Victoria – the button isn’t essential, but a quick press can help prioritise pedestrians.
- The ACT: Again, pushing the button ensures the green man will appear when appropriate but does not affect when traffic lights will change.
The bottom line: in almost all parts of Australia, smashing the button repeatedly does nothing to reduce your wait time.
In areas where they don’t work, why bother having them?
If they don’t actually do anything, why do we persist with building traffic lights that have these buttons?
Well, according to one psychiatrist in New York City – where many locals refer to the pedestrian-light buttons as “Nothin’ Buttons” – it’s a stress relief.
“By pushing that button, it’s almost a catharsis, where they’re letting that nervous energy out,” Dr Jeff Gardere told NY1.
“They believe that perhaps they’re doing something. So it may in fact de-stress them, where they feel actually better, they feel some sort of empowerment.”