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Pedestrian Crossing Etiquette Pushes my Buttons

For a while now I’ve been meaning to write into Heckler in the Sydney Morning Herald about something that gets my goat – pedestrian crossing etiquette. Today, I was momentarily dismayed when I noticed someone else had written to them about the same thing. “What a shame someone has beaten me to it,” I thought, “but at least I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

Then I read the piece. And I realised perhaps I am the only one who feels this way, because the author was taking a very different view. In fact, in her piece Sally Davies is heckling against, well, me.

In the piece Sally complains about those people who join others standing at the lights, and press the button to cross the road. Sally asks why such folk insist on doing so, writing “Do they honestly think I haven’t hit the button?”

Actually yes. That’s exactly it.

Clearly Sally does know how to hit the button. And I respect her for that. But time and time again, I have been caught out trusting that the person who arrived at the crossing before me has taken care of that simple piece of pedestrian crossing housekeeping, only to find that I have overestimated them.

After joining them and waiting for the lights to change I’ll watch in frustration as the lights for the cars heading my way go green, and yet my pedestrian light stays red.

Depending on the traffic, some pedestrians will of course scutter across the road regardless. Sometimes motorists will kindly pause if they are turning into the street that said pedestrians are crossing.

But when traffic is busy, or motorists are impatient and any attempt to scutter is thwarted, I find myself glaring at those fools who let me down.

And while it’s not the biggest crime you could commit, I checked with police and it’s worth remembering that if you step off the footpath when the crossing man signal is red you are committing an offence, and could be hit with a $57 “cross against traffic lights” fine.

For a while there I used to wonder if those people who failed to push the pedestrian crossing light were letting motorists down as well. Did pushing the button for us to walk across extend the amount of time the cars had a green light too? Did it help make up for the fact that they were waiting for us to walk before they could turn into our road?

Well, no. Not according to the RTA spokesperson who answered my list of pedestrian crossing questions.

But another one of my theories was correct. That sometimes, even if no one presses the button, it will go green anyway. A phenomenon I’ve noticed only occasionally – and one that had me wondering if someone came by, pushed it, and then left.

The RTA spokesperson explained that at most Sydney pedestrian crossings the button must be pressed to activate the green walk signal, but that “One example of an exception to this is in the Sydney CBD during peak pedestrian periods, where the crossing button is automatic.”

Personally, I don’t see why it isn’t always automatic. I mean, if it doesn’t affect the length of time the cars’ green light stays on, then it shouldn’t interfere with SCATS – the RTA’s rather unfortunate acronym for Sydney Co-ordinated Adaptive Traffic System – which determines when traffic lights turn green and how long for depending on the traffic conditions.

And if it doesn’t upset SCATS, then why not just assume a nice pedestrian would like to cross the road, and give them the green light?

Until then, with apologies to Sally Davies and all those who feel her pain when someone like me joins them at the lights, I’m afraid I’ll keep on pressing your buttons. Because it’s easier than figuring out if you’re about to press mine.

Sally Davies’ original Heckler Piece for the SMH can be found here.

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  1. In the UK crossings have lights that illuminate if the button has been pushed.

    I still can’t count the number of times I’ve joined a group waiting at a crossing, wondered why its taken so long, and then realised that NOT ONE OF THEM has thought to press the clearly not pressed button.

    Oh dear.

  2. Love it. I’m in your camp. Trust no one at the crossing. Or waiting for an elevator!

    • Absolutely! At least some elevators show if the button has been pressed with that clever light that comes on. Pedestrian crossings could do with those!

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