Monday, July 07, 2008
Madison's placebo buttons: Do they control traffic, or just create an illusion of control?
We pass a number of these on the regular route for our bike rides, but of course they're all over town. You know the drill: You push the button, nothing happens, and cars keep coming. You push it again. And again. Nothing happens. Finally, the lights change, cars come to a halt, and you cross the street. But it occurs to you that the walk sign coming on had absolutely nothing to do with your pushing the button. You wonder if it's even connected, or whether it's a placebo button designed to make pedestrians feel they can control their fate, even if they can't really.
I've only come across one exception to this rule: The walk button at Wingra and Fish Hatchery really does work pretty well, bringing even heavy traffic on Fish Hatchery to a halt in a reasonable amount of time. But that only happened after some dedicated biker set up camp at the corner several years ago and collected signatures for a petition. Maybe we need more petitions.