Like many of you, I am a pedestrian for part of the day. I walk on the sidewalk and cross streets to get to places I need to be. In particular, in the morning I need to cross a busy street to catch my bus into civilization.

The street has a crosswalk and the light is somewhat pedestrian controlled in that a button can be pressed to trigger the walk signal. Many times I’ve arrived at the crosswalk and pressed the metal button, which elicits a sharp electronic chirp. This indicates to the crosser that the system has received the signal to change the light so that crossing may commence shortly. Now at this crosswalk, there is a lengthy wait of at least 40 seconds before the walk signal is given. During this time, there is nothing for me to do but stand at the edge of the curb and wait.

Now here is the interesting thing. On several occasions, people have come up behind me and pressed the exact same button that I did just a few seconds ago. For some people, I’m absolutely positive that they were close enough to hear that I pressed it already. For others, I know they probably didn’t hear my button activation. In any case, several questions run through my mind.

1. If this person did hear me press it, why the hell are they doing it again? What, did they think I did it wrong? How many damn ways are there to push a button? Do they think they can get the light to change faster? No! The only reason it seems like the light changes faster is because they were still in the 7-11 buying a damn doughnut when I pressed it the first time around. Who the hell do they think they are? The Fonz?

2. If they didn’t hear me press it, do they really think I’m moron who’s just standing there waiting for this light that will never change? Oh yeah thanks, even though you don’t have to know how to read to decipher the “walking man” symbol on the post, I had no clue what it was for and was hoping a genius like you would come around and press that damn button for me.

I am extremely interested in what is going on in those people’s minds when that happens. A few times I’ve come so close to turning around and starting a conversation.

“Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude but you did hear me press the button right? If you did, I just need to know for my own curiosity why you felt the need to press it again. Do you have some certification or training?”


“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice you pressed the button. What made you think I hadn’t pressed it already? I’m just curious, I really would like to know. Does it look like I need to wear a hockey helmet in public?”

For the record, I need to point out two things. The first is when the roles are reversed, I have never ever pressed the button behind their back. While I maybe a cynic when it comes to parts of society, I have a very romanticized view of certain aspects of people’s behaviour. In this case, I refuse to disrespect people in that manner. I would rather wait two minutes for a light that will never change and know for sure that they didn’t press it than assume that from the beginning.

Secondly, none of this applies to people crossing parallel to me on the other side of the street. Where I am, each side needs to trigger their own walk signal. Though it’s the first to press that determines how long we’ll wait, each side needs a press to get the little white walking dude to appear. So if you’re parallel to me, we’re cool, you do what you need to do.

I cannot wait for this to happen again. I am going to ask the question the next time around.

4 thoughts on “FAITH IN HUMANITY”

  1. Hey Erwin,Let me know how this turns out. I, too, am fascinated by this phenomenon.Down under, we have little red lights on some crosswalk buttons that are supposed to light up when the button is pressed – an imperfect solution because approximately 50% of the time they are burnt out thereby necessitating the “second push” in the event that you come to a pedestrian-occupied crosswalk with an unlit button.Also there are a lot of 5 (and more!) cornered intersections in Melbourne with crazy car priorities which mean some pedestrian crossing cycles during rush hour can be 4 to 5 minutes. So it is very easy to forgive the “second pusher” in these cases.-BryBry

  2. I just like pushing the button. I don’t care if you have already pushed it, I want to push it too and make the little “beep boop” sound.Sometimes I push it several times just because I can. I know once is enough to trigger it, but it’s fun. There aren’t enough buttons that beep for me to push at work or at home, so I must get my jollies with beeping crosswalk buttons.The non-beeping buttons are a different story entirely.

  3. Today when I got to work, I approached the elevator in the parkade and saw a co-worker there waiting for the elevator. She was looking at her cell, but she was clearly waiting for the elevator.The problem is that none of the “UP” buttons was lit up. So I’m thinking…did she press the button and it just didn’t light or did she not press it (or perhaps not hard enough)? Well, I don’t want to stand there for 5 minutes watching her look at her cell. I also don’t want to be the jerk who presses it after her which is prettymuch saying “I don’t think you have what it takes to correctly press the button.”So, after about 20 seconds (a LONG 20 seconds) I pressed the button. It lit up. The elevator came soon after.I couldn’t help but think of your article while this was happening.Chris

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