On walk signal, are two buttons better than one?

Two walk signal buttons on Solano Avenue. Photo: Justin Huang

Last week, a local resident asked Berkeleyside about this signal pole on Solano Avenue. He wondered what the purpose of the street-level “walk signal” button was. We posed the question to readers on the Berkeleyside Facebook page, and their answers ran the gamut from the serious to the silly.

Some said the bottom button is for people to kick if their hands are full, or if they don’t want to risk contact with germs. Others said perhaps seeing eye dogs are trained to push this type of button for their owners. Another commenter said he uses the lower button if he’s on a bicycle or pushing a stroller.

Quite a few posters said the button is for people in wheelchairs, though Leprechauns, Lilliputians, squirrels, deer and wild turkeys also were suggested as among its target users. (See all 71 comments here.)

Farid Javandel, manager of the city of Berkeley’s Transportation Division, offered an official response this week: “The low pedestrian push buttons are for activation by wheelchair or by foot. These serve individuals who might have difficulty with the regular waist high pedestrian push buttons.”

Javandel said, via email, he didn’t know if guide dogs are trained to use the buttons, or how many of these signal buttons appear around the city, but that “we try to use them where there is a higher demand for accessible pedestrian service. In some locations pedestrian demand is so consistently high that the traffic signal automatically provides a pedestrian walk phase every time and we don’t need push buttons of either type.”

If you see a mysterious sight around the city, or have a question you’d like Berkeleyside to investigate, please don’t hesitate to let us know via email at tips@berkeleyside.com.

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  • Gus

    Farid Javandel is awesome, by the way. Product of Albany High (booo!), but still a real credit to our larger community and a fine example of Berkeley’s high-quality public services.

  • BerkeleyDeer

    Deer like pushing the lower buttons with our hooves so we don’t have to touch the germ-y waist-high buttons with our nose.

  • TN

    I’m all for making life easier for the disabled. It is a good idea to have a second pedestrian button placed lower on the pole. The main library’s elevator has kickable floor selection buttons in the back of the cab. 

    I’m curious about the sound supplements to the buttons. Most of them in Berkeley don’t produce a sound when pushed. Some of them ring. Some of them buzz. Some chirp. Some of them talk. And they don’t seem consistent. Some buzz any time they are touched but produce no other audible sounds. Others seem to be giving other cues. I haven’t been able to figure out precisely what these sounds are meant to signal in all the different configurations.

  • guest

     Thanks for that!

  • 2sonias

    Go visit the Ed Roberts Campus just outside Ashby BART. Lots of these sorts of buttons in the elevator and outside doors to various rooms.

  • Berkeley Mom

    I love the lower buttons, and so does my toddler. We go low whenever we can, ha! I would rather tap with my shoe than touch with my bare hands, but I’m a recovering germaphobe!

    Central Library’s elevator buttons are also awesome!

    These remind me of trains in Scandinavia and bathrooms in Japan, where everything is either foot-touch based or connected to sensors, brilliant!

  • anon

    And then there’s the one at University & MLK that tells you very sonorously to “WAIT.”
    Every time you press it, as many a 9-year old can attest…

  • guest

     When you fully recover, please write and publish a how-to book.  Thanks.

  • emraguso

    I’m going to have to check that out. I’d love to see them. 

  • emraguso

    Really interesting question — thank you for asking. I will see what I can find out. 

  • keep my name out of this

    The real question I have about these buttons, regardless of elevation, is what they actually do. Many think that they trigger a cycle change in the red/green lights. I have been told that they are more likely to just lengthen the duration of the walk cycle to make it safer to cross when your turn comes. 

  • TN

    At some controlled intersections that have pedestrian signals, the white pedestrian walk light will not come on unless the button is pushed. This is the case at San Pablo Avenue and Dwight Way. At other intersections, the pedestrian walk signal is triggered by default.

    It is illegal for pedestrians to cross against a red colored don’t walk signal. There’s a problem when the button doesn’t work such as has been the case at 9th Street and University Avenue frequently. Someone(s) has been vandalizing the button and is often out of order.

  • emraguso
  • Charles_Siegel

    Berkeley has these buttons in places where they are not necessary, such as Hearst/MLK and Telegraph/Dwight. If you don’t push the button, the traffic light becomes green for cars, but the pedestrian signal continues to say Don’t Walk. Needless to say, pedestrians usually forget to push the buttons and cross on the green traffic light, even though it still says Don’t Walk. This confuses some pedestrians. I think it makes the crossing a bit more dangerous to have people crossing on the Don’t Walk. Of course, it is also more inconvenient for pedestrians to have to push the button.

    I think this sort of pedestrian-activated signal is standard practice among traffic engineers, because it is useful on suburban streets where there are few pedestrians – that is, most of the streets in America.

    It is not useful at intersections like Telegraph/Dwight, where there are virtually always pedestrians crossing. The Walk sign should go on automatically.

    Putting it there shows that the city is not planning for pedestrians. It is just using textbook methods without thinking.

  • Mbfarrel

    At at least some lights they do lengthen the walk phase. At others I feel they are there just to enforce conformity. I regularly cross at an intersection where pushing the button lengthens the phase but the other, parallel side walk still sees the red No Walk. At intersections with red/green turn arrows, crossing against the red walk puts you in the path of left turning traffic. All of it is lost on those peds who simply ignore the lights and just walk regardless. I would hit more of them if I knew they were insured.

  • Casey

    Go Albany High!