Crossed up at crosswalk Don't walk, run: 'Push to cross street' buttons at intersections don't necessarily give pedestrians more time to get to the other side.

The Intrepid Commuter

February 12, 1996

THEY'RE SMALL, round, attached to countless poles throughout the city and state, and seemingly useless.

Guesses, anyone?

Congratulations if you reckoned those ever-present "push to cross the street" buttons.

These gizmos are installed at busy intersections where pedestrians might need more time to cross the street. Their purpose: If pushed, they supposedly lengthen the time traffic is stopped for pedestrians to cross.

But Walter Freidman -- who lives in Federal Hill near the Inner Harbor, walks to work daily and pushes the button at Light and Pratt streets -- wonders whether any of the buttons work.

"I try the same one every day and, to be honest, the only good it serves is a psychological one," he said. "It makes you think you have more time to cross, and you don't. It makes you think that you're doing everything you possibly can to get home quickly."

Mr. Freidman's solution is simple: Remove the buttons or somehow make them justify their existence. Besides, he said, these buttons are often at intersections where police officers or electronic traffic controllers handle the flow of traffic.

His complaint was so compelling that your Intrepid Investigator took to several street corners recently with a stopwatch, boots and heavily insulated clothes (this research was done during last week's cold snap) to check the alleged usefulness of crosswalk buttons.

Our method of research was very scientific: Press the button as soon as the intersection signal changed, to allow us to cross the street. Then, using the stopwatch, see how long we have to cross the street once the "walk" light flashes. We timed this procedure three times, then timed it three times without pressing the button for comparison.

Our first stop was Pratt and Light streets, where the time allowed to cross Pratt Street after pushing the button was identical to the time allotted to cross if the button was not pushed.

Was the crossing button useful?

Nope.

(By the way, the "walk" light flashed for only eight seconds, so don't linger at that intersection)

Next, we went to Charles and 21st streets and attempted to cross Charles Street. Once again there was no difference in the time allotted when we pushed the button. Ditto for 39th Street and Greenmount Avenue.

Dave L. Montgomery, head of the city's bureau of transportation, said about 500 of the crosswalk buttons are installed throughout the city, mainly in areas of heavy traffic, schools and concentrations of senior citizens.

When pushed, he said, the crosswalk buttons are supposed to allow as much as 30 additional seconds for pedestrians to cross. He said he would check the ones timed by your Intrepid One.

MTA offers lunch discounts for Metro customers

Hoping to entice more riders to board the Metro during their lunch hour, the Mass Transit Administration and more than 40 restaurants near downtown Metro stations have teamed up to offer lunchtime discounts through this month.

Free coupon books available at any Metro station are filled with discount coupons for restaurants near the Lexington Market, Charles Center, Shot Tower/Market Place and Johns Hopkins Hospital stations.

John A. Agro Jr., the MTA administrator, said Metro ridership has increased nearly 10 percent since the Shot Tower/Market Place and Johns Hopkins Hospital stations opened eight months ago, an increase of about 47,000 riders a day.

"We want to encourage more people to take advantage of this easy way to get to a variety of eateries in the downtown area," Mr. Agro said.

Participating restaurants include Fuddruckers, Phillips, Vaccaro's and Acropolis.

Conversation flows, but traffic doesn't

Your Intrepid One was driving on Windsor Mill Road in Gwynns Falls Park recently. The downhill stretch winds and is one lane each way, and the speed limit is 25 mph, which we personally feel is too high, but that's another matter.

Anyhow, it was the bumper-to-bumper evening rush, and the car in front of us suddenly stopped. The driver gave no signal, and his brake lights didn't come on. The car just stopped.

We and several cars behind us sat there for several seconds waiting for the car to begin moving. But it didn't.

We leaned on the horn, of course, but still nothing. All we saw was the driver chatting happily to a passenger.

After about two minutes, the driver waved politely to us blokes behind him and took off.

We figure he just wanted to stop to concentrate on his conversation for a few minutes. But why in the middle of a hazardous road during rush hour?

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