A recent debate on Reddit raised a question that has haunted Aussie pedestrians since the dawn of electronic traffic signalling systems: does pushing the button multiple times actually get you to the other side of the street any quicker? The answer might shock you.
With the exception of Darwin, in a busy CBD during peak hours, pushing the button does nothing at all, as the light sequence is 100 per cent automated in periods of high traffic. This is even more true post-pandemic, with some city intersections now automated 24/7 and buttons covered.
If you're outside of a central business district, lights are much less likely to be automated and it's rare to find automation at all outside of capital cities. Still, there's no point pushing the button more than once. Read on for a state-by-state breakdown of how pedestrian crossing buttons work.
According to a spokesperson from Transport for NSW, pedestrian signals in Sydney's CBD are automated 24/7 with buttons covered and no need to press.
However it's important to note that this automation only covers the CBD in the strictest sense, walk just a few minutes down the road towards Broadway and Glebe, for example, and buttons do need to be pressed. Once.
Transport for NSW has confirmed there is no point pushing the button multiple times or after someone else has already pressed it that cycle.
Everywhere else in the state you'll also need to press the button (again, once).
In the Melbourne CBD, pedestrian crossings are automated from dawn through just after midnight, so there is no point pushing the button.
A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said that some "80 pedestrian crossings within Melbourne's city centre are automated between 5.30am and 12.30am to help support a constant flow of vehicles, pedestrians and public transport in a busy CBD environment."
"The cycles for these crossings are co-ordinated with tram timetables and peak travel times to help with traffic flow and keep pedestrians safe when crossing."
Outside of the Melbourne CBD, some signal crossings have been pre-programmed to run automatically between selected days and times, targeting busy pedestrian periods such as school drop-off or pick-up times.
If a pedestrian crossing has been pre-programmed to run, then pushing the button once or multiple times during the relevant times has no effect.
However, the vast majority of crossings in greater Melbourne and regional Victoria are not pre-programmed and pedestrians need to push the button just once if they wish to cross.
It's a similar situation in SA, with high-traffic CBD lights automated for most of the day.
A spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure said: "In South Australia, a computerised system runs pedestrian crossing sequences. In the CBD, some traffic signals are programmed to go into the pedestrian phase automatically. This occurs at busier intersections between 6am - 10pm, seven days a week."
The spokesperson added: "The wait time for pedestrians varies depending on how busy the road is and when the button is pushed. Some crossings in high-pedestrian areas have reduced wait times outside peak hours to give pedestrians priority.
"Pushing a pedestrian push button multiple times will not increase how quickly the pedestrian crossing sequence is activated."
Likewise, certain lights in the nation's capital are automated while buttons at less busy intersections will require a press.
A spokesperson for Transport Canberra said: "Some pedestrian lights are on an automated schedule. This depends on a number of factors including time of day, level of pedestrian or cyclist activity and the overall operation of the intersection."
If a crossing is automated, pushing the button has no effect. However, if "a pedestrian crossing is not on an automated cycle, you will need to press the button. Once the button is pressed it will trigger the cycle. Pressing a button multiple times does not increase the speed at which the lights will change."
According to spokesperson for Main Roads, Dean Roberts, Perth CBD traffic signals are fully automated as follows:
Perth CBD - Monday to Friday (7-9am, 12-2pm & 4-6pm)
William Street & The Esplanade/Mounts Bay Road
Barrack Street & St Georges Terrace
Barrack Street & Hay Street
Barrack Street & Murray Street
Barrack Street & Wellington Street
William Street & Wellington Street
William Street & Murray Street
William Street & Hay Street
William Street & St Georges Terrace
Wellington Street Pedestrian Crossing at the Perth Train Station
Northbridge - Friday to Saturday (6pm to 10pm)
Roe Street & William Street
William Street & James Street
William Street & Francis Street
William Street & Aberdeen Street
William Street & Newcastle Street
Outside of Perth, "a single press registers the demand for a pedestrian movement which results in the pedestrian crossing being activated in due course," Mr Dean said. "Pressing the button numerous times has no effect on the operation of the pedestrian crossing.
"Furthermore, a number of traffic signals also include a "touchless" built-in sensor which removes the need to physically press the button when used – these sites are accompanied by appropriate stickers on the poles with instructions on how to use the touchless facility."
Just like in Sydney, pedestrian crossings in the Brisbane CBD are automated 24/7.
A spokesperson for Brisbane City Council said: "Council’s traffic signals in the CBD run on fixed cycle times which is the most effective method to ensure that traffic is able to move through the CBD.
"All pedestrian crossings within the CBD are auto-demanded 24/7, and pre-Covid the majority of crossings were auto-demanded but only between 5:30am and 10pm."
Interestingly enough, the spokesperson also noted that buttons only remain in the CBD for accessibility and safety reasons, as it's the button units themselves that produce the walk signal tone.
Crossing operation around Queensland is determined at local council level.
Tasmania and Northern Territory
The Northern Territory's Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics and State Growth Tasmania were each approached for comment, but did not provide statements before publication.
In prior statements to news.com.au, the NT's department of transport advised pedestrian crossings were automated, but interestingly enough, pushing the button would register intent to cross and actually trigger a walk signal earlier.
State Growth Tasmania advised that some crossings were automated during busy periods, but during off-peak times and weekends, pedestrians would need to press the button.
They also reaffirmed there is no point pushing the button more than once.
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