Quick post today. I have some more detailed, analytical pieces planned, but it’s just a matter of finding the time in my hectic schedule to sit down and write them. I was walking to work and thinking about a piece I read that morning on “beg buttons,” those buttons at intersections pedestrians must press in order for a walk signal to appear. They commonly appear in places that would otherwise be inhospitable to pedestrians, and if the place already seems dangerous and/or unpleasant for those on foot, they arguably don’t improve the situation much.
The argument for them is that they are needed to protect pedestrians — and drivers — because one errant step could mean certain doom. Yes, that means supporters of the buttons feel that, in these places, pedestrians are the problem.
I get a big smile on my face anytime a real life scenario aligns with a gag from “The Simpsons,” and thinking about this argument reminded me a bit of this classic:
Bart: On my way, I’m gonna be doing this [swings arms in circles as he walks]. And if you get hit, it’s your own fault.
Lisa: OK, then I’m gonna start kicking air like this. And if any part of you should fill that air, it’s YOUR own fault.
The arguments for and against beg buttons would be moot if we just designed a better street. For decades, oversized roadways that carry high-speed traffic have been rammed through the hearts of our neighborhoods, the places where people have long walked, shopped and lingered. But, if you get hit by that traffic, well, like the Simpsons kids say, it’s your own fault. Beg buttons are symptoms, not causes, of an inhospitable environment. They are primarily located in places that serve to move many cars quickly — usually stroads. Pedestrian activity was an afterthought long before the buttons were installed.
We aren’t talking about climbing Mt. Everest, the type of activity that inherently carries a significant amount of life-threatening risk. We are talking about walking across the street in our own neighborhood, which should carry risk that is or is extremely close to zero. I’m not suggesting that we forget about being aware of our surroundings as pedestrians — “look both ways” is still a helpful rule. But it’s also important to create environments where drivers must be hyper-aware, and that’s just not possible at 40-plus mph on a four- to six-lane roadway. Beg buttons are just one more way that we attempt to remove “impediments” (humans, in this case) from the driver’s milieu, enabling the very high-speed traffic that poses a danger.
A healthy street is not one where pedestrians are at odds with cars zipping through the neighborhood. A healthy street fosters activity. You don’t have to press a button to participate — you just show up on your own two feet.