New Yorkers (those who don’t jaywalk, that is) have for years dutifully followed the instructions on the metal signs affixed to crosswalk poles:
To Cross Street
Wait for Walk Signal
But as The New York Times reported in 2004, the city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that were in place at the time existed as mechanical placebos. Today there are 120 working signals, the city said.
About 500 were removed during major construction projects. But it was estimated that it would cost $1 million to dismantle the nonfunctioning mechanisms, so city officials decided to keep them in place.
Most of the buttons were scattered throughout the city, mainly outside of Manhattan. They were relics of the 1970s, before computers began choreographing traffic signal patterns on major arteries.