Why are intersections designed for cars instead of pedestrians?

beg button
© Dhiru Thadani via Strongtowns

It's a thought exercise started by Alissa Walker in Gizmodo and picked up by Rachel Quednau in Strong Towns. It's always the people on foot who have to press what Alyssa calls a "beg button".

It's annoying for walkers: have you ever tried to walk a few blocks, stopping to hit the button at every single intersection? Or hit the button just a few seconds too late and had to wait a whole additional cycle? But it also illustrates the backwardness of our street design: pedestrians, who are supposed to have the right-of-way, are required to press a button at an intersection in order to get a walk signal, which should happen automatically.

Rachel on Strong Towns feels that it creates a bias, telling the pedestrian where their place is:

I know that the beg button may not seem like a big deal, but it is yet another way that cities send a message to pedestrians: You are not normal. You don't belong here. You need to push a button just to walk somewhere while we have built our transportation system to prioritize the free movement of cars.

All kinds of problems arise when you give one mode of transport priority. Just today I was cycling and came to a red light, watched the pedestrian countdown go to zero and the light didn't change; the sensor in the road didn't pick up me on my bike. I had to get off my bike and press the pedestrian beg button so that I could make a left turn, wondering why there are no beg buttons for bikes. (I am told that the sensor is supposed to detect bikes, I will be careful next time to get right on top of the dots).

Alyssa Walker also points to Streetpong, that we have covered before on TreeHugger.

Hey, at least give us something to do while we beg.

Why are intersections designed for cars instead of pedestrians?
Certainly in cities there are more people on foot than in cars. Should they not get priority?

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