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I read somewhere that the buttons at crosswalks in New York don’t do anything. Is the same true in Toronto?

The city’s stoplight buttons haven’t been neutered to the extent of their NYC equivalents, which have been purely placebos since the emergence of computer-controlled traffic in the late ’80s. Here, whether pressing the button is productive or pointless depends mostly on which part of the city you’re in. In outlying areas, impatient pedestrians can take comfort in knowing their button pushing does not go unanswered; the busier roads often get a permanent green until a car appears or someone hits the button. But in the downtown core—south of Bloor between Bathurst and Jarvis—foot traffic is steady enough that stoplight cycles are usually pre-set, so hitting that button once, twice or 15 times in quick succession won’t bring you any closer to a green. Depending on the distance from sidewalk to sidewalk and how well trodden the intersection, the walk signal lasts between 15 and 32 seconds. These cycles can be interrupted only by streetcars, which are equipped with devices that extend the green. But lest you label the buttons totally impotent, pushing them for three seconds triggers an audio aid for the blind—cuckoos for north-south crossings and chirps for east-west—making their presence on street corners not so birdbrained after all.

• Question from Ivan Tzembelikos in Brampton

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