The other day, I watched people crossing the streets downtown and a question arose. Pedestrians on the corners punch the silver crosswalk buttons not once but many times, often in rapid succession. Another thing: I always see the white or red stick figure on the flashing sign. The stick figure is male. Why no female stick figures? And why push that button so many times? Sign me, Mrs. Walker
What you witnessed was something truly astonishing. And it’s not the spastic pushing of a crosswalk button.
It’s the fact that Durango pedestrians would wait for a crosswalk signal before stepping into the street. There’s something afoot about being on foot in Durango.
Spend any time downtown and you’ll see people undergo a stunning transformation. Somehow, the act of walking bestows delusional superpowers on even the mildest-mannered pedestrians. It’s kind of like what happens to kids at Halloween. Put children in a costume and they instantly become Batman or Elsa from “Frozen.” The same sort of phenomenon occurs with adult pedestrians downtown.
Put them at a crosswalk and once-rational citizens morph into Captain Right-Of-Way or Xena the Multimodal Avenger.
The supercilious superheroes will step out boldly into traffic, as if they have the power to repel oncoming vehicles.
But they do. Cars lurch to a stop and rogue scofflaws smugly stroll across the blacktop. But here’s something even more remarkable. There are no silver crosswalk buttons in downtown Durango. Nope. Not a one. Being a cynical curmudgeon, Action Line checks out every question. Pulling a fast one on Action Line rarely succeeds. Downtown’s crosswalk signals are hard-wired, change automatically and require no pedestrian intervention.
Along Camino del Rio, Florida Road and north Main, it’s a different story. The pedestrian crossing buttons will activate stop signals or flashing warning lights. Each of these has a silver button. But they are not downtown.
Despite that fact, people tend to push the crosswalk button frantically over and over like lab rats pawing the button for pellets. At least Durango doesn’t have “placebo buttons,” a little secret in the civil engineering world.
Placebo buttons are fake buttons that have only one purpose: to fool you into thinking that you are in charge. In most big cities, crosswalk buttons are broken, decommissioned or were never hooked up in the first place.
Placebo buttons, by the way, are not just limited to crosswalks. Nearly all “close door” buttons on elevators don’t work, according to one of the world’s top elevator designers, quoted in the New Yorker. Likewise with many thermostats in large buildings.
Nevertheless, when in doubt, push that button. Whether it’s a placebo button or the real deal, it will make you feel better.
As for the stick figure crosswalk symbol, Action Line didn’t see this as gender bias. The stick figure is just a stick figure.
Granted, Action Line is an older white male, and therefore, categorically unaware of these kinds of affronts. But gender crosswalk iconography is a big deal in some places, and several cities in Europe and New Zealand have silhouetted female symbols at crosswalks.
Ironically, this causes many feminists to cringe. Most female crosswalk symbols feature ponytails and skirts, which is sexist because that reinforces gender stereotypes.
Maybe the solution is to do away with problematic symbols and have downtown Durango crosswalk signs say “Whoa” or “Giddyup.”
Except that might upset the vegans, PETA or the East Coast vacationers not fluent in rural Western dialects.
Email questions to email@example.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can request anonymity if you see jaywalking as more of a time-optimization tool than breaking the law.