Beg buttons for motorists

This is real priority for pedestrians

Beg buttons are the bane of pedestrians.

At most locations, most of the time, you need to press a button to get permission to cross the street. And poor programming often means long waits.

Victoria Walks has this article highlighting the problems, and some of the excuses that road engineers give for not making them better.

Do motorists ever have beg buttons?

Yes. This is Eaton Street Mall in Oakleigh, at Chester Street.

By default, the lights give pedestrians a green man.

The arrival of vehicles triggers the lights to change to give them a green. When this happens it’s limited to let a few vehicles through, then change again to green for pedestrians.

Along with a nice wide crossing, this helps people walk around Eaton Mall mostly without having to wait for cars.

(The vehicle at the start of the video was well forward of the stop line. The driver might have been waiting a while if another car hadn’t arrived behind him to set off the detector. Presumably the detection works okay for cyclists, though I didn’t see any while I was there.)

So at this location, pedestrians are a higher priority than vehicles.

Last time I looked there was a similar setup in the Monash University bus loop. I’m not sure if there are others.

Zebra crossings in Footscray

Some locations have zebra crossings, which do a similar job. They have the advantage of less infrastructure, though motorists are more likely to fail to give way to people crossing. But they may be more suited to some spots.

None of these have resulted in the sky falling in.

Governments often claim to want to cut traffic and increase walking. If they were serious, we’d see a lot more prioritisation of pedestrians like this.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

17 replies on “Beg buttons for motorists”

The pedestrian crossing on glenferrie road malvern is one that takes aggggesssss to give the red light to cars and green to pedestrians. Its the same whether 3am in the morning and no cars, or 430pm in arvo and cars are banked up and cant move anyway. I think it just encourages people to ‘jaywalk’ and makes things more unsafe. Anyway, i didn’t know the crossing in Oakleigh was triggered by cars! Thanks!

That stop line has been ruined by wheels landing on it when they leave the hump. I think they need to put the hump further in advance of the stop line, or extend it and have the stop line on top of the hump.

Speaking of poor programming, there’s one pedestrian crossing light in particular on High St in Windsor that seems to only change just before a tram arrives at stop #29, which can take forever. No tram on the horizon? Prepare to wait a few minutes. As Stretts mentioned, it ends up encouraging jaywalking (including by me).

Nice example – and I can confirm the new Monash bus loop corner crossing works the same way, being default green for pedestrians. Of course it’s not really the same as ‘beg buttons for motorists’ since they don’t actually have to press a button as the sensor detects them automatically. It does beg the question though when traffic engineers argue it’s best to assume pedestrians are absent by default.

The programming of these buttons is beyond poor. Pressing most of them then triggers the cycle regardless of the time of day. There are some near us that pressing to cross the side street creates a cycle where the highway stops, gives green to the side street to turn left with no cars on it, then gives full green for the side street, then allows the highway to continue with the green pedestrian.

If it actually checked its recent changes it could see no cars on the side street at all and could go immediately to green for pedestrians without having to stop the highway for no reason.

@Stretts, I know in Centre Road there’s a crossing which has no detection loops. I was told that when you press the button it just waits for X seconds before changing. No smarts at all. Your example might be the same.

@Tony, yeah true it’s not literally a beg button for motorists, but it does show an actual real world solution that puts pedestrians first.

@sqljohn, that sounds similar to one of the examples I gave in this previous blog post: – an empty road of no traffic is treated as more important than us lowly pedestrians.

Another annoyance that has only become apparent to me during lockdowns is that many of the triggers for traffic lights that are activated by cars cannot be activated by bicycles. You can sit there on a bike for minutes, through many cycles and then never get the green you need. the right turn from Gipps st into Wellington in Collingwood is an example of this. There is a bike lane for right turns but unless a car turns up next to you you’ll never get the green light for the turn. Infrastructure remains car centric even where provision is made for other modes.

Feet should get priority over bikes which should get priority over transit vehicles which should get priority over private vehicles.

Ed, that intersection you mention (3377) appears on google maps to have bicycle sensors in some rather odd locations (but is missing/outdated in vicroads open data: Next time I’m there I’ll check it out in more detail. General solution for bicycle not triggering lights is to look for the cutout of the loop sensor and tip your bicycle over sideways right in the middle of it.

Without a response, I sent VicRoads a message about the pedestrian lights below us, specifically on the eastern side of St Kilda Road to cross Toorak Road west bound. At times it could give a reasonable time of green for pedestrians but mostly it did not. There seemed to be no rhyme no reason to it. Say ten seconds of green walk and the rest flashing red or full red. There is no reason why it can’t be green until the standard minimum time for pedestrians to cross that width of road.

What we need to remember is that the authority is called VicRoads. It is about roads and not public transport, cyclists or pedestrians unless it is instructed and specifically funded by government to improve anything for others beyond roads. However, computer programming of traffic lights would surely cost very little. Just a bit of thought and planning.

I am not sure if the lights I have mentioned have been altered as the trees are now in leaf and I can’t see the pedestrian lights from my balcony.

Andrew, you have made the mistake of reinforcing vicroads is somehow obliged to prioritise cars/roads. Their legislated purpose is to provide transport infrastructure in all forms. By taking ownership/control of pedestrian (and cycling) road-related infrastructure it was their choice to take on that responsibility. No matter what they are building/operating they have a requirement of doing so safely and without discrimination.

Do vicroads make safe pedestrian or cycling infrastructure? no, it is trivial to find examples that do not even meet the minimum safety requirements. They know about this, and refuse to fix it, claiming throughput for vehicular traffic is more important than safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Discriminating against people who don’t or can’t use cars. But as a government department they seem to be immune to any oversight or control, and continue their self decided priory for cars.

Note that vicroads control “freeways and arterial roads” so the example Daniel posts in this blog is likely a council project/initiative even if vicroads ends up contracted/organising the traffic lights themselves. Of course vicroads put in some vehicle priority: “when a vehicle demand is received via a vehicle loop, P1 will imediately proceed to clearance” no delay or wait as many pedestrian buttons do!

@meltdblog thanks for the response. I’m not sure that will work for a (mostly) carbon bike. Interestingly my wife’s eBike doesn’t trigger it either and one would think the big motor in the bottom bracket would be enough for the loop to sense.

Thanks for the traffic signal data sheets, I never knew such things existed and now I’m going to waste a lot of time looking at them,

I am all for, giving motorists less priority in these areas. However, I, must object to having zebra crossings, located that close to the intersection. Especially on Roundabouts.

There is the mad conflict of, a prohibition for the motorist to block the intersection, at the same time, the motorist cant move, because there somebody crossing the road in front of them.

Bendigo has the perfect idea, have the zebra crossing, two car lengths away from the roundabout.

Three quarters of Eastland Shopping Centre is surrounded by useless traffic lights that take forever to change for both cars and pedestrians alike. Unfortunately they didn’t bother building a pedestrian bridge from Ringwood station into Realm as was originally planned, so pedestrians have to hit the beg button on Maroondah Highway and wait 90 or so seconds for the lights to change (at least they change instantly at night when there are no cars, but woe betide you if there is even a single vehicle in the entire 40 km/h precinct). Great fun when you’re looking across the road at that bus you were intending to catch, hoping that it doesn’t shut its doors and depart before you can cross, never mind the every-half-an-hour Belgrave and Lilydale trains which just love to use platforms 1+2 off-peak. Likewise for the Eastland lights at the #5 carpark entrance opposite Bond St, the timing was never updated from when the carpark entrance used to be the somewhat busy Plaza Centre Way (e.g. the former bus interchange before Eastland was rebuilt several years ago).

The one that takes the cake however is the beg button located on the footpath parallel to Ringwood St outside the law court. Not a beg button in place so pedestrians can cross the road (that already exists), but a beg button you have to press in order to continue walking straight ahead on the same footpath. It isn’t even a road, just a regular driveway that goes up and over the footpath and underneath the building. And of course, it defaults to a red man, with priority going towards cars coming in and out of the underground carpark (by comparison, Ringwood station’s bus interchange defaults to a green man). Pressing the button simply starts the cycle rather than giving an instant green man, so you have to wait umpteen seconds for the traffic lights in Ringwood St to go red, the green lights/arrows for the court carpark and the minor Eastland carpark across the road, and then to amber and red for Ringwood St to finally get the green again. Whatever happened to pedestrians having right of way on a footpath? Outside a court of law, no less.

For those playing at home, here’s the Google Street View:,145.2272865,3a,75y,317.23h,82.7t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sbBBjh_FcJ145bI2N0Sx-Rw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

@andrew, one of the rules not widely understood because cars are king is that flashing red actually means continue crossing without rushing (but don’t start crossing), it’s the flashing red that determines the time needed to cross, not the green. Any rule where cars need to give way to pedestrians seem to be not widely understood, i’m not sure how many cars know they have to give way to pedestrians entering and exiting side streets either.

@Heihachi_73, what a horrible looking walking environment. I’m surprised nobody has wrapped duct tape around the buttons so they always trigger.

@Anonymous, the side street rules are confusing. Motorists have to give way when turning into a side street, but not when coming out. (I’ve got a blog post on this in the works, though I have a feeling I’ve covered it before…)

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