Resolution targeting ‘Beg Buttons’ passes Common Council

Not too long ago, the beg button at the intersection of Lark Street and Washington Avenue broke down. 

“There were several days when you couldn’t get a walk signal,” Andrew Neidhardt, founder of the advocacy group Walkable Albany, recalled. “You had to jaywalk to get across the street.” 

Pressing the beg button – more formally known as a pedestrian push button – is the only way to get a walk signal at many of Albany busier intersections – a reality Walkable Albany wants to change. 

They believe this status quo prioritizes cars, treats pedestrians as second-class citizens and makes it more difficult for people to cross the street safely. A better system, Neidhardt and others say, would automatically give pedestrians a walk signal during every cycle. 

“You should never be able to stand at a corner all day and never get a walk signal,” he said.

Walkable Albany hopes to see its long-standing concern about the city’s beg buttons translated into action. 

A resolution introduced Thursday by Common Council member Gabriella Romero calls upon the Albany Police Department’s traffic safety division to adopt a policy ensuring that pedestrian signals are automatically included whenever traffic signals are changed, upgraded or installed. It does not call for the buttons themselves to be removed.

“These pedestrian-actuated signals reduce the overall frequency of pedestrian signals and increase – sometimes drastically – the wait times for pedestrians who wish to legally cross,” the resolution notes.

The resolution, which is nonbinding, passed the Common Council. Romero said she hopes it is the first step towards a local law to address the issue.

Walkable Albany has also launched a petition to change the beg buttons on State Street. 

Spurring the effort is the city’s recent installation of new traffic signals at two heavily trafficked intersections: State Street and Henry Johnson Boulevard and State and Lark. The old lights gave pedestrians an automatic walk signal, but the new ones do not. 

“Why should the city move backward in terms of pedestrian safety when we could be moving forward?” the petition asks. 

Jeff Crumpton, president of the Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association, spoke in favor of Romero’s resolution at Thursday’s Common Council meeting, saying that the beg buttons “do not provide safe access,” with long wait times driving pedestrians to jaywalk. 

“We see the disastrous results with too many pedestrians being injured or killed,” he said.

Sara Foss

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