As much as you may believe, because you encounter them so rarely, Chicago indeed has several types of “beg buttons”. This is a mechanism wherein a person walking along a street must apply to cross another street. You are begging for permission. They are not popular, many are not even hooked up anymore, and they don’t call the pedestrian signal any sooner (their purpose is to make the green traffic signal long enough for a person to cross).
Jan Gehl et. al. succinctly demonstrate in Cities for People the opposing methods of telling a person when they can cross the street (meaning cross traffic has been halted).
— Steven Vance (@stevevance) January 11, 2014
The 2013 Chicago Complete Streets Design Guidelines and 2012 Pedestrian Plan reorients the city to prefer facilitating and encouraging transportation by foot over all other modes of travel.
The Pedestrian Plan says that beg buttons should have an LED light that indicates to the pusher that the button has been pushed. (The Pedestrian Plan also calls “traffic signals” a high cost pedestrian safety tool, alongside the high cost of “pedestrian hybrid beacons” and the medium cost of “rectangular rapid flash beacons”. Slow traffic, on the other hand, doesn’t have an operating cost, but it definitely has a “we’re getting there cost”.)
The Plan also says to get rid of them “except for locations where they are necessary to bring up a WALK phases for pedestrians” and without saying what makes it necessary to bring up a WALK phase (versus always having a WALK phase for that direction of traffic) and if that “necessary” is aligned with the Complete Streets Design Guidelines’ paradigm shift. Systematically removing inoperable ones is a separate, medium term milestone (alongside developing a location database).
The CSDG thankfully considers many other realities in Chicago that go against the new transportation paradigm that puts the pedestrian first. For example, it calls for the systematic removal of all slip lanes – none of which I’ve heard or seen removed in the year since CDOT created the guidelines.
I want the city to systematically remove all beg buttons. If the green signal is too short for a person to cross the street, then it’s probably too short for a bicyclist to cross in the green signal (yes, this exists in Chicago). It also means the street is too wide to foster it being a place over being a pipe for cars. And if it’s not a place, what is it and why are people walking there? What personal needs – like a job, food, and socializing – are not being fulfilled where they live that people have to cross this road to meet those needs?
Updated March 10 at 12:56 to clarify what the Pedestrian Plan says about beg buttons.