By Josh Pringle
The City of Ottawa has hit the brakes on a push to deactivate beg buttons at intersections across the city during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councillor Shawn Menard asked staff to look at the “feasibility of reprogramming automated push buttons where safe to do so, in order to reduce the need for people to physically touch these buttons to safely cross astreet.”
Automated push buttons are located at Ottawa intersections, prompting pedestrians to press the button to activate the walk signal to cross the street. According to the City of Ottawa, approximately 80 per cent of traffic signals are equipped with pedestrian push buttons and traffic sensors.
After reviewing the request, city staff do not recommend deactivating the beg buttons at intersections, citing advice from Ottawa Public Health, increased delays for pedestrians and vehicles at intersections and the possibility of public complaints.
Councillor Jeff Leiper published the city staff response to Councillor Menard’s proposal to deactivate the beg buttons at intersections.
City Staff asked Ottawa Public Health to provide advice on whether operating traffic signals in a fixed time mode, which does not require people to physically press the push buttons, would be an effective means to help reduce exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
The response from staff said “OPH has confirmed that this change to signal operations is not recommended. The transmission risk associated with push button use would be relatively low and would be best dealt with by practicing good hand hygiene at all times.”
Staff also said deactivating the beg buttons at intersections would increase pedestrian and vehicle wait times at intersections and generate complaints about “increased stopping times where no or little pedestrian crossing activity is taking place.”
Transportation Services staff are looking to develop a new mode of traffic signal operation where pedestrian walk displays would automatically be activated when a vehicle is detected at a signalized intersection. Pedestrians would still need to push the button to active the accessible signal features when no vehicle is present.
On Wednesday, the City of Edmonton announced that pedestrian signals at 56 intersections in high pedestrian areas and around hospitals will become automatic.
On Twitter, Councillor Menard said “eventually, our city will get it. I won’t stop until we get the change we deserve in Ottawa.”