Many pedestrians have wondered, "Does the walk button at the crosswalk actually work?" In New York City, the answer is no. Traffic lights in the Big Apple are controlled by computer, so even though the walk buttons are still found on crossing posts, they don't work. No matter how many times a pedestrian may anxiously press "Walk," the buttons are not connected to the traffic light system.
Some of the walk buttons in Los Angeles still work, as do buttons in many other cities. It all depends on the city itself and the amount of traffic in any given intersection. The Portland, Oregon, traffic signal manager says most of the walk buttons in that city do work, but like everything else, it's a balancing act to make sure traffic isn't held up for one person crossing the street. Also, some buttons only work at particular times of the day, usually during off-peak traffic periods. The upshot is, if a pedestrian wants to cross a busy street, he or she can always try pushing the walk button. It may not work, but at least the person at the crosswalk feels a little more empowered.
Some of the busiest intersections in the world:
I worked in a large aircraft plant where there were many dummy thermostats in the office areas. This gave the people who were always uncomfortable with the temperature something to twiddle with instead of phoning it in.