Opinion: Burnaby should automate ‘beg buttons’ like other cities in COVID-19 fight

Chris Campbell

The City of Burnaby says it is not currently “considering” automating some of its so-called pedestrian/cyclist “beg buttons” as part of its COVID-19 action plan.

I think that’s a mistake.

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Other cities are doing this, including the City of New Westminster – a move that our neighbours to the southeast say will “help reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

A “beg button” is an, ahem, hot-button topic with some cyclists and pedestrians because they feel they have to “ask permission” just to cross the street.

With the pandemic, New West felt automating some of these buttons, especially in its downtown area, was also a health risk.

A City of New Westminster statement said this: “Locations providing this benefit will have a sign, and pedestrians will no longer need to push a button to cross at these intersections; they will simply wait for the walk signal to come on to cross. This will eliminate the need for unnecessary touching of the buttons as part of New Westminster’s effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

This seems to make sense and was apparently an easy fix to make because it’s already done.


The City of Burnaby disagrees.

“It’s not something we are considering,” reads a city statement providing to the NOW. “It may make sense in areas where there is very high pedestrian crossing demand, but pedestrian volume has actually decreased city wide.When installed in areas with low pedestrian traffic, these signals can make an intersection less efficient —causing delays and frustration for all users, and potential disregard of the signal. Our primary concern is ensuring the safety of all pedestrians, cyclists and commuters on Burnaby roads.”

The city says pedestrians (they don’t mention cyclists) should use their elbows or “similar means” to activate the signal.

Sorry, but I’m going with New West on this one. New West is one of B.C.’s leaders when it comes to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and policies. Burnaby is catching up, but I think the city could have identified some crossings where this could have worked. I mean, shouldn’t we be doing all we can to reduce the risks?

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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