Drum roll please, I am about to reveal the secret of pedestrian signals….
I think most people understand the hand means stop and the "walking man" means go. Most of the confusion comes up with the flashing hand. Here is how it works – the flashing hand flashes at you long enough that if you stepped off the curb right when the indication went from walking man to flashing hand, you would have enough time to get across the street. You don’t need to panic if you are already crossing the street and the hand starts flashing. Keep going.
You aren’t supposed to start crossing the street if the hand is flashing, but the reality is we time the signal generously so most able bodied adults could get across in about half the flashing hand time. The confusing part is the walking man is only up for 7 seconds. This is enough time to get a crowd off of the curb to start their crossing, it is NOT enough time to get across most intersections. Sorry, that is just the industry practice. It would slow down the whole traffic signal operation if we increase the walking man time, which would add delay to the motorists. As one old timer told me, we use the pedestrian indications to control the pedestrians so we can get the cars through the intersection more efficiently… no comment.
A slight wrinkle is the "countdown timer." It is a clock that starts when the flashing hand starts and
indicates how much time is left before the hand goes solid and the traffic signal switches to yellow. Several studies have shown these timers help pedestrians cross the street better. It gives them more information to make their decision. Unscientifically, I have noticed several motorists speed up when they see the timer going down to 0.
Lastly, if you push the button at the signal, it is going to give you the walking man indication pretty soon. You don’t have to hold the button down or push it 1,000 times (unless you are a kid who really likes the clicking sound the button makes).