on the waterfront, if you don't press them, it doesn't change to walk. but the light turns red like normal anyway. you have to ask!
Apparently, many walk buttons are dummies, like most door open/close buttons in elevators; they don't actually work (excepting, of course, the irritating ones @1 notes). At many intersections the traffic signal cycle, like the door closing/opening buttons in elevators, is programmed and so is the walk signal. The walk buttons are sometimes just to keep people happy and give us something to do while we wait.
in slu you get yelled at if you press the button, as if i was going to leave to go somewhere else and not wait there to be yelled at to wait.
If you're ever at a crosswalk that requires a button to be pushed and there's already someone standing there, you should always assume that they're a moron who hasn't pressed the button.
On 15th Ave in Ballard, e.g. north of 65th, have non-busy times where the cross button clearly does something, because the lights won't normally change if there aren't any cars waiting to cross, unless you push the button (also if you don't push the button and the lights do change, you don't get a walk sign).
There are plenty of intersections around town that will change the traffic signal -- but not the pedestrian signal -- if the button isn't pressed. It's not necessarily "safe" to skip the button at every intersection in Capitol Hill, since some will not switch to "walk" without a button press. There are more intersections in that neighborhood than just Pike/Broadway.
I recall years back the popular rumor that many walk buttons in NYC were essentially just empty (it was cheaper) and the lights were merely on timers. It would be awesome if that was true.
@4 -- Or a whole cluster of morons, some of whom will smugly lecture you to the effect that pushing the button makes no difference.

At some intersections the effect (or lack thereof) will vary by time of day and day of week or (increasingly) according to sensor input.
In Vancouver they have pedestrian controlled intersections. Those are the intersections with a flashing greenlight warning drivers that the light could change yellow very suddenly if a pedestrian pushes the walk button. I'd love to see this in Seattle.

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