Pedestrian-Controlled Traffic Lights

Question :


Scenerio:  North and South have normal intersection traffic lights. East and West (this situation side street) have a stop sign. Does East West traffic not have an obligation to still stop at a stop sign before proceeding or does East West traffic now have the right to not stop to beat the light before North & South traffic proceed on the green light?




The short answer is No, no one has the right not to stop at a stop sign. Stop means stop. In real life, drivers sometimes recognize this intersection as an opportunity to ‘gun it’ while the light is red and may or may not stop, or even pretend to stop. Any car that does not stop at a stop sign is technically in violation of the law.


For the long answer: I think what you’re referring to are actually pedestrian-controlled traffic lights (these are flashing green traffic lights rather than solid green). So the North/South traffic is facing a flashing green light (or a yellow/red light in the case someone has activated the pedestrian button), while the East/West traffic is facing a stop sign. This is a very common type of intersection that we encounter in the lower mainland. Here we have Kingsway and 12th Avenue in Burnaby, but there are many intersections like this, especially along Broadway and 4th Avenue in Vancouver, and along Hastings Street in Burnaby, and along many other busy streets. These often coincide with bicycle lanes to allow cyclists an opportunity to get across busy thoroughfares safely.


North/South traffic view:




East/West view:




The purpose of having a flashing green traffic light at an intersection such as this is to give pedestrians and cyclists an opportunity they may not otherwise have to safely cross a busy street. Virtually every intersection is a legal place for pedestrians to cross the road; on a typical intersection there are 4 legal ‘unmarked’ pedestrian crosswalks, areas where drivers are legally required to yield (only crossing in the middle of a block, not at an intersection corner is considered jaywalking). But does this happen in real life? I am not convinced that drivers either know this, or seem to care. Besides, attempting to cross an intersection like this one in rush hour – 4 lanes of speeding traffic – without assistance from some type of pedestrian-activated signal, seems sort of suicidal, even though it may be legal.


The fact that when the pedestrians press the button, causing the light to go red and forcing the North/South traffic to stop, and the vehicles facing the stop sign now have a wonderful opportunity to quickly go in whichever direction they may chose (barring any pesky pedestrians who might be in the way, of course) without having to worry about the North/South traffic at all, is not much more than a side-effect of engineering’s good intentions to allow pedestrians and cyclists to proceed safely across the intersection. It was never designed to be a free ride for the drivers facing a stop sign, although yes, it is nice that pedestrians are helping drivers in a strange sort of way. But hopefully drivers are putting pedestrian safety before their own urge to get to where they’re going a little quicker. This exact same intersection, without the presence of the pedestrian-controlled light, is sometimes a lot more time consuming and frustrating for many drivers.


Many drivers ask their passenger to get out of the car, go press the button, and then get back in the car while the light goes yellow for the other traffic, allowing them to get across with relative ease compared to the alternative (that may be a story for a different day).


When the light is red, drivers at the stop signs sometimes seem to think they are at an imaginary green light, and right of way rules seem to proceed according to those rules drivers would follow when facing a green light, where left turns yield to straight thru traffic, left turns yield to right turns, etc. What drivers should be doing is behaving exactly as they would any other time they are at a 2-way stop intersection, since that is what this is. It may sound like a subtle difference, but there would be significant legal implications here in the event of a crash.




This is all great until the light goes green again, and the vehicles with the new flashing green light are getting ready to assume that they can go. Right-of-way rules state that we must yield to any vehicle that is in any space before us, so if there are still cars in the intersection when the light goes green, legally, you must yield. If the drivers facing the stop sign have half a brain, though, they’ll be sure to clear the intersection before the light changes to green again. Cars facing stop signs are required to stop, and only to proceed when they know it is safe. To the unskilled or unaware driver, this can turn into a very dangerous situation if they decide to gingerly cross those 4 lanes of traffic just as the light changes to green. (This is why the drivers facing the fresh green light should always scan intersections before proceeding). Drivers facing the stop sign must be aware of how much time they have left before the light goes green. This can be done by observing the pedestrian signal, although there may be no way to 100% guarantee the exact timing of it, unless you actually get a lawn chair and sit at the side of the intersection beforehand with your stopwatch for a while.



But, if you can still see the pedestrian ‘walk’ signal, then you know the light will stay red for the traffic. After the walk signal, it will normally change to a ‘flashing hand’ symbol. Once it changes from a flashing hand to a solid or non-flashing hand symbol, then you will be pretty much out of time.




Please drive carefully and remember that pedestrians are very vulnerable; their safety should be the priority here.


  1. pd154 December 13, 2016 at 10:13 am

    On a related subject; at a pedestrian controlled crosswalk, without a through cross street, after the pedestrian has crossed and light still red, can cars drive through the red?

    1. BCDrivingBlog December 13, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Hi. Yes apparently you can if there is no intersection. After stopping of course.

  2. Josh August 11, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    My question is regarding pedestrian right of way at these crossings. When the North-South flashing green lights turn red, the pedestrian can obviously safely cross the North-south street but …. do they also have the right of way to cross the East-West street? Pedestrians don’t have any “don’t walk” signals to tell them otherwise.
    My observation, as you’ve pointed out, is that the cars that have the stop sign act as if they have a green light, going through the intersection without stopping at the stop sign, meanwhile pedestrians have no indication they should stop – disaster ensues… I’ve seen pedestrian crossing the east-west street be narrowly missed and then honked at by the driver (who wrongly thinks they have the greenlight). Personally I feel that the setup of these pedestrian-controlled lights are a recipe for disaster – I’d be interested in seeing the pedestrian hit numbers at these intersections.

    1. BCDrivingBlog August 13, 2015 at 10:39 am

      I agree these intersections are ridiculous, and between you and me – well I guess if I post this online it’s between me and the world,.. – but anyway, I actually hate them with a passion. No one knows what the hell the others are going to do. It breaks all of the logical reasons to control an intersection in the first place, which is to ensure safety of people and pedestrians and to minimize confusion and “accidents,”and blah blah blah. *Sigh*

      This doesn’t help at all, but the it is the law that if a pedestrian is facing a mere red light like that, they are not to start walking. But then, it is also the job of the driver to yield to any pedestrian in the roadway. So, the pedestrian can’t go and the car also has to stop, but if the pedestrian breaks the law and starts to go, and is in the roadway, then legally the car is required to stop and yield (Duh, they are not just going to run them over.. Thanks motor vehicle act for clearing that up for me!). I mean the car is supposed to be stopping anyway; but if the car and the pedestrian stop there at the same time, then technically the car should be able to proceed when safe and the pedestrian can only legally proceed once the light goes green.

      Did that make any sense? %$&!! AHHHH!!

      Yes I will look into crashes at these silly intersections, I would be interested myself, especially in day to day driving it is plain to see so many “close calls” etc…

  3. disqus_ZRDFQK5wTU March 16, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Once a pedestrian has crossed over to the other half of the road, is it okay to turn into the intersection? Or are you never supposed to drive through (acoss) a crosswalk as long as the pedestrian isstill in it?.even if safe?

    1. BCDrivingBlog March 17, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      I think this is a matter of opinion since there is no law on this and we are just using common sense. Some driving instructors tell student drivers certain things. I think it depends on the size of the intersection and how much room/how many lanes there are. Of course it makes no sense to wait until the person is completely off the road if there are like 10 lanes and they are a whole football field away from your car!! But yes in general it is good to give them LOTS of extra room and do not go anywhere near them. Those are my general thoughts.

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