Flashing green lights

Posted in Canadian life at 6:11 pm by ducky

When we came to Vancouver, we were very puzzled by flashing green traffic lights. When we asked Canadians, they said that they were intersections where a pedestrian might push the button to turn the light red. The government-owned Insurance Corporation of British Columbia also describes the flashing green in that way.

This was not a terribly satisfactory answer to us, as most of the streetlights that we’ve seen had a button for pedestrians to cause the traffic light to change (although it sometimes would take a while).

The important thing to know about flashing green traffic lights in British Columbia is that the cross traffic has a stop sign, not a a stop light. This means

  • If you are coming up on a flashing green, a car just might cross or turn in front of you. Do not be alarmed or appalled: as long as it is safe to do so, they are allowed.
  • If you are that cross traffic, you might have to wait a while to cross. I was really surprised that this would work, but it does. Pedestrian traffic in Vancouver correlates very well with auto traffic. If traffic is heavy enough that you can’t find a break to cross, there will be a pedestrian along in a bit to change the light for your cross traffic to red, thus giving you an opportunity to cross. If there are no pedestrians around to run interference for you, then there won’t be much traffic, and you will find a natural break.

One problem with the flashing green traffic lights is that in (at least parts of) Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec, there are flashing green lights that mean the same as a green left arrow in most places: “oncoming traffic is stopped”. (There are some reports that this happens even in Vancouver suburbs.) It doesn’t work well when e.g. Ontario drivers come to Vancouver or vice versa!


  1. Vince said,

    November 22, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    I didn’t know that BC treated flashing green lights differently. I have always known a flashing green to mean that you are the only one with a green and everyone else has a red light meaning that you can go straight, turn left, or turn right. Most of my driving has been in Manitoba and Ontario though. I thought this was also the case down in America, though I might be wrong. Or maybe I just never encountered a flashing green down there.

  2. ducky said,

    November 22, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    I don’t think I have ever seen a flashing green in the US. I suppose that I might have seen a flashing green with a sign next to it saying “LEFT TURN ON FLASHING GREEN” or something like that, then forgotten about it. I am reasonably confident that I never saw a flashing green with no explanatory sign.

  3. Xolo said,

    January 26, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Another example of a “bong” session resulting in making stupid laws in Vancouver. Too bad there’s so much dope in the province. It makes Dopes out of everyone there.

  4. Ashley said,

    February 13, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    There are no flashing greens in America. You will see some flashing yellow left turn arrows, meaning you can try to turn if there is no oncoming traffic, or a single flashing yellow warning you to be cautious of occasional cross traffic at an intersection, or a single flashing red to warn you of a stop sign that’s hard to see, but nowhere will you find a flashing green light.

  5. Jonathan said,

    November 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I am temporarily stationed here in Vancouver for work, and I too was puzzled by all the flashing green lights. Everywhere else in Canada it means “safe to turn left” as all other traffic is stopped. It’s a little disturbing here to find out that it means something different. I (or any other visiting driver) could have made a tragic mistake had I not investigated. What’s even more shocking is that none of my co-workers, who are all permanent residents here, could explain the difference between a solid and a flashing green. They simply said “both mean go”.
    In Quebec, you can’t turn right at a red light. There are no signs posted to tell you this, but most drivers will check before they turn and so the worst that could happen is you get a ticket. The Vancouver situation however could have deadly consequences and I suspect there will be a lawsuit by a visitng driver at some future date after a horrific accident.

  6. Nicole Thomson said,

    February 8, 2011 at 9:36 am

    I live in bc, and a solid green means go and a flashing green means pedestrian controlled intersection. I was originally from Manitoba and this took some getting used to but it seems to work well. It would be nice if all the laws were uniform though.

  7. James said,

    March 12, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Its not just Vancouver that has flashing green pedestrian signals, most other cities in BC use them. Kelowna has at least a dozen of them. Vanvouver has more per capita though, because of all its pedestrian traffic.

  8. admin said,

    March 13, 2011 at 12:20 am

    Nicole, yes, “pedestrian controlled intersection” was the phrase they always gave us, but nobody could explain what that meant (aside from that if the pedestrian pushed the button, the light would change).

    If you are driving, you don’t really care *why* the light changed, just whether it changed or not. However, you do really care if cars might cross on what looks to you like a green for you/red for them.

  9. Dan333 said,

    June 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I too was surprised when I moved to Van and saw this flashing green. It seems like a stupid thing for two reasons: 1) traffic follows the light signals – nobody cares WHY the light changed 2) Seems like 90% of the lights in Van are flashing green so nobody pays attention to it as a “special” circumstance.

    If the thinking is you need to be more cautious because a pedestrian may be crossing, common sense would indicate a car may also be crossing the intersection. I don’t want to hit a 3 ton car either – so should there be a seperate flashing light to indicate that?? Of course not that’d be just as ridiculous, it’s called a CITY, there are people and cars everywhere! To think some moron in the traffic department got paid to think up this “flashing green” policy.

  10. Paul (Columbus Neon) said,

    February 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    This same flashing green exists in some areas around Boston, Massachusetts, USA as well. Boston also has Red-yellow-red traffic signals with the bottom red flashing, but I won’t complicate things lol. The eastern Canada flashing green (used for protected left turns) is different in that the blinking rate is faster than the pedestrian control flashing green. At least the ones in Niagara and Toronto blinked fast last time I was there.

  11. HZC said,

    September 3, 2012 at 8:41 am

    There ARE flashing green lights in the U.S. I’ve experienced them in Michigan where it was used as a turning signal.

    Agreed that it could cause an issue for visitors in Vancouver, but I also think that there’s no need to NOT use a proper green arrow instead of a flashing green. There’s already a lot to focus on when driving; silly in this day and age to unnecessarily complicate things.

  12. Will said,

    April 5, 2015 at 5:47 pm


    That is kind of not true. You can turn right on a red light every where in Québec, except in the island of Montreal. Before you enter the island, on the bridges or before, they will have a sign saying “No turning on red in Montreal’s island”. If you’re outer Montreal’s island, the intersection will show a sign if it’s prohibited to turn right on a red light.