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!