Flashing green lights and what they mean

flashing greenPop Quiz!

Red means stop, yellow means proceed with caution and green means go.

But what does flashing green mean?

Someone recently asked us if we could clarify this for them and here’s the answer.

A flashing green light on a traffic signal means the signal is pedestrian activated. So, when you approach a flashing green light, use caution, because the signal could be activated by a pedestrian at any time and you might have to stop and let the pedestrian to cross.

We’ve been using flashing green lights in BC since the 80s and they are usually found either mid-block in the city or at intersections on city roads and provincial highways.

This question is usually asked by people hailing from Ontario, where a flashing green light was commonly used as a protected left turn signal. Ontario has since adopted Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) standards and is slowly moving away from using the flashing green light in this way. An interesting side note: Our green ball flashes at 60 flashes per minute (a little on the slower side) whereas the Ontario flash rate was a higher (or faster) flash rate.

So, there you have it. Hopefully this answers the question and helps you understand the history of flashing green lights. Do you have any other rules of the road you are curious about? Tell TranBC or let us know in the comments below and we will try to get an answer for you.

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Page 1 of 49 comments on “Flashing green lights and what they mean”

Leave a Reply to David C. Cancel reply

  1. I understand the flashing green light, but what drives me crazy (unintended pun) is the stop sign on the side street! Everyone runs the stop sign when the crosswalk light is red. I don’t like running the stop sign, which I have to do to avoid getting rear ended by the person behind me. And if I cross as a pedestrian in front of the stop sign when the crosswalk light is red, people scold me for j-walking! Even stranger, when I ask people about the stop sign, I always get the same answer: “there is no stop sign.” Then when I point to the sign, they look confused and shrug their shoulders. I really wish someone would clear this up.

      • Hello – Thank you for reading my post. I find this happens with all the flashing green intersections in Vancouver. I live in Point Grey, so the ones closest to me are along the shopping districts on 10th Ave, 4th Ave, Broadway, and Cambie.

        To be more specific, what happens is people treat the light as if it was a four way traffic light, so that when it turns red for the main road, everyone acts as though now it is green for the side road, and so the drivers ignore the stop sign. Likewise, the pedestrians treat it as a four way pedestrian light, so that when it is the green walk sign for the main road, they act as though it is now a red don’t walk light for the side road, again ignoring the stop sign. Then, when it is green for the main road, everyone acts as though the stop sign has reappeared.

        By the way, the best way to fix this would be to install four way lights that are flashing green for the main road and flashing red for the side road (indicating a stop sign). Then when someone presses the button, the light would turn solid red for the main road and solid green for the side road. Sometimes you have to make the rules match people’s behavior rather than trying to force people to behave!

        • Hello David,

          Thanks for connecting back with us and sharing your insight. We will share your suggestion back with our traffic engineering department.

    • Pedestrians are not allowed to cross in front of the stop sign if they are facing a red traffic light (that was flashing green) unless they also have a “walk” pedestrian light. I wrote to the City of Vancouver about this and they confirmed that is the case. The BC Motor Vehicle Act includes:

      “Red light


      (4) When a red light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

      (a) a pedestrian facing the red light must not enter the roadway unless instructed that he or she may do so by a pedestrian traffic control signal,” http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96318_05#section129

  2. I checked out the ICBC booklet chapter 3 and 4. The information is vague. Check the motor vehicle act of BC. That is the law and nothing else matters.

  3. You mention the flashing green light at intersections and mid block. You fail to mention what pedestrians rules are. When crossing with the signal and it turns red, some pedestrians think they must stop and not cross until the light turns green again. Not so. The cross traffic has a stop sign. Even though there is a red light for cross street motor vehicles pedestrians have the right of way to cross the street as the red light is for motor vehicles not pedestrians. Regardless of a red light the cross traffic must come to a complete stop at the stop sign and then proceed through the intersection. I always see vehicles speeding through the intersection without stopping for the stop sign because they are looking at the walk and don’t walk signals. Failure to stop at a stop sign is against the motor vehicle act.
    Flashing green lights not located at an intersection which are located mid block are pedestrian crosswalks and as such a motor vehicle can drive through it once they come to a complete stop, yield the right of way to any pedestrians in the crosswalk and then proceed through the red light if their are no pedestrians in the crosswalk. Motor vehicles are not allowed to go through an intersection controlled by a pedestrian signal when the traffic signal turns red. All motor vehicle traffic must wait for the green signal to proceed.

    • Bob I read this some where but talking to police man about this he said he would issue me a ticket if he find me crossing on red light even if it is clear and safe to do so. I see people waiting for green light at crossing without intersection .where can I find more information about this? Thank you.

      • Hello Mohammed,

        Check under the BC Motor Vehicle Act. (129 Red Light) 129.1 and 129.5. 129.1 states when a Red Light is exhibited at an intersection, a motor vehicle must stop at the Red Light and only proceed until a traffic control signal instructs you to do so. 129.5 states when a Red Light is exhibited at a place other than an intersection, a motor vehicle must stop. It does not state you must only proceed when a signal instructs you. This is the difference. There are several interpretations on the web. I leave it to you to make your own conclusion. If I ever receive a ticket I will dispute it and document the results here.

  4. It’s supposed to be one country eh? A flashing green needs to mean the same thing for everyone. So why can’t the politicians work something out so we can be consistent before someone is accidentally hurt.

    My other pet peeve is the flashing yellow pedestrian cross walks. I see people fail to stop at them when they are flashing since they are infrequent and yellow means caution and not stop. They just don’t stand out like a stop light. Ah! But if we want people to stop why not make the pedestrian crossing lights red. We are creatures of habit and we recognize patterns faster. Therefore, let’s be consistent with all lights. Red is stop for everything except for pedestrian cross walks.