Q&A - Flashing Yellow Pedestrian Crossing Lights

Pedestrian Crossing signThis question is regarding pedestrian controlled crossings (with the yellow flashing lights, street illumination lighting, etc.). I know that you have written many articles regarding pedestrians and have quoted the applicable sections of the Act. However, I am still not 100% sure of the requirements of these particular crossings. Four of these have been added in my community and local area in the past few years and it seems to me that there is some confusion over responsibilities of stopping.

Specifically, is the activation of the signal by the pedestrian a requirement for the approaching vehicles to stop? Or is it simply another signal to the approaching vehicles that the pedestrian is asking for the right of way?

I see many pedestrians push the button and then wait to insure that the approaching vehicles stop before proceeding (some stop / some don’t). I also see some pedestrians gesturing at drivers who continue through, not giving way to the pedestrians. Other pedestrians push the button and immediately proceed as if they are entitled to cross (trusting that the approaching vehicles will somehow stop for them).

Comments

Answer

Here is the section in the Motor Vehicle Act that sets out the rules for flashing yellow lights:

Flashing lights

131 (3) When rapid intermittent flashes of yellow light are exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,

(a) the driver of a vehicle facing the flashes of yellow light may cause it to enter the intersection and proceed only with caution, but must yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk, and

(b) a pedestrian facing the flashes of yellow light may proceed with caution across the roadway, in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(4) When rapid intermittent flashes of yellow light are exhibited at a place other than an intersection by a traffic control signal,

(a) the driver of a vehicle approaching the signal may cause the vehicle to pass the signal only with caution, and must yield the right of way to pedestrians in the roadway or on any crosswalk in the vicinity of the signal, and

(b) a pedestrian may proceed across the roadway with caution.

The first case is at an intersection and the pedestrian is within the intersection or within a crosswalk beside the intersection.

Remember that the boundaries of an intersection are formed by extending the curb lines across the roadway.

Here the flashing yellow light requires an approach with caution and to yield to the pedestrian. Once you have yielded, you may proceed when safe to do so even if the yellow lights are still flashing.

The second case is anywhere not at an intersection. If the pedestrian is in the roadway or on the crosswalk the driver must approach with caution and yield to allow the pedestrian to cross.

These rules are actually very specific about where the pedestrians must be in order for the driver to have to yield to them.

"crosswalk" means

(a) a portion of the roadway at an intersection or elsewhere distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by signs or by lines or other markings on the surface, or

(b) the portion of a highway at an intersection that is included within the connection of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on the opposite sides of the highway, or within the extension of the lateral lines of the sidewalk on one side of the highway, measured from the curbs, or in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the roadway;

The first case (a) applies to a marked crosswalk and the second (b) to an unmarked crosswalk. The first may appear anywhere and the second only at an intersection.

"roadway" means the portion of the highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, but does not include the shoulder, and if a highway includes 2 or more separate roadways, the term "roadway" refers to any one roadway separately and not to all of them collectively;

If the pedestrian is on the sidewalk they are not on the roadway nor in a crosswalk. If there is no marked crosswalk, if the pedestrian is standing on the shoulder, they are not on the roadway. Strictly speaking, a driver is not required to yield if the pedestrian is not in the position set out in the law.

This raises two issues. Pedestrians don't like to wait in the positions required as they see it as being dangerous and they are probably right. If you cruise past a pedestrian waiting to cross but standing in the wrong place waiting, you are likely to be marked for not yielding on a road test.

Finally, there is always an onus on the driver in any circumstance to avoid collisions with pedestrians:

Duty of driver

181 Despite sections 178, 179 and 180, a driver of a vehicle must

(a) exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian who is on the highway,

(b) give warning by sounding the horn of the vehicle when necessary, and

(c) observe proper precaution on observing a child or apparently confused or incapacitated person on the highway.

This is probably a good place to remind everyone that right of way is given, not taken.

They're a great invention!

Thorough response as usual from our site host there. I have to say, these interactive devices are safer, yet more efficient, than a pedestrian controlled traffic light. 

With a regular traffic light - mid block or at an intersection - it can take way longer for the light to even respond to the push button, and once it does stop traffic it will show a 'Walk' light; many pedestrians then just step out without checking the traffic. It then takes a while for the light to cycle (longer on a wide road like Broadway for instance) until traffic is released (though they can drive through the red after stopping, when it's mid-block).

But with flashing yellows activated by a pedestrian pushbutton, response from the lights is immediate; then they only have to wait briefly until they can see it's safe to cross.

I think the key question asked is this:

Specifically, is the activation of the signal by the pedestrian a requirement for the approaching vehicles to stop? Or is it simply another signal to the approaching vehicles that the pedestrian is asking for the right of way?

And the answer would be that the activation of the signal by the pedestrian is a request for vehicles to yield to them (often, they don't need to stop, particularly if they're scanning well ahead and/or the pedestrian is nimble). Meanwhile, it forces pedestrians to look and ensure that traffic is in fact yielding the crosswalk to them; it's obvious using eye contact and observing their response.

I also see some pedestrians gesturing at drivers who continue through, not giving way to the pedestrians.

Yeah, I've seen that gesture. Probably appropriate, so long as the driver had a reasonable chance to get stopped smoothly, and without blocking the intersection.

Other pedestrians push the button and immediately proceed as if they are entitled to cross (trusting that the approaching vehicles will somehow stop for them).

Some people want to be dead right, I guess. But pedestrians are not without their own obligations (it's worth reading all of Section 179 thru 182). This in particular:

(2) A pedestrian must not leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close it is impracticable for the driver to yield the right of way.

So, this interactive device is surely both safer and more efficient for everyone. With a little give and take and - dare I say it - respect. Eh?

Onus on Engineers to protect peds.

@CompetentDrivingBC notes,

But with flashing yellows activated by a pedestrian pushbutton, response from the lights is immediate; then they only have to wait briefly until they can see it's safe to cross.

This highlights incredibly well how our behaviours are quickly conditioned by our surroundings and also, how the best intentioned of safety "improvements" can have negative consequences.

In implementing a measure to make mid-block crossings (jay-walking?) safer, we see the pedestrian activated flashing crossing. As noted and observed, pedestrians are now wrongly conditioned to believe they can approach, press the button and cross without even breaking stride, only to (hopefully only) almost get hit by the driver who can't react in time. Unlike a regular traffic light or pedestrian activated flashing green signal, there is no warn/yellow/stopping phase.

The driver must now be aware of any non-flashing signals and check for approaching pedestrians, just in case they need to stop, forcing a much greater situational awareness then even a non-light crossing.

The other condition, seen too often at my favorite annoying crossing at 6th Ave in New West, across from the library (beware: kids and old people) is as pedestrians keep coming, they keep hitting the button and walking across. I suppose that is the "right", but the unconditional response means you could have several minutes or pedestrians cross without allowing traffic to flow. Or, once the lights stop flashing for a few seconds allowing vehicles to start moving, the button is pushed by another non-stride breaking pedestrian immediately reactivating them.

One engineered mitigation (taken from Formula One starts to stop jumping the light): add a random delay of between one and five seconds to the activation from the press. That delay would condition the pedestrians they must wait albeit briefly, verify the light is flashing AND vehicles are stopping before crossing safely. Setting a maximum active limit (say 60 secs) before a minimum traffic grace (say 20 secs) would ease frustrations but perhaps confuse pedestrians.

Engineering decisions have consequences, yet somehow they get excused from impacts of their choices.

Off-topic now... Years ago, City of North Van Engineers decided that even though there were safer opportunities to locate a two-way separated bike path to the South or move the bike route up to the calmed and quieter 1st St, they located the bike path on Esplanade(in front of the Seabus/Quay/ICBC (and Shipyards) complex, along a very busy commercial, transit and truck corridor. Everyone seemed in shock when the inevitable cyclist was tragically killed there and now it's the driver who doored him will face charges, while the engineer who created the hazard will face no consequences and carry on doing the same. That is the real tragedy.

I could write a small book just on the engineer created hazards I have observed in my municipality. Engineers also are non-positively responsive to non-engineers explaining to them they've made it worse.

Is our site host or others aware of any times where consequences or charges are recommended against engineers for their contributing factors in such circumstances? We hear weather, alcohol or even "road conditions" being factors in collisions, but I have yet to hear "road design", or the engineering being a contributing factor.

Onus on pedestrians to protect themselves!

In implementing a measure to make mid-block crossings (jay-walking?) safer, we see the pedestrian activated flashing crossing. As noted and observed, pedestrians are now wrongly conditioned to believe they can approach, press the button and cross without even breaking stride, only to (hopefully only) almost get hit by the driver who can't react in time. Unlike a regular traffic light or pedestrian activated flashing green signal, there is no warn/yellow/stopping phase.

I'm not understanding this. Firstly, it isn't jay-walking when they paint a crosswalk in the middle of the block. Secondly, whether it's a green/amber/red light OR flashing yellow lights that get activated by the pedestrian pushbuttons, they can be placed mid-block OR at an intersection. Fact is, those flashing green light setups were designed and intended for mid-block use - it's traffic engineers who have screwed up (in my opinion) by sometimes utilizing them at 2-Way Stop type intersections.

Furthermore, I disagree entirely with your statement that pedestrians are now 'wrongly conditioned ... etc'. The fact is, pedestrians presented with a 'Walk' signal are only too willing to foolishly step out without looking for conflicting traffic (these days, often with their mobile phone occupying most of their attention), whereas pedestrians who have activated a flashing yellow light will typically observe traffic for the needed response before stepping out - that's why they're better. That is, more efficient AND safer.

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Off-topic now... Years ago, City of North Van Engineers decided that even though there were safer opportunities to locate a two-way separated bike path to the South or move the bike route up to the calmed and quieter 1st St, they located the bike path on Esplanade(in front of the Seabus/Quay/ICBC (and Shipyards) complex, along a very busy commercial, transit and truck corridor.

It's not that simple, it never was. The bike lanes along Esplanade were created as a commuter route for cyclists, due to demand for bike lanes. 1st Street would never have worked, due to the continuous Stop signs to cross steets like St Georges, Lonsdale, Chesterfield, etc. And I doubt that the Squamish Band would have welcomed these bike lanes going through the middle of their residential land, eh?

And while the Esplanade corridor is indeed used by heavy commercial traffic, the traffic lights were already deliberately synchronized to slow that traffic to an average speed of no more than 40 km/h - which happens to be ideal for commuting cyclists.

Everyone seemed in shock when the inevitable cyclist was tragically killed there and now it's the driver who doored him will face charges, while the engineer who created the hazard will face no consequences and carry on doing the same. That is the real tragedy.

It was shocking: fatalities of this type are rare. But the engineer who (as you put it) 'created this hazard' was doing his best with the space available! Other bike lane options (such as putting it to the right of the parked cars, as they did along Chesterfield between West 6th & West 13th) or making it a full width shared lane (such as in the 100 block West 13th) simply weren't going to be viable - and it was probably the same engineer who created those.

These days, an alternate southern route has in fact been created, for cyclists and pedestrians to share, running close to the harbourfront. Much safer, not to mention scenic; cleaner air to breathe, too! But I'll tell you what, I'll bet you those commuting cyclists eager to get from A to B in the shortest time will keep on using the Esplanade corridor - and, no doubt, will also complain about the potential hazards. 

 

@CompetentDrivingBC, "isn't

@CompetentDrivingBC, "isn't jay-walking when they paint a crosswalk in the middle of the block.". Um, NO.

It is not defined in the BC MVA, but would faill under BC MVA s180:

Crossing at other than crosswalk

180   When a pedestrian is crossing a highway at a point not in a crosswalk, the pedestrian must yield the right of way to a vehicle.

Under the City of Vancouver by-laws, there is a definition (my emphasis):

"Jaywalk" means to walk across a roadway, other than a lane, a minor street or a portion of a street designated by the City Engineer for the exclusive use of cyclists, at any place that is not a marked or unmarked crosswalk and is less than one block from an intersection where there are traffic control signals. (see also definition of "Crosswalk" for marked/unmarked).


The placement of either the "push-and-cross" flashing amber or the "push-to-cross" flashing green crossing were placed there to deter unsafe random pedestrian crossings anywhere along the block between intersections and encourage/force pedestrians to cross at the marked crosswalks, making the entire corridor safer.

A "push-and-cross" signal such as the one on 6th Ave in New West is inherently less safe than a push-to-cross" signal at Main/Quebec @ Hastings. Interestingly, probably 90% of the pedestrian along Hasitings fail to use the marked crossing, whereas it's probably inversely compliant in New West.

If this website supports posting video, I'd be happy to collect counter evidence to your assertion, "pedestrians who have activated a flashing yellow light will typically observe traffic for the needed response before stepping out". It should only take a few minutes the next time I pass by New West.

I will defer my comments on the Esplanade issue to another post, other than to say, the engineer likely made his decision based on "the space available" and "the funds allocated" to address the problem. The result was a deadly compromise. Also, the 100 block W 13th is not what I would consider a good example of anything road markings wise (ps: that is a jay-walker on the South side of the street).

 

Video

It's relatively simple, upload the video to your YouTube (or similar) account and then embed the video in your reply here.

I disagree with your disagreement. Or something.

@CompetentDrivingBC, "isn't jay-walking when they paint a crosswalk in the middle of the block.". Um, NO.

"Um, NO?" I'm not getting your meaning. And what I stated - that "It isn't jay-walking when they paint a crosswalk in the middle of the block" stands.

There could be room for discussion of what properly constitutes a crosswalk, I guess; the road markings on this West Pender one are ambiguous, without a doubt. Heck, they've doubled up on the signage to try and compensate. But when they've painted proper wide white lines across the road, with proper signage and everything (never mind whether they've also added pushbutton-activated flashing amber lights) then dammit, Um YES, that there thing is a crosswalk and pedestrians using it are not jay-walking by any stretch of the imagination.

Meanwhile, with regard to terminology, I see you've been doing your research and discovered what many of us already knew - that "jay-walking" isn't defined or directly addressed in the MVA, although obviously Section 180 applies.

Also, in fairness I should remark that I think I know which crosswalk in New West you're referring to. (What's the nearest cross-street?)  There's a section along there (I think it's within a 30/kmh PG Zone that everyone ignores?) that seems to have been designed by an unqualified committee, and if it's where I'm thinking then indeed I've seen stupid pedestrian behaviour there.  It may be associated with the nearby bus-stops(?)

And as much as I like interactive flashing yellow pushbuttons (so to speak) I'd be open to the idea that they're not the best solution on multi-lane arterials. More as an enhancement to an existing crosswalk. In fact, focusing once again on the Esplanade synchronized corridor in NV, the full Red/Amber/Flashing Green mid-block crosswalks in each block east and west of Lonsdale work perfectly. The biggest danger to the pedestrians there probably comes from the cyclists zipping through the red light, ironically.

As regards bicycle lanes, when I mentioned the 100 block W. 13th in N. Van I should have specified 'westbound'; here there's an unusual shared full-width road lane, to give the cyclists room to stay clear of getting doored.

Meanwhile, as you seem well acquainted with City of NV engineering stuff, here's a piece of trivia you may not be aware of: the original long-term goal for the West 13th / West Keith corridor was to achieve dual-lanes both east-bound & west-bound all the way from Bewicke / Marine to St. George's. Only the south side street parking in the 100 block stood in the way of completing this.

And then, along came bike lanes. And what some folks need to realize, is that this isn't Copenhage or Amsterdam, the pre-planning simply wasn't there. Therefore, they have been imposed on an existing superstructure. Sometimes well, other times not so well. It's going on around the globe, and it's a challenge in big cities; in London UK they've found it necessary to construct hard curbs around some left turns, separating the bike lanes from the buses. But that sort of cyclist protection isn't always practicable, and people (particularly cyclists) need to recognize this.

 

Pedestrians

Hi

As a  pedestrian  and a motorist.Am I braking  the law,I’m stopped a a cross walk that is also at a on ramp to a highway.Can I legally wave them on to go as intended. Makes on scene stopping large trucks that are expecting to  accelerate to highway speed,I will generally wave them on. I’m doing it for my safety as well as theirs. Yes I get a thumbs up from most everyone.I read the post about cross walks and stopping. Bycyling I will generally slow up for faster traffic,I may be in the right. I’ve never tried it out but dead right doesn’t work. 

Thanks for your posts. 

Tom Brenner. 

Waving People On

I understand that waving people on is not a good practice. There may be liability that attaches to you if you wave, they follow and something bad happens.

Better to stop / yield as required and if the pedestrian chooses not to cross, continue on.

Life in a small town is so

Life in a small town is so simple. If the location you are going is on the other side of the street you just cross to the other side. Through the downtown core during business hours no one is going more than 10 or 15.

 

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