Rules to Follow During a Signal Power Outage

During a power outage, the vehicle and pedestrian displays will be dark and the signalized intersection must be treated as an all-way stop. The following rules should be followed:

  • the first vehicle to come to a complete stop at the intersection goes first
  • if two vehicles arrive and stop at the same time, the one on the right goes first
  • if two vehicles stop at the intersection at about the same time and are facing each other, the one making a left turn yields to the one going straight through; otherwise, both vehicles proceed straight through at the same time
  • in all cases, vehicles yield to pedestrians
  • report the issue to 311

Signal Power During an Electricity Disruption

Unless equipped with battery back-up systems, traffic signals in the affected area will not be operational.

LEDs Signals and Saving Power

All traffic signals in Toronto are equipped with LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) instead of incandescent bulbs. High-efficiency, long-life LEDs facilitate energy cost savings since they consume 80 – 90 per cent less energy than comparable incandescent bulbs. LEDs also facilitate savings in maintenance costs since they are replaced every five years compared to the one year cycle for incandescent bulbs. Compared to incandescent bulbs, LEDs provide an annual energy savings of more than 20,000 kilowatts resulting in an annual savings of about two million dollars. The energy savings translates into a reduction of five million kilograms of carbon dioxide each year.

Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)

Due to the reduction in energy consumption, it is now more feasible to install battery back-up systems,also called uninterruptable power supplies (UPS), at signalized intersections. In the past, the installation cost of a UPS would be prohibitive since a larger capacity UPS would be required to continue the full operations of the traffic signals equipped with incandescent bulbs. Now that all Toronto signals are equipped with LEDs, it is possible to install UPS at signalized intersections at a more reasonable cost. Toronto has a program to install UPS at major signalized intersections across the city to ensure that signals continue to function during a power failure. A UPS can operate a signalized intersection in a fully functional mode for six to eight hours and in an emergency all-red flash mode for an additional four to six hours. As of October 16, 2017, 76 UPS have been installed at signalized intersections.

Reflective Tape on Traffic Signal Backboards

Traffic signal backplates (also called backboards) are thin plates of material that surround traffic signal indications. They are intended to improve the visibility of a traffic signal by providing a consistent and controlled-contrast background. The addition of narrow strips of retroreflective tape or sheeting around the border of the backplates enhances the visibility of traffic signals which leads to fewer crashes at signalized intersections.

Retroreflective borders also enhance the visibility of traffic signals for aging and color-vision impaired drivers, better enabling them to determine which signal indication is illuminated. Retroreflective borders also alert drivers to signalized intersections during power outages when the signals would otherwise be dark and non-reflective signal heads and backplates would be less conspicuous.


When a Traffic Signal is Needed

City staff would consider traffic signals only after lesser forms of control, such as stop signs,  yield signs or pedestrian crossovers have proven to be ineffective. City staff follow the Ontario Traffic Manual (OTM) Book 12 (2012) guidelines to determine whether a traffic signal is necessary.

There are several reasons why a traffic signal might be needed. One reason is if residents feel that a pedestrian crossover on a particular street is not safe. Sometimes, residents express a concern about crossing a street where no crossover exists. Occasionally, motorists will request a traffic signal when they are having difficulty entering traffic on a main street from a smaller street.

When programmed for optimum timing efficiency, signals can increase the traffic handling capacity of an intersection, and can reduce the occurrence of angle, or ‘broadside’ collisions. However, they are not the solution to all traffic woes since rear-end accidents can increase when a traffic signal is installed.

Traffic Signals & Collisions

Rear-end collisions may increase when a signal is installed. Normally, City staff are willing to trade off an increase in rear-end collisions for a decrease in the more severe angle-type accidents. However, when there is no angle-type accident problem at an intersection, a traffic signal may actually raise the number of accidents at an intersection.

Traffic Signals & Traffic Flow

Traffic signals make traffic flow smoother and safer when they are installed in accordance with the justifications stipulated in Ontario Traffic Manual Book 12. When used at an intersection where installation is not justified, signals can cause frustration in drivers, who may then seek alternate routes. These routes usually are not built to handle increased traffic flow. In addition, drivers frustrated by unnecessarily long waits at signals may begin to disobey the law. Traffic control devices are most effective when perceived as reasonable by the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians that use them.

Installation Cost

A new signal installation costs between $80,000 and $160,000 per installation. The cost is dependent on certain factors.

  • Mode of Control – Semi-actuated signals require detection devices at the intersection. Midblock pedestrian signals need less equipment.
  • Phasing – Left turn arrows require additional signal equipment and detection devices.
  • Traffic system – SCOOT (traffic adaptive) requires additional equipment in the cabinet and detection upstream of the intersection. TransSuite (traffic responsive) requires system detection.
  • Utilities – Avoiding/relocating existing utilities such as gas, cable, hydro, water, sewage and telephone.
  • Intersection geometry – Offset and skewed intersections require more signal equipment.
  • Intersection spacing – Closely spaced intersections require adjacent signals to be hardwire interconnected.
  • Communication – Telephone lines are required for remote monitoring of signal operations.
  •  Special features – Transit priority, rail pre-emption, firehall pre-emption and accessible pedestrian signals require specialised equipment.

The yearly maintenance cost is between $10,000 – $15,000 per installation.  Drivers also have increased costs for fuel, time delay, and accidents. This adds to the reasons for installing signals only where clearly justified.

Request a Traffic Signal at an Intersection

Contact 311 and provide details of your request. Once a call is received, Transportation Services begins an investigation into the situation. A study of traffic volumes on the road is completed (including rush hour traffic). This is often followed by a pedestrian study where all forms of pedestrian traffic (children, adults and seniors) is compiled. The goal is to find out who is using the road and for what purpose.

Transportation Services also looks at speed of vehicles that travel the road and other land uses in the area such as TTC, school crossings, etc. In addition, a collision history of the area from police records is compiled and a pattern of the type of collisions is investigated to see if a traffic signal might have helped to prevent such collisions.

Once the study is complete, Transportation Services staff evaluates the information and compares it to the provincial guidelines which determine if a traffic signal is warranted for the area in question.