The City has installed pedestrian “countdown” signals (PCS) at all its signalized intersections to assist pedestrians in crossing the street. The countdown device provides a numeric countdown display that indicates the number of seconds remaining for a pedestrian to complete his/her crossing of a street.

The installation of PCS is one of the initiatives to make Toronto more pedestrian-friendly. PCS provide more precise information to pedestrians about the remaining time available for them to cross the street at signalized intersections. U.S. research has shown that there is a significant decrease in all crashes (includes vehicle-pedestrian and vehicle(s) only) after the installation of PCS, and no negative consequences were observed. The research concluded that pedestrians made better decisions using the time left to cross the street displayed on PCS.

Watch our short video on how to safely cross through an intersection.

The “walk” indication is shown by a walking person symbol. This means that pedestrians facing the WALK indication may start to walk across the street after checking to see that cross traffic has stopped. The indication is usually on only during the first part of the total crossing time provided.

The “flashing don’t walk” indication is represented by an orange flashing hand. A pedestrian should not start to cross the street at this time but pedestrians who began crossing during the WALK may continue walking to the opposite side of the street or to a safety island. There will be sufficient time to complete the crossing before opposing traffic moves.

The steadily illuminated orange “don’t walk,” or upraised hand indication, is displayed. This means that a pedestrian should not enter the roadway in the direction of this indication because the traffic signal is about to change.

When the button is pushed, information is passed on to the traffic signal that pedestrians wish to cross the street and the regular programming sequence is altered. Usually within two minutes, the walking symbol will be displayed. At this point, it is safe for pedestrians to cross the street.

Since the button is programmed to respond to pedestrian demand, if it is not pushed, then the signal maintains its regular sequence of allowing traffic to proceed in alternate directions. But it’s not just the signal itself. The length of time the signal remains in view is also important.

Toronto Transportation Services uses three signals for pedestrians crossing the street. In addition to the walking person symbol, there is the flashing helping hand and the steady halting hand. When the walking person is no longer on the screen facing the pedestrian, the flashing helping hand appears. That’s when the hand on the screen flashes. It means that pedestrians already crossing should continue to do so at a comfortable rate of speed, but those who have not started should not do so. The steady halting hand means don’t cross – pedestrians no longer have the right of way.

The City also uses accessible signals to assist pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired. These signals are linked to visual pedestrian signals. They advise the blind or visually impaired when they can cross the intersection and in which direction. If pedestrians hear a “cuckoo” sound, they can cross in a north/south direction. A “chirp” means they can cross in an east/west direction. Silence indicates that pedestrians should not start crossing in any direction.

The City’s previous standard was 1.2 m/s. The City is currently retiming its signals to its current standard of 1.0 m/s.

In Toronto, the “walk” indication is a minimum of seven seconds. Therefore, the “walk” indication will not be long enough for a pedestrian to complete the crossing. The total time available for the crossing is a combination of the “walk” and “flashing don’t walk” times.

Where buttons are available to pedestrians, it is because the traffic signal is timed for cars, not for pedestrians. If a pedestrian does not push the button, the traffic light may not provide enough time to safely cross the street. The button should be pushed once.

The following suggestions are offered in the interest of safety:

  • cross intersections defensively
  • when crossing the street, regardless of the availability of signals, cross as quickly as possible; minimize time on the roadway
  • always watch for turning vehicles
  • while a pedestrian may have a legal right to be there, that does not protect the pedestrian from the carelessness of some motorists