Disobeying Pedestrian Signals

image of typical pedestrian signals with a countdown timerQuestion: I have been wondering about pedestrians and pedestrian signals in Vancouver. Long after their signal has turned to 'Don't Walk' - giving motorists a chance to complete a turn - they continue to fill the crosswalks like they had some kind of right of way!

Who has jurisdiction over this?

Is it the Bylaws officers (obsessed with parking meters), or the Traffic officers (obsessed with operating radars from their hiding place beneath the trees) on Pacific Ave?

Without enforcement, the situation will only get worse. Which it does, daily!

Pedestrian Fatalities in Vancouver

The Vancouver Police Department has published traffic fatality information on their website for the years 2014 to 2019.

The information is grouped by pedestrians, drivers, passengers, motorcyclists and cyclists.

In every year except 2017 the number of pedestrian deaths alone (an average of 8 per year) was more than the other four categories combined. In 2017 the two totals were equal.

Pedestrian Fatalities in British Columbia

For comparison, the provincial 5 year average for pedestrians is 2,346 injuries and 53 fatalities.

Pedestrian Violations 2022

The following statistics are taken from ICBC's open data set of contraventions of the Motor Vehicle Act for the entire province. They report the number of provincial violation tickets written by police for the listed offences:

  • Disobey Pedestrian Signals / Fail to use crosswalk: 53
  • Pedestrian facing red light must not enter roadway: 43
  • Pedestrian leave curb when unsafe: 33
  • Pedestrian must not enter roadway until safe: 18
  • Disobey don't walk sign or walk against wait light: 23

Bylaw Statistics Not Available

The City of Vancouver does maintain statistics on parking violations but the available data set does not contain any ticketing information for pedestrian signals.

Enforcement of Pedestrian Signals

One of VPD's Community Road and Education Safety Team's focus areas is pedestrian safety. They make presentations to elementary school students, seniors, and community groups on how to safely cross Vancouver's busy streets.

The 2022 to 2026 strategic plan does not include the word pedestrian.

Road safety lists one item: Ongoing road safety campaigns and enforcement efforts will continue to combat unsafe road behaviour, such as distracted driving, speeding, and impaired driving.

Safety Study Findings

"The vast majority of collisions at intersections involved drivers failing to yield to pedestrians when pedestrians had the right-of-way."


It would appear to be more important to dedicate enforcement toward drivers who fail to yield than pedestrians who don't follow signals.

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Pedestrians are so entitled, even though what they're doing is illegal, selfish, and dangerous.

I've seen backups dozens of cars long waiting to turn, and unable to do so simply because one or two pedestrians decide to stroll across during the flashing hand. It leads to frustrated drivers trying to make the turn on a red just as other people are stepping off the curb to cross in the other direction.

It seems the VPD used to hand out fines for this. It would be interesting to know if they still do.

CTV News story

It seems to me that at least part of the problem is the somewhat ambiguous message of don't walk signal along with the seconds timer. There is nothing in the MVA about a flashing hand/don't walk signal and what it means. What the MVA states is:

132 (3) When the word "wait", the words "don't walk" or an outline of a raised hand are exhibited at an intersection or at a place other than an intersection by a pedestrian traffic control signal,

(a) a pedestrian must not enter the roadway, and
(b) a pedestrian proceeding across the roadway and facing the word "wait", the words "don't walk", or an outline of a raised hand exhibited after the pedestrian entered the roadway

(i) must proceed to the sidewalk as quickly as possible, and
(ii) has the right of way for that purpose over all vehicles.

So, when the flashing signal is displayed pedestrians shouldn't cross, but then when it isn't (as it flashes) they should proceed to the other side of the road. This is compounded by the seconds timer. If you are not to cross why would the time shown be of any relevance. If you are not supposed to enter the crosswalk why are you being told how much time you have to cross until the solid hand/don't walk signal will come on (which is never the same time as the yellow traffic light coming on)?

A much better system would be to show the time until the hand/don't walk signal during the walk phase. This is done in Victoria at the intersection of Yates and Camosun (next to Central Middle School). This would let some slower pedestrians some warning about how much time that they have to cross. But I think that the best way would just be to drop the timer and the flashing phase while lengthening the walk phase as appropriate.

One of the reasons for pedestrian resistance to pedestrians, at least in Victoria, is the proliferation of beg buttons, i.e., pedestrian walk lights that only come on if a button is pressed, usually, before the green light comes on. If you arrive at an intersection with a beg button just as the traffic light turns green, you are supposed to wait through the whole cycle again for the right to cross. One of the worst examples of this is at the corner of Bay and Blanshard where, if you arrive on one side of Bay just as the light goes green, you have to wait even though the walk light has been turned on on the other side of Bay. Why you have beg buttons can only be seen as the traffic engineering trolls doing everything they can to give priority to motorists. If there are no pedestrians when the walk signal comes on, it has no effect on turning motorists, but if there is a pedestrian there arriving one second after the light goes green, they are expected to wait on the chance that a motorist might be slightly delayed in making a turn.

Note, beg buttons are not the same thing as the buttons at pedestrian operated traffic light crossings (with the stupid flashing green lights, only in BC. What is the function of these? Letting motorists know that running them really won't have any real serious consequences?)

When you read the entire section, a pedestrian is only permitted to enter the crosswalk when the signal is displaying the word WALK or the symbol of a walking person.

WAIT, DON'T WALK or the raised hand symbol means do not enter the crosswalk and if you are already in the crosswalk, finish your crossing immediately.

There is no distinction made over whether they are flashing, steady or accompanied by a countdown timer.

The point to 132 1 and 2 is, "When the word "walk" or an outline of a walking person is exhibited at an intersection by a pedestrian traffic control signal, a pedestrian ... has the right of way over all vehicles in the intersection or any adjacent crosswalk." It does not state that pedestrians shall (and 'shall' is the operative term) only enter a crosswalk when a walk sign is present. It gives no indication of what a pedestrian is required to do. Section 131 of the MVA is explicit about what vehicles and pedestrians are to do when faced by other flashing lights. If a flashing pedestrian traffic control signal is to be treated like other flashing red lights, and I don't believe that is what the MVA means, then, "a pedestrian facing the flashes of red light may proceed with caution across the roadway, in a marked or unmarked crosswalk."

It appears as though there is an assumption that pedestrians read rules for motor-vehicle law. We are not all born with a rule book for pedestrians. There are some basics that somehow people pick up along the way like not J-walking. However, this is also kind of regional law or not. As for the signals for pedestrians…as a driver, I get the frustration this is a stressful and seemingly angry place to drive. A little patience can go a long way, because my pedestrian side recalls a time when the walk sign was not long enough for me to get across the street in time.

Rick of Smart Drive Test fame calls this Social Driving. We follow what others do, not what the rules require of us.

On the other hand, the courts will tell you that it is your responsibility to know the law. This is a pretty big ask these days as most people don't have the time, interest or desire until something happens and then it is too late.

Finally, you don't need to be across before the walk sign goes out. If you enter lawfully, you have right of way to finish crossing despite the signal having changed.