crosswalk toronto

This is how the pedestrian countdown timer in Toronto is supposed to work

Ah, the timer that counts down when you're crossing the street : an evergreen point of confusion and contention with pedestrians and drivers alike. 

It's been proven that these blinking roadside machines are so confusing, they—along with other traffic-related factors—have actually led to more collisions since being implemented in 2013. 

So what's the main problem? Well, to start, most people have misunderstood the function of pedestrian countdown signals (PCS) completely.

Clearly they haven't watched the City's 2-minute video on PCS rules. 

Contrary to popular opinion, the numeric countdown display represents the amount of time you have left if you've already started crossing the road—not the amount of time you have left to book it from sidewalk to sidewalk. 

"The 'flashing don’t walk' indication is represented by an orange flashing hand," states the City's bylaw on PCS

"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."

In other words, if you haven't started crossing before the countdown, you should just stay put. 

Even if you think you have just enough time to make it safely to the other side (signs flash for a minimum of seven seconds), chances are you don't. 

"...the “walk” indication will not be long enough for a pedestrian to complete the crossing," says the bylaw. The total time available for the crossing is a combination of the “walk” and “flashing don’t walk” times." 

All that being said, the likelihood is that pedestrians will start crossing the road during countdowns, and drivers will keep using the signal as a timer for how long they have before the red light. That's just life in Toronto.

Lead photo by

Cameron MacMaster


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