Signs & Signals


The Region of Waterloo manages almost 500 traffic signals in its cities and townships, most of them controlled by the Traffic Control Centre at Regional Headquarters in Kitchener.

Signal warrants are used to set standards and benchmarks for the installation of new traffic signals. Factors include vehicle and pedestrian volumes, delays and the history of collisions at an intersection.

We follow signal warrants to:

  • Ensure signals are installed on a fair and equitable basis
  • Promote an efficient, environmentally friendly Regional transportation network
  • Be consistent with other jurisdictions

How Traffic Signals Operate

We are often asked why traffic signals operate a certain way. Following is an explanation of different types of traffic signal operation and some frequently asked questions.

Each signal operates in one of three ways:

  • Fixed-Time
    This type of signal operation is used when the volume of traffic is about the same on both streets. Constant cycling provides a predetermined period of green light to each street. "Walk" and flashing "Don't Walk" symbols appear with the green signal.
  • Semi-Actuated
    This type of signal is used if there are significantly lower vehicle volumes on the side street or if there are peak periods when volumes fluctuate.

The signal on the main street stays green until a vehicle is detected on the side street (vehicle detectors are placed in or over the road) or until a pedestrian presses the pushbutton for a "Walk" symbol. With this type of signal, the "Walk" or "Don't Walk" symbols are not displayed unless a pushbutton is pressed. The traffic signal will change at a pre-set time to minimize interruptions and maintain co-ordination on the major street.

  • Fully Actuated
    Vehicle detectors are installed in all lanes and a minimum amount of green time is displayed unless additional vehicles are detected. Pedestrian pushbuttons must be pressed to display the "Walk" and "Don't Walk" symbols.

    Note: Only fixed-time and semi-actuated signals can be co-ordinated. They will always display a green light on the major street at pre-set times. It is not possible to co-ordinate fully actuated signals since their green lights are based on vehicle demand, which is always changing.

More information can be found in Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about traffic signals.

Pedestrians & Traffic Control Signals

Studies suggest a traffic signal generally does not improve pedestrian safety. Most pedestrian collisions in the Region occur at signalized intersections, most often while the pedestrian is in the crosswalk and has the right of way.

In Waterloo Region, on average, more than twice as many collisions occur at a signalized intersection compared to a Stop-controlled intersection with similar traffic volumes.

Collisions tend to increase when a new signal is installed.

For two years, Regional staff compared 47 intersections within Waterloo Region before and after installing signals. Traffic volumes increased an average of three per cent during that time, while overall collisions increased by 20 per cent and pedestrian collisions jumped from two to eight. Excluding angle collisions, injury collisions increased by 70 per cent.

The Region receives requests to install signals, for example at school crossings, but the added convenience may come at the expense of safety. At an intersection, a pedestrian needs to be aware of vehicles turning from numerous directions. However, with a signal the pedestrian may feel safe in simply watching for the Walk signal and neglect to scan for vehicles.

Intersection Pedestrian Signals

Intersection Pedestrian Signals are specifically designed to assist pedestrians in crossing the main street. They include:

  • pedestrian signal heads with "Walk" and "Don't Walk" symbols
  • red, amber and green traffic signal indications for motorists on the main street which the pedestrians will be crossing
  • Stop signs for motorists on the side street

A pedestrian must push a pushbutton to cross the main street. After a short delay, the traffic signal will change to red, indicating motorists on the main street must stop. The "Walk" and flashing "Don't Walk" symbols will then be displayed for pedestrians to cross. Pedestrians in the crosswalk during "Walk" or "Don't Walk" indicators have the right-of-way.

Motorists on the main street must obey the traffic signal indications as at any traffic signal. This includes stopping at the Stop line during a red light and waiting for gaps in the opposing traffic during a green, if turning left. As at other traffic signals, motorists may turn right during the red indication.

Motorists on the side street will always face a Stop sign. They are required to yield to all pedestrians and vehicles on the main street. This includes checking for pedestrians and waiting for an acceptable gap in the vehicular traffic on the main street. Motorists must obey the Stop sign even if vehicles on the main street have stopped.

The Intersection Pedestrian Signal will only change if a pedestrian pushes the pushbutton. Vehicles waiting on the side street do not affect the traffic signal.

More information can be found in Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about pedestrians and signals.


Common misconceptions about traffic signing:

  • That a sign is the best way to alleviate a safety issue
  • That more signs are better than fewer signs
  • That modifying standard signing practice will make the information clearer to the public
  • That signs are effective in modifying driver behaviour

Understanding traffic signing:

  • Signing is an evidence-based science that relies on factors such as what a driver expects to see, what is easily recognized, and what information will be processed
  • Overuse of signs breeds disrespect and diminishes effectiveness
  • Unnecessary signs and posts represent a hazard to errant motorists and may cause an obstruction to pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Unnecessary signs are a waste of taxpayer dollars, a continuing cost in maintenance and a source of visual blight

Emergency Detour Routes (EDR)

EDR_Sign.gifLink to Ministry of Transportation Ontario regarding Provincial Highway Emergency Detour Routes (EDR).

If you have questions regarding EDR within Waterloo Region contact or call 519-575-4558.


Transportation Inquiries
Region of Waterloo
150 Frederick Street, 7th Floor, Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4J3

Phone: 519-575-4558
Fax: 519-575-4453

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E-Mail to Region of Waterloo Transportation