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TriMet adds bike section to Bus Operator Manual

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 9th, 2007 at 10:12 am

This Saturday (1/13) will mark the one-year anniversary of when we all first heard about Randy Albright's lawsuit against TriMet.

That lawsuit -- which was spurred by Albright being buzzed by a bus on the Hawthorne Bridge -- has had a lasting impact on our community in many ways.

It led to an "I Share the Road" campaign at PDOT, it started an important (and sometimes ugly) community dialogue about the need to be considerate of all roadway users (including giving donuts and thanks to TriMet drivers), and it led to a mountain of media coverage.

But unfortunately, even after an arbitrator found TriMet partially at fault, we have heard little about what TriMet has done to make amends.

That's why I was happy to hear from an inside source that TriMet has added a new section to their Bus Operator Manual titled, "Sharing the Road with Cyclists." According to my source, this new section (which was added in a recent revision) came as a direct result of the Albright lawsuit.

I obtained a copy of the manual and here is the new section that pertains to cyclists (Note: Emphasis to text is mine):

8.3.4 Sharing the Road with Cyclists

Many people ride bicycles to get to work, to run errands, to get excercise, or just to have fun. Bicycles are ridden by people of all walks of life, age, and experience.

Because of the great difference in bulk between a bus and a bicyclist, it is critical that TriMet operators use extreme caution when operating around cyclists.

When operating near cyclists, practice the following defensive driving techniques:

  • Provide a wide berth for bicyclists. Allow for at least four feet of clearance when you pass a cyclist. The draft created by a moving bus can destabilize the rider if the bus passes too close
  • Travel at a safe distance at all times. Always allow enough clearance that, if the bicyclist fell over, the bus is far enough away to avoid injury to the rider

Operating Near Bicycle Lanes:

  • Bike lanes are for the exclusive use of cyclists. Travel in the vehicle lane when operating on a road with a bike lane or bike path
  • If you need to cross a bike lane to service a stop, give cyclists the right of way. Wait for any cyclists to ride through and out of your path of travel before signaling and moving over to the stop
  • When preparing to pull back into the vehicle lane, yield right of way to cyclists merging from bike lanes

NOTE: Contact station management if you need additional training on operating near cyclists.

I'm very happy to see TriMet add this language to their manual. The opening paragraph is especially important because it reminds drivers that cyclists are actual human beings and are much more than just obstacles in the road.

When I heard about the "allow four feet" part I asked TriMet PR lady Mary Fetsch about it. Here was her reply,

"In reality, 4 feet is often hard to get and maintain with Portland's narrow street system. It is hoped the cycling community will do their part to respect the space that transit buses need to safely operate.

In the recent training campaign that all bus operators attended, we stressed the idea that both cycling and transit are highly important to the growth and future of our region. Mutual respect and cooperation between both groups is vital."

I agree with Mary that we should be realistic and that we cannot expect 100% compliance at all times...but it's still good to know that the official manual requires four feet.

The section about waiting for cyclists to clear the bike lane before swinging over to a stop is a big one. But remember, if you go up against a bus, you will lose, regardless of what the manual says.

This revision to the Bus Operator's Manual is a step in the right direction but I think the ultimate community relations move would be to do get a few operators on bikes and allow some cyclists to get a perspective from behind the wheel.

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Comments
  • Cecil January 9, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Jonathan, were the bold sections that way in the manual or did you put them in bold for emphasis? Just wondering. It sure would be nice if the emphasis were in the original.

    As for the 4 foot clearance, that's great, but it will be interesting to see how often drivers adhere to that recommendation.

    Did your Tri-Met contact offer any information about how Tri-Met would respond to cyclist complaints about bus drivers violating the new provisions? How much discretion are they allowing the drivers in deciding it's not safe to give at least 4 feet of room, or how closely they can follow a rider.

    And I can't wait to see if the busses pulling out from the stop at Madison and Grand actually yield to bikes coming up beside them in the bike lane (not counting the bike swarm that piles up next to the front of the bus when the light is red).

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  • Jonathan Maus January 9, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Cecil,

    The bold was my emphasis. I will edit the post right now to make that clear.
    Thanks.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 9, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Thanks TRIMET for thinking of us!

    Though I wish this section of the manual included:
    - mention that many bicyclists are TRIMET riders (riding their bike to bus/MAX), include # of boardings/ fastest growing demographic of ridership (a guess); perhaps this is in another section
    - some mention of operations issues with MAX operators and bicyclists (how bikes approach tracks, etc.)...perhaps this is in another section.

    Again...thank you TRIMET.

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  • Meghan January 9, 2007 at 10:44 am

    I echo Cecil's question regarding whether this will change bus drivers' behavior at some high-use intersections like Madison & Grand. One thing I think we should all recognize though, is that when a bus is about to enter the intersection and cross the bike lane -- and we're behind it, it's dangerous try to beat the bus.

    Not only is it dangerous, I would think it's illegal -- when a bus switches on that blinky red "YIELD" sign, that means both cars AND cyclists should yield. I can't count the number of cyclists I've seen risk their lives trying to cut off a moving bus at this location. I wish they would stop doing that...

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  • Austin January 9, 2007 at 11:10 am

    I was at a Portland Bike Advisory Meeting a couple of months back when they talked about an update to the manual (http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=138789). I thought this was all well and good, until one of the bus operators (who happened to also be a cyclist) indicated that in her 10 years of service, she had never seen the “Bus Operator Manual” and that often times the culture of the drivers was not positive towards cyclists and that this was often reinforced in Operator Training.

    She also mentioned that in order to get the Bus Operator Manual you need to register and get it online at an internal TriMet website. Of the 1600 drivers, only 30 had registered; and that there was no mention of how to treat cyclists in a book that all operators actually have on their buses.

    These are clearly good steps to take, but it needs to result in a change of behavior. These guys have a tough job as it is navigating those things through the streets, and so real cultural change is probably going to take more than revising a document that not too many people read.

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  • Anonymous January 9, 2007 at 11:21 am

    I think "(Note: The bold text was done by me and is not in the original)" may read as if you authored the bold text; but you added emphasis to text that is in the original?

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  • Cecil January 9, 2007 at 11:37 am

    I agree with Meghan about not trying to beat the bus at Madison & Grand and other such intersections - I want to make it clear that my reference re: yielding to bikes was in regard to bikes that were already next to the bus (or within micro-seconds of entering that section of the bike lane) before the bus turned on its signals and "yield" indicator - I have witnessed numerous incidents where the bus has pulled out on top of bikes in that position, and it's damn scary. It is possible that some of those times the bike has been in a blind spot, but I have witnessed other times (and been one of the affected bikers a couple of times) where the driver has looked back (not just in the mirror), seen the bikes and moved out anyway . . .

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  • tonyt January 9, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    "If you need to cross a bike lane to service a stop, give cyclists the right of way. Wait for any cyclists to ride through and out of your path of travel before signaling and moving over to the stop."

    That's my favorite part. I've lost count of how many times I've been squeezed into the curb. Happened just last week.

    Regarding the whole yield flashing thing on the bus; as a rule, I yield to busses when they light up the flasher, but I've had more than a few times when I am just about to pass the bus, or even abreast of the bus and they hit the flasher button and just pull out. They act like they're an emergency vehicle and have some divine right to just pull out when they want and we have to take evasive action just to avoid a collision.

    As far as I know, that flashing light has no legally binding function, like the flashing lights on a school bus for instance. It is a form of communication from the driver to the public and should be respected as such.

    I'm all for giving them the space when they need it, I just have no tolerance for essentially being shoved out of the way.

    Keep the Tri-Met number on your cell phone. (503.238.7433)

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  • Cecil January 9, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I assume that tonyt means "UNlike the flashing lights on a school bus," which definitely have a legally binding function:

    816.260 Bus safety lights. Each of the following is a requirement for bus safety lights:

    (1) Bus safety lights shall include at least two of each color of light on the front of the vehicle and at least two of each color of light on the rear of the vehicle.

    (2) Bus safety lights shall include red and amber lights.

    (3) Each bus safety light shall alternately flash with the bus safety lights of the same color that are placed on the same end of the vehicle displaying the lights. [1983 c.338 §458 (23); 1985 c.16 §240 (23); 1985 c.69 §1 (23); 1985 c.71 §4 (23); 1985 c.393 §13 (23); 1985 c.420 §6 (23)]

    811.155 Failure to stop for bus safety lights; penalty. (1) A driver commits the offense of failure to stop for bus safety lights if the driver meets or overtakes from either direction any vehicle that is stopped on a roadway and that is operating red bus safety lights described under ORS 816.260 and the driver does not:

    (a) Stop before reaching the vehicle; and

    (b) Remain standing until the bus safety lights are no longer operating.

    (2) The following apply to the offense described in this section:

    (a) The offense described in this section does not apply if the vehicle operating the bus safety lights is not permitted under ORS 816.350 and 816.360 to operate red bus safety lights.

    (b) A driver need not comply with this section if the vehicle operating red bus safety lights is stopped on a different roadway.

    (3) The offense described in this section, failure to stop for bus safety lights, is a Class A traffic violation. [1983 c.338 §583; 1985 c.16 §290]

    ORS 816.260 provides that the only busses allowed to have such safety lights are school busses, worker transport busses and, pursuant to yet another statute, busses used by certain religious organizations. Last time I heard the Moonies didn't yet own Tri-Met, so the Yield signal ain't nothin' but a warning. But don't go passing those school or Job Corps busses when their lights are on :-)

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  • Blaise Pascal January 9, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Regarding tonyt's comment that... "As far as I know, that flashing light has no legally binding function, like the flashing lights on a school bus for instance. It is a form of communication from the driver to the public and should be respected as such."

    Oregon Revised Statutes 811.167

    811.167 Failure to yield right of way to transit bus; rules; penalty. (1) A person commits the offense of failure to yield the right of way to a transit bus entering traffic if the person does not yield the right of way to a transit bus when:

    (a) A yield sign as described in subsection (2) of this section is displayed on the back of the transit bus;

    (b) The person is operating a vehicle that is overtaking the transit bus from the rear of the transit bus; and

    (c) The transit bus, after stopping to receive or discharge passengers, is signaling an intention to enter the traffic lane occupied by the person.

    (2) The yield sign referred to in subsection (1)(a) of this section shall warn a person operating a motor vehicle approaching the rear of a transit bus that the person must yield when the transit bus is entering traffic. The yield sign shall be illuminated by a flashing light when the bus is signaling an intention to enter a traffic lane after stopping to receive or discharge passengers. The Oregon Transportation Commission shall adopt by rule the message on the yield sign, specifications for the size, shape, color, lettering and illumination of the sign and specifications for the placement of the sign on a transit bus.

    (3) This section does not relieve a driver of a transit bus from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the roadway.

    (4) As used in this section, “transit bus” means a commercial bus operated by a city, a mass transit district established under ORS 267.010 to 267.390 or a transportation district established under ORS 267.510 to 267.650.

    (5) The offense described in this section, failure to yield the right of way to a transit bus entering traffic, is a Class D traffic violation. [1997 c.509 §2]

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  • beckertronix January 9, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    tonyt,

    Both the yield sign on a bus and lights on school buses are legally binding. From the driver's manual:

    p.86
    "Public Transit Buses
    Public transit buses often pull to a curb to load or unload passengers.
    To help protect these buses and their passengers when they re-enter a
    traffic lane, drivers of other vehicles approaching from the rear must
    yield to these vehicles if:
    • A city, mass transit, or transportation district bus
    driver signals to re-enter a traffic lane; and
    • There is an electric sign flashing “yield” on the back of
    the bus.
    Police may cite a driver who does not yield right of way to the bus. "

    School bus p.85 " You
    must remain stopped until the
    bus driver turns off the flashing
    red lights.
    ...
    School bus drivers may report
    vehicles that improperly pass
    school buses. The report may be
    forwarded to the local law enforce-
    ment agency for investigation."

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  • Cecil January 9, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    whoops, looks like I should have kept going in the ORS - thanks, Blaise and Beckertronix

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  • tonyt January 9, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks for the clarification folks! Glad I included the "as far as I know." Which as it turned out I didn't.

    But my complaint of them pulling out when you are right there still stands.

    And yup, you're right Cecil, I did mean UNlike.

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  • tonyt January 9, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    "The yield sign shall be illuminated by a flashing light when the bus is signaling an intention to enter a traffic lane after stopping to receive or discharge passengers."

    I wonder how it would be interpreted in court when the driver hits the signal AS the bus is entering traffic. In other words, it does not signal an intention, but signals what the bus is already doing, which does not give the other road users time to react. I see this simultaneous signal/merge all the time.

    Don't get me wrong, I have no intention on becoming a test case. ;-)

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  • Dabby January 9, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    The yield sign does not need to be lit. They have the right of way all the time, whether lit or not. This has been the case for a long time.
    I see this as a real problem, as I am sure many of you do too.
    A bus will pull out of a stop even when you are right next to the driver's window, and not in the blind spot ( even with the extra big mirrors, they will always claim you are in their blind spot), effectively cutting you off.
    They know that we have given them the legal right to do so.
    This is the problem.
    Tri Met should be held more accountable for their actions, instead of being given ordinances to hide behind.
    I still believe that a community "Tri Met" policing force is needed.
    While it seems that Tri Met is attempting to rectify
    bike related problems, it really comes down to the impatience of some drivers, and great loads of animosity towards bicycles, and even other auto traffic.
    Tri Met does not own the road, but they act like they run the city. Case in point, the ludacrous bus mall expansion...
    Even when I am driving, I am constantly cut off by a bus, under the guise of "right of way".
    We (the public) should have the power to make sure that the public transportation system is both working properly, and following the rules of the road, not abusing them...
    We would be able to do this, except for one important fact..
    Tri Met is not a public transportation system.
    It is a private, profit based corporation, that does not hold the public intrest 1st and foremost...
    I wish Metro would take over Tri Met, so it could be run by the city, and become an actual, well functioning "PUBLIC" transportation system..

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  • Cecil January 9, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    "The yield sign does not need to be lit. They have the right of way all the time, whether lit or not. This has been the case for a long time."

    Dabby, do you mean that they effectively (de facto) have the right of way all the time, simply because we have allowed them to have it and they have, therefore, come to expect it? Because the manual seems to recognize that they do not have the right of way all the time by force of law (de jure) (not that any of the drivers actually have read that manual, apparently, judging by Austin's post)

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  • Dabby January 9, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Yes, I do mean this Cecil.
    If you can see the yield sign, lit or not, they have the right of way.
    They know this, and can be used to their advantage, as if a car comes from behind, and they pull out into it, they are covered under the letter of the law, and not at fault.

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  • Dabby January 9, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    I know that the manual, and the ordinance appears to reflect that a lit light must be yielded too, but again, the above ordinances refer only to bus "lights".
    The Yield triangle is not just a light though.
    It has meanings even when not lit......

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis January 9, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Can you provide a citation for this, Dabby?

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  • Dabby January 9, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    Attornus,
    Sorry, but I have not gotten a citation for this.
    But I do remember when they triangles were put on the buses, and the hub bub surrounding it.
    This very discussion stands out in my mind from back then....
    I wish I could provide more.......
    I liken it to the responsibility of driving safely next to a school bus.
    The lights aren't on, it isn't stopped, but there are still kids in it.......You cannot cut off a school bus when it is pulling out from a curb, or anywhere for that matter
    And the above ordinance does group together school and Tri Met buses...

    Mind you, I do not think it should be this way (regarding Tri Met buses). No privately owned entity should have any more right to be on the road, in any diffrent manner, than any other.

    I do believe that any school bus with children on it should be given full right of way, no matter what, and no matter where.

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  • adam January 17, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    the drivers are judged on their ability to be on time(you can apply - http://trimet.org/jobs/07001.htm). this accounts for the aggressive acceleration and breaking behavior which results in a jarring ride and a pathetic 4mpg.

    in my experience, if you are on a bike going at a comfortable speed - you end up going just about the same overall speed - which is why I avoid buses at all costs.

    in my view, the buses have the right of way by the first law of physics. that bus in motion is going to stay in motion whether or not I am in the way.

    but, whatever, glad to see they can change a manual. let's all take 2 minutes to quiz the drivers about the new rules. hell, call the ceo, he will have no idea what you are talking about!

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  • adam January 17, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    "In the recent training campaign that all bus operators attended, we stressed the idea that both cycling and transit are highly important to the growth and future of our region. Mutual respect and cooperation between both groups is vital.”

    I really hate PR people. I would like to see proof and details that every driver was trained. whatever, I have noticed no change in the way that buses drive. anyone else?

    it would be fun to do a sting of our own. let's get some video cameras out there and film them violating their own procedures and the law a few dozen times and see how the pr flak handles that one!

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