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TriMet re-tests ‘Talking buses’ to warn other road users about turns

Posted by on March 7th, 2014 at 3:37 pm

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Four years after one of its bus drivers fatally collided with two women in a downtown Portland crosswalk, TriMet is testing a few devices that use sounds and lights to show when a bus is turning.

One uses flashing LED strobe lights and the announcement “pedestrians, bus is turning,” repeated twice by the voice of a slightly alarmed woman. Another uses only a softer audio warning: “caution, bus is turning” three times. They started operating on 45 buses on five of TriMet’s frequent service lines on Monday: the 4, 8, 15, 33 and 75.

The folks at Oregon Public Broadcasting uploaded each file to Soundcloud for easy testing over the web. Here’s the first one, which isn’t being tested with LED accompaniment:

And you can hear the second sound at the start of this OPB radio spot:


In addition to the audio devices, TriMet is testing a third light-only device on some buses: one that uses the bus’s speed and steering wheel angle to automatically turn on “additional super bright LED lights inside the headlight pointed in the direction of travel.”

There’s also a static bus warning sign on Southwest 5th Avenue at Burnside: the word “BUS,” above the walk/don’t walk signal, which lights up when a bus is approaching.

Bus turns, especially left turns, are often difficult for other road users to anticipate, because the vehicles don’t begin to swing quickly around until partway through their turns. That’s why the regional transit agency’s new devices are triggered, in whole or in part, by the angle of the steering wheel.

Because the devices are calibrated to capture intersection turns only, it’s unlikely that the buses will make their announcements during lane changes — pulling across a bike lane for a stop, for example.

An earlier test of similar systems, in 2011, failed because the systems were either too sensitive to the turning wheels or not sensitive enough. You can read about the whole program in more detail on TriMet’s website.

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  • Richard Risemberg March 7, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Voice-based truck turn warnings have been used in Japan for years. I remember hearing a garbage truck excuse itself once as it prepared to leave a parking space. (Didn’t know enough Japanese to comprehend the entire message, but a local friend explained.)

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  • dwainedibbly March 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    They should say other things, like “Coming through!” or “Gangway!” or “Look out, bitches! Tri-Met is in the house!” or “You’re next, peon!” Or maybe they should just make fart noises. They could record Packy on a gassy day, or something.

    I really hate this because it sends a “motor vehicles own the road so you better get out of our way” message. It also will add to the noise pollution in the area. If I hear these I’ll probably flip off the bus.

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    • Caleb March 12, 2014 at 8:51 am

      “I really hate this because it sends a “motor vehicles own the road so you better get out of our way” message.”

      My company recently required I take forklift training. We have to honk before every turn. The man doing the training had a preemptive defense for our perception that the honking meant “Get outta my way!”, saying the idea behind the honk is primarily to say “I just want you to be aware that I’m here”.

      The reason I called it a preemptive defense is that I had not the perception that the honk means anything along the lines of “Get outta my way!”. That’s because I was already of the mindset that safety would be optimal when both the forklift operator and surrounding pedestrians are aware as possible of what the forklift operator intends to do. Since nobody in our factory can read minds, such awareness is optimized when standards are created and required of all users to follow, whether they’re operating the forklift or walking.

      So my point is: That you perceive a sound as sending a particular message does not mean it is intended to send that message, and if it’s not intended to send that message, then such perception is incorrect and the root cause of that message being “sent”.

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  • Indy March 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    This seems like a far far overreaction to a very limited issue. I don’t think many people blame tri-met or the bus technology for those deaths, but rather that particular driver. How many deaths have occurred since or before that incident? Maybe efforts put into training I’d feel much more comfortable, but this will just blare noise at people for no purpose in 99.99% of cases.

    Maybe Tri-met can team with Volvo, or other car manufacturers, that can detect pedestrians in the pathway, and adjust accordingly?

    I was so happy to get those new buses, they are so much quieter than the older styles, and especially as a biker, I feel like I’m probably going to go deaaf 20 years early due to those older buses accelerating and blasting sound…

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    • paikikala March 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

      Just plain wrong. A safe transportation system requires that all who participate in that system to do all they can to minimize the potential for a fatal outcome. I applaud Tri-Met considering technological solutions that add redundancy to the system.

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      • Sho March 10, 2014 at 10:45 pm

        You may want to do a little more research of what occurs after those incidents to how protocols are changed and what occurs to those who were at fault for the incident. People F’ up but if dont hold them responsible especially when it involves deaths of others there is an issue. You kinda sound like a trimet worker.

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        • paikikala March 11, 2014 at 9:49 am

          Come on, you can do a better insult than calling me a tri-met worker.

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  • ScottG March 7, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I have an idea for eye-tracking technology and a variant on these audio warnings. Put it in passenger vehicles and when the driver’s eyes are pointed at their lap (you know, so they can read their mobile phone) for more than a second, the vehicle should exclaim “Caution! Driver is not paying attention to the road”

    Just imagine the cacophany that would result on our streets.

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  • Sho March 7, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Seems like it would just be easier to hold your driver’s responsible for their actions.

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    • paikikala March 10, 2014 at 9:55 am

      Tell that to the family of the dead. A key tenant of the safe system/vision zero initiative is that people will always (as in forever) make mistakes, drivers, pedestrians, motorists, for a variety of reasons. Anything that assists with avoiding a fatality should be applauded, not trivialized.

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      • Sho March 10, 2014 at 10:39 pm

        Really? So instead of addressing the problem directly where the driver performed an illegal action youre saying we should continue stating the pedestrians who were rightfully crossing were in the wrong but the driver is all good with no consequences? State that to the family of a lost loved one by someone who was drunk or ran a signal then get off without any consequences, everyone should be able to drive drunk or however they want if they have a siren announcing they are coming. Im all down for additional safety when it is utilized appropriately and addresses the problem directly, instead of a waste of time or effort. Address the issue directly then consider talking busses.

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        • paikikala March 11, 2014 at 9:47 am

          You’re missing the point. All actions that lead toward zero deaths on the transportation system should be pursued. None should be ruled out.

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  • Jim March 7, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Why don’t they just honk when they turn?

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    • paikikala March 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      People operate vehicles and people make mistakes and always will. Safety redundancy needs to be built into the road system the way it’s been built into autos.

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    • Caleb March 12, 2014 at 8:55 am

      That might help, but it might also get confused with other common uses of a honk and/or overlooked. When a voice says “I’m turning”, that conveys much more about the situation than does just a honk.

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  • Max March 8, 2014 at 8:42 am

    The first test was a disaster, and I hope this one is as well. These audio announcements are just useless noise pollution.

    By the time the announcement is made & people have a moment to comprehend the announcement, the bus is already well into the intersection.

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  • cee March 8, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    I live on the 4 line and there is a curve in the road out front of my house. Not a turn, just a curve. It triggers the “Pedestrians! Bus is turning!” every time. It’s woken me up repeatedly and I havent even opened my windows up yet for the warm weather. I really hope this gets fixed if this test does get implemented.

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  • Suburban March 8, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Tri-Met and the Peter Principle:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8EOPFpmxu8

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  • Spiffy March 8, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    more added noise pollution… more blaming the victim…

    how many pedestrian on bus accidents have there been recently where the pedestrian was at fault?

    btw, the #77 had the “pedestrians, bus is turning” sounds this last week…

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    • Caleb March 12, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Encouraging awareness and caution does not inherently involve putting all the onus for avoiding accidents upon pedestrians, so I think your victim blaming comment is misplaced.

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  • Bill Stites March 8, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    I appreciate the experimentation with safety features like these.

    I’ll take a little more ‘noise pollution’ to help alert distracted pedestrians any day. The noise of the bus and the environment are already at city scale; this ‘talking’ will not raise the total decibels. But it does need to target accurately for activation, otherwise it will surely fail due to the ‘annoyance’ factor.

    Note that the bus is probably quietest as it decelerates into a turn. When the engine blares upon acceleration, the conflict points [eg crosswalks] have already been overtaken.

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    • Caleb March 12, 2014 at 8:59 am

      I agree, and would like to mention that this could help when bus drivers are distracted, too. Like paikikala keeps saying, redundancy is key when there is so much potential for mishap on all sides.

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  • J_R March 9, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I heard a “bus is turning” announcement as the bus was pulling away from a bus stop in a residential neighborhood. The bus was simply moving from near the curb back into the regular travel lane.

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    • Carl March 10, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Same here. So far, I’ve heard the announcement four times. It’s never come from a bus that’s actually turning. It seems to’ve been buses pulling in to or out from a stop, changing lanes, or driving around with its turn signal on.

      Working in Old Town in the age of the bluetooth earpiece, I’m used to people babbling to themselves. Why shouldn’t the busses do it too?

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      • paikikala March 10, 2014 at 9:57 am

        Might come in handy on Madison approaching Grand where the bus crosses the bike lane.

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    • catbot March 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      I’m hearing these when the buses are pulling out of the stops as well.

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  • Isaac Dick March 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    I think its pointless to have “talking bus” when they should just add more extra visible LED signals.

    Why bother to warn people with sound when there’s people like me who ride bike and cannot hear?

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    • paikikala March 11, 2014 at 9:47 am

      All methods to add redundancy should be pursued.

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    • Caleb March 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

      Maybe some people hear (and listen) more effectively than they see. If resources allow, I perceive no reason for limiting warnings to one sense.

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  • Zaphod March 10, 2014 at 8:56 am

    I think there would be value in conducting analysis of the types of accidents that have occurred and getting a bunch of experts in a room to hash out a real solution. True root-cause analysis and effective solutions. The audible warning approach? It may be effective, I don’t know. Intuition says it’ll add an incremental improvement for this problem and that’s a step in the right direction. But get some smart people in a room and figure this out.

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  • CaptainKarma March 10, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    These announcements could be keyed to specific locations only by some sort of RFID tag or something or other, to prevent over saturation and incorrect soundings. Also, I’ve read that Priuses (Prii?) In Japan make recorded motor sounds to help warn distracted PEDs that “you canna change the laws of physics” and occupy the same space as the car.

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