TriMet reviewing new bus safety device with LED, audio warnings

Portland City Tour ride -16

New safety device would warn
people when a bus is turning.
(Photos © J. Maus)

In an effort to improve the safety of people walking and bicycling around their buses, TriMet is considering the use of a new product that would emit LED lights and short bursts of sound when a bus makes a turn.

Josh Blanchard, president of Safety Concepts (the company making the device), tells me that the “state of the art device” will prove capable of “drastically reducing accidents between buses, pedestrians and cyclists.”

“Having an additional warning couldn’t hurt and it would certainly help.”
— Rob Sadowsky, BTA

TriMet is under pressure to improve the safety of their buses after a high profile, double-fatal crash in downtown Portland last April (the family of the victims has recently filed a lawsuit against them). They’re also currently investigating a crash earlier this month where a bus turned left across another lane of traffic on the transit mall and ran over a man and his bicycle in a crosswalk on SW Morrison.

Blanchard says the new device is a “passive system” that requires no action, input or additional training from operators. The device works by providing an “unmistakable, unique visual and audible warning/alert system to pedestrians or bicyclists around TriMet’s buses during turning maneuvers.” Here’s a more detailed excerpt taken from the Safety Concepts operations outline:

“This system is designed to alert pedestrians and bicyclists when a bus will be making a left hand turn maneuver. The device uses high intensity LED lights similar to emergency vehicle lights,but smaller, and will be mounted to the front left (drivers side) corner of the bus, which can be seen, from 180 degree angle.

In addition this device also controls a Piezo, which emits short sound bursts for the Visually Impaired. The Piezo will be installed out of site behind the left side of the front bumper. The Control Module activates the LED lights and Piezo.

When the driver activates the left turn signal, the Control Module senses this action and immediately activates LED light(s) and Piezo until the signal has been deactivated. The LED light is shock proof, waterproof and will withstand any outside elements, the riggors [sic] of daily activity, or even during the washing process of the bus. The Piezo has been tested in extreme heat and cold, in both cases the Piezo continued to operate without any loss of sound intensity.”

Bus and bikes

Blanchard confirms that his company has submitted a detailed proposal asking TriMet to install their new device. In an email to BikePortland, he wrote, “Implementation of our device on TriMet’s vehicles looks promising, but only time will tell.”

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky says they’re supportive of any device that would give people on bikes more warning of a bus’s intentions. “What often happens with buses and bikes is they do the little dance on the road, and when you’re in the middle of the bus, you may or may not see the turn signal depending on where you are at any given time. Having an additional warning couldn’t hurt and it would certainly help.” Sadowsky hopes if the new device is used, that it’s turned on in advance of the turn, not after the turn has already started. “The light and sound by themselves is not enough, it’s got to be done in advance of the turn.”

While Sadowsky is supportive, he also says the BTA is “very concerned” about buses turning left at all. “Buses need to be able to change lanes to move and flow thru traffic, but left turns themselves are carbon eaters as well as creating an additional safety hazard. The BTA strongly recommends they [TriMet] examines all existing left turns in their system.”

TriMet Communications Director Mary Fetsch confirms they have gotten a demonstration of the new device, “But as yet have not made a determination on whether or not to pilot them in our system.”

While TriMet reviews the proposal, Blanchard says his company is trying to garner letters of recommendation and support from public agencies, groups, individuals and companies that “share our goal of improving public safety and preventing the kind of accidents which have happened recently.”

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Matthew
Matthew
11 years ago

Maybe in order to improve the safety of people walking and bicycling around their buses, TriMet should train their drivers to watch where they’re going.

I don’t like the idea of this doohickey. Seems like it could make TriMet’s drivers even more careless. “They’ll get out of my way when they hear the beeping! No need to slow down!”

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Bikers need to do a better job watching their surroundings.

Schrauf
Schrauf
11 years ago

If the warning system is triggered by use of blinkers, isn’t it active rather than passive? One does not need to use a blinker in order to physically turn a vehicle, regardless of what is legal.

It seems as if passive would be if the simple turning of the bus triggered the system.

Jessica Roberts
Jessica Roberts
11 years ago

You are kidding me – the best way to improve safety on the road is to have all buses make obnoxious noises every single time they turn? This will decrease driver responsibility, imply that pedestrians should get out of the way of buses, quickly inure road users to the meaning of the sound, and basically just create obnoxious noise pollution. Bah all around.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
11 years ago

I suppose some sort of warning flash at the front of the bus would be useful, since a bicycle may already be past the back of the bus when it initiates a turn.

It had better be passive, though. Anything requiring the TriMet driver to DO something will be often not get used. Good example: I’ve had buses pull out practically right in to me because left the curb only using a turn signal and not the flashing YIELD sign on the back of the bus. This is critical because often the right side of a bus is obstructed and you can’t tell whether it’s signaling a left turn or simply sitting at the curb with its hazard flashers on. TriMet drivers usually remember to activate the YIELD, but they forget to do it often enough that it’s a real problem.

Greg Haun
Greg Haun
11 years ago

Isn’t the problem that when you can only see the left half of the bus, the left turn signal, used when bus leaving a stop, is indistinguishable from the hazard signal, used when bus stopped?

I like it when the operators turn on their yield signal, then I have a clue what they want to do– not sure I need LEDs and beepers.

Justin
Justin
11 years ago

It seems to me that the real issue is street design. Bikes and buses are competing for space. Dedicated busways, or perhaps center-of-street bike lanes would get the two out of each other’s way. Devices on buses aren’t going to solve the fundamental problem of buses crossing bike lanes.

jim
jim
11 years ago

So the bike was in the crosswalk! That detail wasn’t in the story before. I could speculate how this happened now. If this bike was moving at a faster than “walking speed”, and rode out onto the crosswalk, he didn’t operate in a safe manner and HE caused the accident.
This is only speculation based on little details in the articles. Now I want to hear the rest of the story.

jim
jim
11 years ago

I think an annoying noise would have a cumulative affect on the drivers nerves in the course of the day and potentialy be a safety hazard.

Mindful Cyclist
Mindful Cyclist
11 years ago

While I do appreciate Tri-met doing things that will try to enhance safety, I have to agree with the general tone of the comments so far. I worry that because now there is an audible signal that the bus is turning, drivers will be less attentive.

Also, how loud is this signal going to be? Is it going to be loud enough to hear over the other traffic?

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
11 years ago

The other elements to consider changing for improved traffic safety of buses:
– the common practice of loading at an angle not parallel to the curb restricts/ reduces the operator’s field of vision for approaching bicyclists (especially when the bike lane is blocked by the bus)
– the use of vehicle wraps and advertising panels on the rear of many buses reduces the conspicuously of the yield to transit regulatory sign on buses rear panel in Portland (and Vancouver)

Ely
Ely
11 years ago

I agree that it can’t hurt. But I also worry that bus drivers will feel they can do whatever they want, and vulnerable road users will just have to scramble out of their way. That don’t fly.

Daniel (teknotus) Johnson
Daniel (teknotus) Johnson
11 years ago

I agree with #3

But worse I think that rather than a solution that arose from an engineer, or a safety group it is the manufacturer trying to make a buck on a tragedy. All it is is a noisy turn signal. I already have the beeping of the kneeling buses letting me know they are about to reenter traffic.

are
11 years ago

well thank goodness jim can now speculate. actually the info that the cyclist was struck in the crosswalk has been in previous coverage, nothing new here, go on about your business. jonathan seems to have phrased it this way for this story specifically to avoid drawing any conclusions as to how it happened.

Greg
Greg
11 years ago

I see this as another step in the WRONG direction. It strengthens the entitlement mindset of the bus drivers who just assume it’s everyone else’s responsibility to get out of their way. Rather than enhace safety, this further detracts from it.

Aaron
Aaron
11 years ago

“Having an additional warning couldn’t hurt and it would certainly help.”

He really thinks such a device could not hurt? What if the distracting noise these busses make while turning proves not to increase safety, or what if it made the busses less safe? That’d hurt. What if these cost too much and do almost nothing? What if these have a particularly annoying sound chosen and make Portland’s streets head-splitting? What if there’s better ways to improve safety?

q`Tzal
q`Tzal
11 years ago

To all those against an audible bus turn warning device:
Consider bikes without bells.
On shared paths it is common courtesy for a cyclist approaching an other path user to signal with a bell when approaching from the other party from a direction they can’t see. Required – no, but common courtesy.
From a Swarm Intelligence standpoint this situation is ridiculous: animals quite a bit less intelligent than the average human have been traveling in groups and densities similar to NYC or Tokyo for millions of years without the problems that humans have and at greater comparative speeds.
The problem comes down to awareness of ones surroundings. Most people are either incapable or unwilling to pay attention to their environment enough to insure their own safety.
So we call “ON YOUR LEFT!”, ring bells and honk horns. It’s not a perfect solution but what are you going to do?
Comparatively, a bus in a crowded urban environment is like an elephant lumbering through a herd of gazelle. Yes, the elephant can suddenly turn and trample a gazelle but with a little bit of situational awareness that gazelle can see the elephant’s intent to change direction and simply get out of the way.
If the urban elephants develop the ability to more clearly indicate their directional intent to the public it would do wonders for public safety.
As for the noise: pretty soon, energy source will, buses will be all electric. When that happens these things will be durn near silent (see PDF from NHTSA “Quieter Cars and the Safety Of Blind Pedestrians: Phase I”) when traveling below 20MPH. We’ll be begging for audible signals from buses then.

q`Tzal
q`Tzal
11 years ago

#14

What if?

What if doing nothing was the best solution to everything?

Sadly it is not.

Doing nothing is rarely a solution to any problem and usually makes the problem worse.

But if you carry around a bucket of sand no worries.

Hart
11 years ago

Can somebody explain to me how a bus turning left burns more carbon than a bus turning right?

John Lascurettes
11 years ago

Why only the left side? I’ve had more issues with the bike-lane-bus-stop-pinch than I have with a turning bus.

OnTheRoad
OnTheRoad
11 years ago

#18:

The left-turning bus may have to sit and idle while waiting for on-coming traffic to clear.

Mythbusters did an episode on the UPS policy to avoid left-hand turns and confirmed that making left-turns uses more fuel than making 3 consecutive right-hand turns.

http://mythbustersresults.com/waterslide-wipeout

Martha R
Martha R
11 years ago

Within the past year, I’ve had two scary interactions with a turning TriMet bus. Both times, I was obeying the law and had positioned myself in a highly visible spot to wait for the green. Both times, the operator looked straight at me and made a dangerous turn when they were supposed to yield. I saw the bus and heard the roar of the engine; a beeper wouldn’t have helped me jump out of the way any better.

Maybe they should put that beeper INSIDE the bus to alert drivers to be more careful when turning.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Hart #18 – Yes, what’s up with that and why is is a serious concern of the BTA?

Perry Hunter
Perry Hunter
11 years ago

@Hart #18 – Yes, what’s up with that and why is it a serious concern for the BTA?

commuter
commuter
11 years ago

This has been said before and I will say it again, cyclists need to be more aware of their surroundings.

shirtsoff
shirtsoff
11 years ago

GlowBoy (#5)

“[…] This is critical because often the right side of a bus is obstructed and you can’t tell whether it’s signaling a left turn or simply sitting at the curb with its hazard flashers on.”

+1

This is often my experience with buses too when cycling past them. This would be a much welcomed revision of Trimet bus operation procedures if the yield-signal was activated every time the bus driver intended to maneuver the bus away from the curb.

matt picio
11 years ago

commuter (#25) – EVERYONE needs to be more aware of their surroundings. In most cases, even one party being aware can prevent the collision from happening in the first place.

CS
CS
11 years ago

Like we need any more noise pollution on our streets.

The problem I have with buses is when I’m next to the bus and they merge into me. It is not that I don’t see them, but that I can’t react appropriately because I’m stuck in the same transportation system as everyone else. Shall I suddenly swerve into another lane? Or magically hop onto the sidewalk? The only thing I can do is stop and hope there is enough space.

I don’t like this device. It puts the burden on the cyclist and not on the driver to be more careful. Now if they made it sound like a bike bell, I may reconsider.

KWW
KWW
11 years ago

I suggested this idea of an audible alarm to Trimet at a Brown Bag information session over a year ago. It is good to have an audible device as the visual lighting ‘yield’ device on most buses accumulates diesel soot and is not very visible in use.

I also take note of the irrational opposition by some commenters on any action by Trimet, cmon it is a safety device and an effort to reduce bicycle and pedestrian injuries.

Refunk
Refunk
11 years ago

FTA: “… a new product that would emit LED lights and short bursts of sound…” (emphasis mine)

That would be a really cool, public service kinda thing, considering the number of folks who pedal around at night with zero lighting on their rides. They could just sidle up to a bus and wait for it to make a turn, at which time, a fresh batch of LEDs would start popping out of its side! (being emitted and all) Slap a few on the handlebar & suddenly safety abounds!

Seriously, as for the actual gizmo under consideration, it’s not gonna improve bus operators’ skills, is it? MAYBE up the chances for bicyclists & peds – but unfortunately there are a whole lotta riders who’ve weak concepts of both elementary math and the term, “situational awareness.”

Would much rather see TriMet become more technologically aggressive and test a pilot program using some of the sonar/radar tech used in high-zoot cars to warn of obstacles during back-up & parking maneuvers. That would save lives …until the driver shut the system off for whatever vain reason.

DT
DT
11 years ago

@ Hart and Perry – it burns more carbon because vehicles turning left usually have to sit and wait for a break in oncoming traffic for the opportunity to complete the turn, and in the meantime they are idling, which burns fuel that you otherwise wouldn’t have used if you turned right on a green light (where you pull up to the intersection and immediately turn right).

britannica
britannica
11 years ago

I think this is a great idea. While I agree that bus drivers need to be aware of their surroundings and make a point to avoid peds and cyclists, us cyclists need to be aware of our surroundings and this will make the bus’ intentions even more clear.

Hart
11 years ago

Okay, so turning left doesn’t burn more carbon, sitting and idling while waiting to turn left burns more carbon.

Cwherewetku
Cwherewetku
11 years ago

Ok. Buses are inherently filled with blind spots. Just like any other large vehicle on the road. You can mount more mirrors, provide audible warnings, make a light flash that can be seen from Mars…heck, put a moat around it for all I care…BOTH the bike and the bus SHARE responsibility.

I could live comfortably if I had a dollar for every bike I have seen breaking the law or displaying the attitude of entitlement. I am an Operator AND A CYCLIST. I might even make a little bit of side money on those FEW Operators that show poor regard for bikes AND also show entitlement.

MOST OF US are very safe operators, I for one have over 1.5 million, (THATS MILLION) miles accident free and have been on the road over 16 years. You don’t get to hear about those guys. We ALL get condemned if 2% of our workforce is making the mistake.

How many of YOU (us) think it’s wrong for EVERY bicyclist to labeled as dangerous, stupid or careless, when it’s a handfull of them?

Bottom line: There are 9 times out of 10 when if you are in our blindspot we will NOT see you regardless of “how well we are paying attention”. Pedestrians and bikes should NEVER assume ANY large vehicle has seen them. You get squashed, it ruins your day AND theirs, and then we all get to listen/read about the half-baked truths that come from media and those blog commenters that just want to bitch.

This is an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY situation. BOTH should be aware of the other and NEITHER side is exempt.

suburban
suburban
11 years ago

Justin #7
why do you have go and to ackwolage the elephant? Street design takes more stake-holder meetings than TriMet’s board and their plausible-deniability-warning-system.

in November and December 2001, all the busses got decorated with American national flags about 8×10 inches, as you may see on a international jet, or the uniform of a soldier.

Some are unable to withhold judgement in the “solve this problem” vs. “eliminate this problem” discourse. There was a time when the blinking yield sign was the latest life-saver.

Gadgets and tools will always have a strong following, and attract some thoughtful, creative people. Leaving the world a better place and solving problems will always be a delicious carrot to move towards. The future is looking ever-safer;
and more so with elevated monorails!

malka
malka
11 years ago

This reminds me of an article I read not too long ago that discussed possible new safety measures that would alert motorists when they’ve entered an interstate in the wrong direction. Apparently, there has been a higher incidence of drivers going the wrong way on the interstate. Which begs the question, how long have we had the interstate system, and why, all of a sudden, has this become a problem?

Buses, I’m guessing, have been making left turns for many, many years. If there has recently been a higher incidence of accidents as the result of left turns, it seems to me something else is going on that all the flashing lights and beeps won’t cure.

jim
jim
11 years ago

Suburban-
Have you ever tried to exit a monorail that had stoped for a fire? It is really hard to get people off of those things

jim
jim
11 years ago

Maybe they should install cattle pushers like on the old steam trains on the front of the buses and max trains. I never could imagine how a person could hit by a train? they are pretty big and noisy… buses too. People still get in front of them though.

K
K
11 years ago

#22 “Maybe they should put that beeper INSIDE the bus to alert drivers to be more careful when turning.”

#34 “This is an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY situation. BOTH should be aware of the other and NEITHER side is exempt.”

Can we agree on beeping, flashing warnings both inside and outside the bus? Seems like the safest option.

Perry Hunter
Perry Hunter
11 years ago

@DT #31 – Thanks for that information on the left turns issue.

CaptainKarma
CaptainKarma
11 years ago

This is eyewash. It is an attempt to put the responsibility for not getting run over by a leviathan onto the person in the street instead of the Tri-met operator — “But we flashed and beeped! What else are we supposed to do?”

Also, research has shown that the more automation, warnings, buzzers, bells or whatever the airliners incorporate into the cockpit in the name of safety, the more likely the pilots get careless. Remember the airline pilots that overflew their destination by 2 hrs or so because they were in a deep discussion? More likely they fell asleep with the false sense of security they were lulled into by all the “fail-safe” electronics.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

Trimet takes a proactive and reasonable measure to try and make a left-turning buses safer and everyone seems to be condemning them for it?! What is going on?

The worst thing that can come out of this is the lights would have no real affect and then waste some money. The drivers will still drive the same – they’re not being lulled into daydreaming and driving just because the occasional left turn has an extra blinker.

Sh*t happens people, and no matter how safe we ride/drive and no matter how much we train bus drivers, people will still get hurt. Why can’t we be glad that Trimet isn’t just ignoring the recent events and is working to improve the safety of its services!?

MIke
MIke
11 years ago

How about the buses were made of Nerf material?

q`Tzal
q`Tzal
11 years ago

Could stand to have a link to this “state of the art” device being sold to TriMet.
A quick google for “safety concepts” come up with pretty website filled with OSHA pr0n, vivid color warning signs and soft padding for all surfaces, but no indication of any products for sale or in development.

Which leads in to my main beef with this idea: what is the least bit innovative and state of the art about lights and beepers? Sure LEDs have gotten brighter but abundant side lighting has existed on tractor-trailer combos for decades; back up warning beepers (which ARE pizeo buzzers) the same. What are they doing: attaching thought scanners to the bus driver so that lane intent is indicated before any action be done? THAT might be state of the art but light and beepers are not.
Seems like so much safety vaporware.

Why not have an inflatable device, about the size and shape of a foam pool noodle toy(6 foot long by 3~4″ diameter), that deploys and retracts like those little blow out party favor horns? TriMet’s buses already have compressed air (that’s what you hear starting the bus engine). Mount this device so that it deploys perpendicular to the vehicle in the direction of intended travel and mounted as far to the rear as possible. It should deploy over a 3 second span. It would be large enough to block the side path in to danger but soft enough that impacting it should cause negligible damage.
Basically an inflatable version of the crossing guards on the front of school buses only on th back aiming sideways instead of front aiming forward.

Spiffy
Spiffy
11 years ago

another stupid lazy device adding to the noise pollution…

drivers need to watch where they’re going… add another convex mirror to the tree or something…

when a bike is mid-bus it’s illegal for the bus to enter the lane, even if they have their flashing yield on…

stop adding to the noise pollution and just start paying attention…

Joe
Joe
11 years ago

I once lived on a bus route, right where there was a bus stop. The obnoxious noise from the kneeling bus, the announcements, the screeching breaks – it made me move.

I can only imagine living on a a corner where there is a bus stop. All those beeps combined would be too much!

Dabby
Dabby
11 years ago

Hart,
Actually it is a known fact, and strangely Mythbusters did a show on it, that it is more effecitent, ( costwise, gas wise, etc.) to do routes turning one direction only as compared to the other…….. This is based on a delivery route type of driving.

This however would not apply to a bus on route, due to the erratic motions of the bus.

rider
rider
11 years ago

All the hatred on this blog towards Trimet always surprises me. They’re part of the solution not the problem. I’ve been riding my bike as my primary form of transportation for upwards of five years and I can count the number of times I’ve had a heart pounding experience with Trimet on one hand, with regular cars I incur the same number of experiences on a monthly basis. Absolutely, I’ve been inconvenienced by them countless times, but I’ve also had the drivers do amazingly kind and courteous things around me.

Here’s the deal, the bus has to make stops to let people on and off, often this means they have to cross and park in the bike lane. It sucks, it’s an inconvenience, it’s also called part of living in a community with an amazing public transportation system.

I understand that bicyclists react more deeply to incidences because the risks are higher, I do it myself, adrenaline induces powerful reactions. But the tone I hear again and again from commenters on this blog is that bicyclists are king of the road and should get all of the privileges and never have to make any sacrifices. Every once in a while we have to make foot down stops at stop signs, we have to wait for red lights (actually that we should almost always do), and we have to yield to other road users. The good news is that we get to do all these things on a bike, which is way more fun than doing them in a car.

Cwherewetku
Cwherewetku
11 years ago

Rider, #48 is SPOT ON, so is Patrick #42.
K #49-putting more annoying, obnoxious noises inside an already noise-charged, environment won’t help anything except make it more obnoxious. (You want operators to be able to focus on their job? Turn down the radio that is BLARING in you earbuds right behind them and don’t ADD another noise to the mix…hello?)

CaptainKarma #41; NOONE is putting eyewash on anything. Are you telling me that the bicyclist had no responsibility in this? It’s ok to squeeze in between big vehicles, run red lights and generally do whatever you please? I think you are way off base…judging by the total sum of the commments here and on several other blogs-I share the majority opinion. Did you even read my post (#34). I wasn’t letting anyone off the hook. You know, the “walk a mile in my shoes” thing? Why is it instantly the driver’s fault?

Portland in general has got two types of people who live here: one type who ignores the hype and searches for the facts and one who does not care if there are facts..they are the first to jump on the bandwagon REGARDLESS of what happened, just because it causes commotion. NEWS FLASH! The victim here is NOT ALWAYS the bike rider. You need to teach a bike class to all of the rest of us to show how to ride, because you apparently have NEVER done any of the actions I mention here and in #34.

Look at the bottom of this page: “to inform the community and to inspire PRODUCTIVE dialog..” If the facts show that the big vehicle operator erred, then I’ll be in line to “beat on them” over it. The same line I will be in if the Bicyclist is at fault.

Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

Wouldn’t it be better to have a proximity sensor on the bus so that they can stop before running people over?

I was nearly a witness to the downtown accident. I walked out of my hotel room after the bus was stopped, but before ambulances arrived. I remain terrified at the idea of being slowly crushed by a bus whose driver doesn’t know I’m there. Getting crushed. Under the wheels.

That nightmare doesn’t get any more pleasant if the bus is beeping and flashing.

(if it were beeping and flashing 5 seconds before, sure, but a late turn signal could happen.. say, on an usual route..)