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.”
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.”