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To improve bus safety, TriMet begins testing turn warning system

Posted by on March 2nd, 2011 at 9:07 am

Portland City Tour ride -16

External speakers will warn people
that bus is turning.
(Photo © J. Maus)

TriMet has begun testing an audible warning system that will notify people when a bus is turning. Here’s how TriMet explains it in a statement released last night:

“Ten buses have been equipped with the external audible warning system. When the operator turns the steering wheel to enter a turn, an external announcement is triggered, announcing “Pedestrians, bus is turning.” The announcement will be made in both English and Spanish.”

The also released a video of the system in action (turn up your speakers):

TriMet will use this pilot test to explore whether or not the warning system should become standard on all buses. The new system comes as part of a safety recommendation made by a task force following the high profile crash in April 2010 that led to multiple fatalities. There was also a collision between a left-turning bus and a man on a bike downtown back in August.

TriMet Operations Executive Director Shelly Lomax said via a statement: “We are testing this system to see if it helps pedestrians and bicyclists be more aware that a bus is turning.”

The 10 buses that will be outfitted with the audible warning system will be running on the 14 (Hawthorne) and 15 (Belmont/NW 23rd) lines and they’ll be rotated to other lines for additional testing.

TriMet says the audible warning is triggered when the steering wheel is turned one full revolution to the right or the left (changing lanes should not activate the system). The audio level is set at 100 decibels.

To further evaluate the new system, TriMet will conduct on-street surveys and will accept comments via email at or by phone at (503) 238-7433.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Harald March 2, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Leaving the general question if this is a good thing or not aside, from the video it would appear that the warning comes pretty late. For left turns this might be okay, but for right turns I think it would be too late in most situations. I understand the difficulty of designing a system that activates only during turns and not when just pulling over or changing lanes, but timing seems crucial to me.

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  • Peter O. March 2, 2011 at 9:32 am

    The news story on FOX last night mentioned that the sound level was variable and changed depending on the ambient noise level.

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    • matt picio March 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      I’d say it’s a good bet that under all circumstances “too loud” would be a good descriptor. We have enough noise in the urban environment as it is. (I would argue “too much noise”) I applaud Trimet for thinking outside the box, but I’d rather see these systems playing music at Trimet’s next company picnic.

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  • Marcus Griffith March 2, 2011 at 9:33 am

    The current version beat out the more controversial first draft, “Pedestrians, if you can hear this, your benefactor will soon receive a TriMet settlement.”

    In other absurd “safety improvements,” next week TriMet will outfit 20 buses with padded bumpers to minimize blunt force trauma during collisions.

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    • Brian E. March 2, 2011 at 11:02 am

      And we all know how well the phrase “passing on your right” works.

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  • NW Biker March 2, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Maybe this is the cynical lawyer in me talking, but if they put this audible warning on the buses, would that shift liability for collisions to the pedestrians and cyclists?

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  • AC. March 2, 2011 at 9:37 am

    100 db is loud, like chainsaw loud. That is probably the necessary level to compete with all the other noise pollution. At some point doesn’t this kind of thing become self defeating?

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  • El Biciclero March 2, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I heard on The News that these systems cost around $5,000 apiece. Is that cheaper than a blind spot camera system? I’m sure this is a great thing, and it will help many pedestrians know when to jump out of the way, but I still can’t help having a philosophical disagreement with using these: it once again puts the burden, onus, duty–whatever you want to call it–on the vulnerable person to clear the way. “Behemoth coming through! Anyone who values their life better move it!”

    I’m not familiar with the cockpit of a TriMet bus, so I’m talking out of my ear, but isn’t there some kind of camera system (such as the back-up cameras that we want to make mandatory on all new SUVs) available that would increase the field of view for the operator? Could not a camera be mounted on top of the side mirror (I’ll bet a camera could even be installed behind the glass of the side mirror) with a monitor just inside the driver’s-side window that would display the area where the peds hit last April were “hiding”?

    I’m all for common sense and self-preservation, and I know “the bus will always win” if it hits me, but treating peds and other vulnerable road users like mice doesn’t cut it for me.

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  • John Lascurettes March 2, 2011 at 9:43 am

    So now we’re going to absolve Trimet drivers of the responsibility to properly check lanes and crosswalks they’re turning across? Just by turning on a “we warned them” audible? No, I don’t think so.

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  • John Lascurettes March 2, 2011 at 9:45 am

    This will allow the bus driver to act like a bully instead of acting responsibly.

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  • A.K. March 2, 2011 at 9:47 am

    It seems to me that if you’re hearing this and in the wrong spot, it’s probably already a little too late to do much…

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    • K'Tesh March 2, 2011 at 11:56 am

      And I wonder how far a person who is legally in the crosswalk is going to be able to jump out of the way if they are confined to a wheelchair or use some other mobility device.

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  • shirtsoff March 2, 2011 at 9:50 am

    I feel that this reduces liability – at least socially if not legally – on the operator of the bus should they advance into a space occupied by a vulnerable user. I’m not sure this helps vulnerable users but rather may encourages bus operators to act hastily with a false, elevated sense of security.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 2, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Just as an FYI… The 10 speaker systems were purchased for a total of $46,000.

    Also, TriMet said this in their statement:

    “The use of this system does not change TriMet’s legal and professional obligation to operate safely, be alert and scan the intersection before turning. “

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  • Vinny March 2, 2011 at 10:16 am

    This is certainly an interesting idea and TriMet deserves some credit for trying it out. That’s the point a pilot project, to see how well it work and what the actual problems are. It will be fun to see how this project pans out.

    I am concerned about the length of the message. As other have mentioned, by the time you hear the message you’ve already been run over. TriMet should use a concise “Bus turning”. That’s 3 quick syllables which takes less than half the time of the current message and still gets the message across. Warning systems should not be verbose.

    As for the 100 decibels, that’s more like a jackhammer than a chainsaw.

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  • beth h March 2, 2011 at 10:28 am

    We don’t have enough information to know if this will really work or not; but I remain sketical — and will stay well behind any bus as a matter of course.

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  • Bryan March 2, 2011 at 10:37 am

    IMO, the audible warning waits too long to activate. I also don’t know if addressing “Pedestrians” is necessary at the start which just wastes valuable moments. The warning is direction abiguous.

    Main problem I see is the audible warning really just states what the bus is doing… as it is doing it. It does not give forewarning of what the bus is intending to do.

    For other road users such as cyclists I would think a better option would be to install more amber turn indicator lights along the side of the bus and a large LED amber arrow blinker at the front that would be easily visible down the length of the bus toward the rear.

    Amber lights already have an established function and meaning understood by other road users. Adding more lights along the side and a turn signal that is rearfacing at the front of the bus would significantly bost the visibility of the intent to turn/merge/pull-over to anyone alongside the bus.

    At any rate the warning needs to preceed the action and as such should be tied to the activation of the turn signals and not the turn of the steering wheel. (or it could be tied to both in case the driver fails to activate the turn signals).

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  • random_rider March 2, 2011 at 10:50 am

    It wouldn’t have done me any good as the #72 blasted from a bus stop directly into my path (I was cruising along in the middle of the traffic lane) with no signaling whatsoever. I was specifically watching the double blinking “I’m stopped” lights when the driver cut in. Considering the rate of acceleration they used, they either were running late and trying to make up time or else they saw me but mis-read my speed.

    Either way, only the fact that I was watching so closely saved me from getting hit.

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  • JE March 2, 2011 at 10:53 am

    How about an audilbe warning for the bus driver every time the vehicle begins to move that reminds them not to squish people.

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    • John Lascurettes March 2, 2011 at 11:07 am

      “Your bus is big and heavy. It is starting to move. Look around.”

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  • Jack March 2, 2011 at 11:12 am

    What a silly implementation.

    Why wait until the bus is most of the way through a turn to verbally state what it’s doing? Why not have the turn signal activate the speaker?

    Why not just project a beeping sound in the direction of the turn, much like large vehicles backing up?

    Is someone going to introduce a bill banning headphone use by pedestrians so that they’ll be able to hear these new speakers?

    When do they add other languages? Will the order of the languages be determined by the language spoken by the majority of pedestrians hit by buses?

    Here’s an idea: Tri-Met should implement policy that any driver who strike’s a pedestrian in a pedestrian-right-of-way is immediately and permanently fired. Additionally, the state revokes the driver’s license and the driver goes to prison for negligent homicide.

    These driver’s are trained professionals. It is their job to not hit pedestrians.

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    • Mindful Cyclist March 2, 2011 at 12:31 pm

      Jack, unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the bus driver could have stopped in time, the notion of prosectuting someone is a little extreme.

      What happens when you have a guy that is actively suicidal and he decides to walk in front of a bus in a crosswalk to make sure it looks like an accident so the life insurance policy kicks in? I work in the mental health field, and yes, people do think of things like this! Should a bus driver go to prison for this even though the guy was hell bent on killing himself?

      Or what about the woman who was too preoccupied with her phone at the mall she fell into the fountain? You don’t think it is going to happen with a bus one of these days? Again, the woman was oblivious to her surroundings.

      Vulnerable road users are capable of making mistakes. Should we do things to make sure they are safer? Absolutely! But, vulnerable road users also need to be aware of what is going on around them. Not everything is going to be a bus driver or motorists fault.

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    • kww March 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      At TriMet hearing I had suggested audible warnings back in 2008. Of course they should be triggered by the turn signals! That way a lane change (crossing the bike lanes if present) as well as turns are both audible.

      What a fail by Trimet, out of the starting gate no less.

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  • pat March 2, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Is there any data that this will do anything besides create noise? People getting hit by buses is a very rare event (thankfully), so this trial project will do nothing to evaluate whether they prevent those events.

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  • GlowBoy March 2, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Is this going to be active at ALL times, or only in congested areas? 100db is LOUD (though they didn’t indicate at what distance that sound level is measured — ISO is 1 meter, but I doubt they’re being that precise). If this is happening every time a bus makes a tight turn in a residential neighborhood, folks living near bus lines are going to FREAK OUT.

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    • Toby March 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      That’s what I was thinking. Can you imagine living on the corner of a bus line turn and having to hear that 492 times a day?! Yikes! Kudos to Trimet for exploring avenues for safety, but I think they need to focus on removing the God Complex that is so common with their drivers. They tend to act as though they have immunity and that they are responsible only for keeping the schedule. At. All. Costs.

      I realize this is a gross stereotype and don’t mean to lump the good driver who daily give me a wide berth, don’t cut across the bike lane untill I’ve passed, and are generally very safe and coutious, but it’s always the juggernauts that leave the most lasting impacts. I always try and give a freindly wave to bus drivers that go out of their way NOT to kill me 😉

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      • davemess March 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm

        You should try riding in Seattle! Buses there are no where near as kindly as the gentle giants in Portland!

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      • toby March 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm

        Woops, I said good driver when I meant good driverS.I’m sure there is more than one 🙂

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  • q`Tzal March 2, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Here’s an idea: Tri-Met should implement policy that any driver who strike’s a pedestrian in a pedestrian-right-of-way is immediately and permanently fired. Additionally, the state revokes the driver’s license and the driver goes to prison for negligent homicide.

    All you need is one oblivious pedestrian, or someone vengefully dedicated to getting Al M fired, before that provision would be stricken.
    Not ALL instances of buses impacting pedestrians are the fault of the bus driver.
    It is indeed possible for an oblivious pedestrian to unintentionally maneuver themselves up through a moving blind spot, as if pretending to be a ninja, and place themselves in a position that, due to the inertia of bus at even walking speed, the bus driver can do nothing to prevent injury or death.
    This may seem impossible but applying the Infinite monkey theorem shows that given an increasing number of oblivious pedestrians it will happen.

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  • Jeff March 2, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    And remember folks: Bikes yield to signalling buses, including when they are crossing green bike boxes…

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  • Adam March 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I’m glad to hear that Trimet is attempting to make things safer. I have had countless encounters with bus drivers, including verbal threats from one. This idea is stupid. As stated by others above, the warning comes so late in the turn that anyone in the way is already toast. I really like the idea of more and larger visible warnings on the bus as to their intent when turning. They could buy a whole lot of lights for $46,000. Some blind spot cameras would be great as well.

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  • h March 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    That would not work for me. It might give bus operators false security that all street creepers would hear turning warnings.

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    • h March 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      …false sense of security…

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  • Greg March 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    >>>TriMet Operations Executive Director Shelly Lomax said via a statement: “We are testing this system to see if it helps pedestrians and bicyclists be more aware that a bus is turning.”<<<

    I'd prefer a system that helps bus drivers avoid making illegal turns.

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  • Rol March 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Variety style headline: “Asinine Automated Announcements Assault Aesthetics!” More of Tri Met’s auditory clutter. It started onboard MAX trains. Then on MAX platforms. Then the buses. Then on the outside of the buses, whenever they stop. If this program succeeds, it’ll be EVERY TIME A BUS TURNS. Do me a favor, just shoot me now! Before you know it, the bus will be carrying on a non-stop robotic monologue from the moment it’s started in the morning to when it’s finally shut off at the end of the night. (Maybe the last thing it says will be “Attention: Engine shutting down.”) And when people expertly tune out all the useless chatter, just as they’ve been doing in incrementally more situations over the years, will anybody be any safer? I dunno, but they sure won’t confuse the experience with peaceful and un-distracted time with their own thoughts.

    I also oppose, as I tend to in most cases, the further use of technology to abdicate or cede human responsibility and authority, explicitly, or in this case, implicitly. Both the “pedestrians” and the driver are possessed of that shining brilliance called ‘human intelligence,’ which, properly applied, can do a far better job of keeping oneself and others safe than some dumb robot that only knows one thing (the steering wheel has been turned 360º).

    Also, since this all stemmed from the April 2010 fatal crash, and therefore sort of gets viewed in that context, I find Shelly Lomax’s turn of phrase a bit irksome. Accidents like that don’t happen because pedestrians in a crosswalk aren’t “aware that a bus is turning” — they happen because a bus driver, turning, isn’t aware there are pedestrians in the crosswalk. So do me a favor, Tri Met, and stop trying to help me with my end of it, and just work on your end of it, which you seem barely capable of handling as it is.

    Also if I can just go ahead and bring up the (so far not mentioned) socio-economic-racial-whatever issue, namely: As dubious as I am about this system, whatever safety benefits there are, are not for you if you’re Mexican! If you think the English warning starts too late (and it does), listen for the Spanish one. Hint: it comes after the turn is already completed.

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    • q`Tzal March 2, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      Both the “pedestrians” and the driver are possessed of that shining brilliance called ‘human intelligence,’ …

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    • q`Tzal March 2, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      Both the “pedestrians” and the driver are possessed of that shining brilliance called ‘human intelligence,’ …

      That’s a fairly big assumption.
      See my prior post:)

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  • Fronk March 2, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    I ride Vancouver/Williams every day and in the summer, when the bike lane is more crowded, I see bus incidents all the time. Usually its a bus moving into the bike lane when there are bikes next to it. It signals and then, seconds later, initiates the turn. The cyclists don’t see the signal and are forced to evade the bus, perhaps by choosing the relative soft landing of a parked car or pedestrian. For cyclists, this audio warning may as well say “prepare to be mowed down”; I can’t see how it would help at all.

    It seems to me if there is a dedicated bike lane, why can’t buses stop in the street, not pull over, and lower a safety net from the back right corner so that if bikes try to pass on the inside, they get safely scooped by the net? It just seems so obvious. What could possibly go wrong?

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    • are March 2, 2011 at 10:38 pm

      maybe if we got rid of the bike lanes on williams, put down sharrows in the right lane, encouraged cyclists to occupy the entire right lane, and not to pass anyone on the right, moved most of the motor traffic other than buses to the left lane . . .

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  • Ted Buehler March 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I’d like to see turn signals that operate separately from the hazard lights. It was a dumb idea to combine the two in the first place, one set of lights with two, opposite, meanings.

    I’m not a fan of the “comin’ throughhhhhh! Git outta my way!” verbal message…

    Ted Buehler

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  • Dude March 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Because apparently TriMet bus drivers are too dumb to simply look for, and actually see, pedestrians crossing a street.

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  • Paul Johnson March 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Doesn’t the DEQ regulate noise pollution?

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  • toby March 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    OK, I was at school and couldn’t watch the video before and now that I’ve seen it I have to say how utterly useless and lame that is! The bus is already through the turn by the time it says it’s thing. Maybe if they tied it into the indicators then it would actually warn of a turn BEFORE the turn. I’m still a big fan of situational awareness and personal responsibility, both of which are everyone’s duty. (he he, duty!)

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  • dwainedibbly March 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Good thing none of our pedestrians ever listen to music while they walk. Or are hearing impaired. Are Trimet drivers going to eventually become more aggressive as they get used to the idea of pedestrians scrambling out of their way?

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  • adamdoug2011 March 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    can we just add “don’t run over anyone” to the trimet driver training manual and the mission statement? that should solve the problem.

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  • Seth Alford March 3, 2011 at 1:06 am

    I too think that this is a bad idea. I fear that Trimet drivers will think, “Well, the bus is telling pedestrians that I’m turning the bus. Now I don’t have to look around as carefully.”

    More importantly, as implemented, the voice system would not have engaged where buses aggressively changes lanes. Those lane changes could be into or out of a bike lane, or, into or out of of a bus stop. Either situation can lead to bicyclists getting cut off. random_rider pointed out a situation where the bus left a bus stop and cut him off, in his 10:50AM 3/2/11 post, above. Another example: the #54 aggressively merged into the bike lane and cut me off. Here’s a link to the video:

    This happened on Wednesday morning, 3/2/2011, at about 9AM, at the bus stop at about 6360 on Capitol in Hillsdale, near the Noah’s Bagels. The nearest intersection is Capitol and Bertha. This is just down the hill from Wilson High School.

    I’m was riding my bicycle, in the bike lane, minding my own business, eastbound, on Capitol. I’m trying to get to the top of the hill that, on my route, started where Beaverton-Hillsdale crossed Dosch.

    All of a sudden there’s a large white wall on my left. I realize that it’s a Tri-Met bus that was behind me. The bus was now passing me. I saw the bus before I heard it. Rather than wait for me to get past the bus stop and then pull in, the driver, in my opinion, used the bus’s size to push its way into the bike lane. I felt that I was forced to stop so as to avoid the bus. Then bus driver continued to enter the bike lane to get to the bus stop.

    No, it doesn’t matter that the driver had the right turn signal on. The right turn signal doesn’t mean that I have to yield the bike lane to the bus.

    Fortunately, there was no physical contact between the bus and me.

    Tri-Met needs to explain some things to its drivers:

    1. Your right turn signal is not a message that says get the hell out of my way I’m going where I want to go. That’s the job of the Yield sign on the back of the bus.

    2. Your Yield sign only works when someone hasn’t already passed the back end of the bus. If someone passed the back end of the bus, s/he cannot magically see behind and around the corner of the bus to see the Yield sign. So don’t expect s/he to act as if they saw the Yield and give you right of way. And your Yield sign only works when moving to the left. It’s not for changing lanes to the right.

    3. Your engine is in the back of the bus. At slow speeds, no one can hear the engine because the bulk of the bus blocks the engine noise. At slow speeds, your tires do not make a whirring noise on the pavement. So someone on foot or on a bicycle near the front of the bus doesn’t necessarily know that your bus is there. Want to know what it’s like? Think about walking near a hybrid car operating in electric mode.

    4. You know those video cameras you have on board your bus? You aren’t the only vehicle on the road with on-board cameras. The bicyclist you cut off (but thankfully don’t collide with) this morning may post the video of your actions on youtube tonight.

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  • Greg March 3, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Are Trimet drivers going to eventually become more aggressive as they get used to the idea of pedestrians scrambling out of their way?

    Yes they will, just as they have become more aggressive now that they have the lighted yield signal on the back end. They are supposed to ONLY use it to help them get back into the lane after pulling off for a designated stop, and only after attempting to re-enter traffic using the standard approach. But, in actual fact, they now just slam that light on and gun it. If you’re already in the lane, too damn bad. You better vacate the space they are claiming. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to see them use it to force a lane change totally unrelated to entering traffic after a stop. It won’t take long for the drivers to acquire the same entitlement mentality with respect to pedestrians once they have this new tool.

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  • beelnite March 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Yesterday at the approach to Hawthorne Bridge I obeyed the flashing “Yeild” marker and let the bus pull across and into traffic- at the stoplight there.

    Dude behind me yelled “@#$% the bus!” and then proceeded to nearly kill himself attempting to pass both me and the bus on the right.

    Then I had to pass his fenderless, rude, frothing arse on the bridge.


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    • Paul Johnson March 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm

      I would have bodychecked him into the rail…

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  • Ely March 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I rode a bus that had this, and I have to say it sucks butt. The announcement doesn’t start until the bus is well into the turn, and continues well after the turn is complete. Useless. Also it plays inside the bus; annoying enough on a brief, mostly straight route, but I can’t imagine being a driver on a winding route, I would be reduced to a screaming lunatic in an hour. Horrible.

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  • Paul Johnson March 5, 2011 at 9:29 am

    These new devices on the TriMet buses reminds me of what they replaced the horns with on the boardwalk trams in New Jersey…

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    • Paul Johnson March 5, 2011 at 9:30 am

      And annoying for roughly the same reasons.

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  • tom March 6, 2011 at 8:36 am

    why not just mount some “ped-catchers” ?? (like the cow-catchers on the fronts of old trains) ..scoop peds/bikes up is better than run them over …

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  • Dee March 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    I tried to keep an open mind, but I live on a corner where the #15 makes a left turn. It’s a “T”, and pretty darn obvious that the buses will be turning left. Now I have to listen all day and night to buses announcing to me that they’re turning. I’m only grateful that not all the buses are equipped yet. *So annoying* – I can easily and clearly hear the announcement inside my house! And really not even remotely helpful, at least not on my corner (it’s pretty obvious which way the bus is heading). I’m all for safety and public transit, but…

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