Distracted walkers listen up and look up: Talking buses to begin running on five TriMet bus lines

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FTA-funded pilot project looks to increase pedestrian safety around buses

TriMet and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) want to increase pedestrian safety around buses by testing the effectiveness of pedestrian warning systems beginning the week of March 3, 2014. The FTA awarded TriMet a $400,000 grant to conduct a comprehensive analysis of devices that alert people when a bus is turning.

So called talking buses and other pedestrian warning systems are not being widely used in the transit industry, but with “distracted walking” on the rise as the popularity of smartphones and other electronic devices soars, more agencies are considering adding them to their fleet.

“Very little is known about the effectiveness of these pedestrian warning systems and this lack of knowledge prompted the FTA to sponsor TriMet’s demonstration project,” said TriMet Executive Director of Safety and Security Harry Saporta. “Our experience will prove important for the future of this technology as those of us in the transit industry try to increase the level of safety around buses.”

Analysis already underway

TriMet is partnering with AEM Corporation and Portland State University in evaluating the performance of the warning systems. We have already learned some important lessons before the first outfitted buses even go into service. We originally expected to have the demonstration begin on the streets of Portland in November, but we found that the equipment isn’t necessarily “one size fits all”. Adjustments had to be made to two of the devices to work on our buses and one of the devices we hoped to test is not compatible. All of this will be included in our analysis provided to the FTA.

Five bus lines involved in demonstration

The pedestrian warning systems have been installed on 45 buses that will run on five bus lines. The lines were selected based on such factors as frequency of turns and high pedestrian traffic areas on the routes as well as ridership volumes. About half of the buses serving the following routes will be equipped with a device.

  • 4-Division/Fessenden
  • 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th
  • 15-Belmont/NW 23rd
  • 33-McLoughlin
  • 75-Cesar Chavez/Lombard

Pedestrian warning devices

Currently, three onboard systems and one fixed-location device will be studied, and involve both audible and visual alerts.

Audible/Visual device
Protran Technology Safe Turn Alert™: Combines both an audible and visible warning. When the steering wheel is turned a minimum of 45 degrees, an audible alert outside the bus declares “pedestrians, bus is turning” and LED strobe lights on the side of the bus flash. The volume automatically adjusts based on the ambient noise level. For this demonstration, this voice alert and the others involved will only be in English.

Listen to the audible warning.

Audible only device
Clever Devices Turn Warning System: Uses a sensor inside the steering column. When the operator turns the steering wheel at least 45 degrees, an audible alert, “caution, bus is turning” sounds outside the bus in the direction of the turn. Sound levels can be automatically adjusted for day or night, or quiet zones.

Listen to the audible warning.

Visual only device
DINEX™ STAR LED headlight with Pedestrian Crossing Alert: Uses an intelligent system that calculates the bus’s speed and steering wheel angle. It automatically turns on additional super bright LED lights inside the headlight pointed in the direction of travel. Operators can better see objects on the road directly ahead and pedestrians get a visual cue the bus is turning.

Fixed-location device
Static bus warning sign: The word “BUS” lights up when a bus is approaching. It is located at the intersection of SW 5th Avenue at Burnside Street and is positioned above the pedestrian walk/don’t walk signal.

2011 test of pedestrian warning system

TriMet did try out an audible pedestrian warning system previously. In early 2011, we tested the system on 10 buses, but at the time the technology was lacking. A verbal voice alert that the bus was turning often came too early, too late or not at all. The test was suggested as part of a comprehensive safety review initiated following the April 2010 bus crash in which two pedestrians died.

2014 demonstration and assessment

In 2012, the FTA announced a pilot project to increase pedestrian/cyclist safety through demonstration of advanced pedestrian warning systems on transit buses.” The FTA chose TriMet’s proposal for analyzing several updated safety technologies and awarded the full grant money available to our demonstration.

We’ll be working with an industry peer review panel made up of transit industry leaders. Bus operators, other TriMet personnel, riders and members of the community will be asked through surveys and on-street outreach for their input as part of our overall assessment for the FTA.