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The Oregonian: TriMet's 'talking buses' -- Listen to new pedestrian warning
Author: Joseph Rose
Posted: October 28, 2013

Read the original article, which includes video and audio, in The Oregonian here.

If you watch the video, you'll probably notice that the new warning sounds almost exactly like the old one -- sans the Spanish translation.

TriMet said it will be working with the Federal Transit Administration and Portland State University to test the new warning systems.

You may recall that this isn’t TriMet’s first go at putting talking buses on the streets. (You can watch it in action in the video.)

In 2010, TriMet bus driver Sandi Day made an illegal left turn into a crosswalk in Portland’s Old Town, plowing into five pedestrians in a crosswalk. Two died, three suffered injuries. During her trial, in which she was found guilty of breaking several traffic laws, Day testified that she was making a sweeping turn that was standard on TriMet routes.

TriMet responded to the worst tragedy in its history a year later, in part, by paying $46,000 to test a turning alert system on 10 buses.

It was supposedly a giant step in warning pedestrians before 16 tons of metal rolled into a crosswalk. But it quickly became a joke among riders, drivers and walkers, many of whom considered the system nothing more than noise pollution.

When a driver steered into a turn, a woman's voice gave a gentle warning in English and Spanish over an external speaker: "Pedestrians, bus is turning."

Frequently, however, the audible alert didn’t go off until a bus was in the middle of the crosswalk. The external speakers were also located in a poorly insulated section of the bus frame, meaning the woman's voice often drowned out stop announcements inside the buses.

Often, the warning misfired when drivers simply pulled into and out of a stop.

“The technology just wasn’t ready,” said Harry Saporta, TriMet’s safety and security executive. “There have been a lot of advances since then."

Transit agencies in Cleveland, Baltimore and Newark have decided to install the warnings on all of their buses. Los Angeles is considering testing the newer systems. 

Although the 2010 tragedy still haunts the agency, TriMet said the new experiment will focus primarily on protecting pedestrians distracted by smartphones and other electronic devices.

“As concerns about ‘distracted walking’ increase, TriMet is teaming up with the Federal Transit Administration to enhance pedestrian safety,” the agency said in a new release. The Sandi Day incident received one sentence in a paragraph about the failed 2011 test near the end of the release.

TriMet plans to test onboard devices on bus lines 8, 15, 17, 44 and 75. A fixed-location device is already installed at Southwest 5th Avenue and Burnside Street and will be turned on in November.

Here’s TriMet’s description of the five systems being tested:

Audible/Visual device: Protran Technology’s “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.

Audible only: Clever Devices Turn Warning System uses a sensor inside the steering column. When the operator turns the steering wheel at least 45 degrees, the same audible alert, “pedestrians, 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.

Audible only: Transit Tech Solutions basic warning system with “speed sense” was developed by the transit agency in Richmond, Va. The verbal warning activates when the left or right turn signal is engaged, but will not activate if the bus is traveling at a speed of 35 mph or higher. This prevents the vehicle from warning pedestrians when changing lanes in the middle of the highway.

Visual only: The Dinex Star LED headlight has 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: A static bus warning sign created by TriMet engineers with the word “bus” lights up when a bus is turning. It is at the intersection of Southwest Fifth Avenue at Burnside Street and is positioned above the pedestrian walk signal.