In downtown Portland, Gresham or the Beaverton Town Center, bus operators have to stay vigilant to avoid hitting pedestrians or cyclists who are often distracted by texting or talking on their phones. It is a growing concern, and some TriMet bus drivers have had to make hard stops to avoid collisions. This is a danger to the pedestrian or cyclist as well as everyone riding the bus.
TriMet is testing five different devices in the next few months to warn pedestrians and cyclists of approaching buses. The devices, funded by a $400,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration, are to be used in the hopes of avoiding incidents of distracted pedestrians and buses.
In addition to distracted driving, distracted walking is a problem garnering attention nationwide. A study from Ohio State University released this summer found that injuries related to using a cell phone while walking have more than doubled from 2005 to 2010. If this trend continues, injuries will double again between 2010 and 2015.
Four of the five devices are mounted on the buses. One, the Protran Technology Safe Turn Alert, uses an audible warning and LED strobe light to warn when a bus is turning into an intersection. Two devices, the Clever Devices Turn Warning System and a system made by Transit Tech Solutions, use only an audible warning. The fourth, the Dinex Star LED headlight, is a visual warning system. TriMet also will test a crosswalk light at Southwest 5th Avenue and Burnside Street to warn of oncoming buses.
TriMet used an audible warning system on a small number of buses in early 2011. The tests were done as part of a safety review following the April 2010 bus crash that killed two pedestrians in Old Town. TriMet concluded at the time that the devices were not fully developed and hopes the new ones work better.
An additional benefit to the warning devices is they would aid pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way and are endangered by distracted bus drivers. Presumably the devices will signal a turn regardless of who is distracted. Anything that increases safety and awareness for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers is worth the effort. Implementing these warning devices is a step in the right direction for eliminating pedestrian- and cyclist-related accidents and is well worth the investment.