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Metro tests ‘turn warning’ buses, explores ways to prevent pedestrian collisions

Summary

In an effort to improve pedestrian safety and reduce collisions, King County Metro Transit is testing and evaluating an audio and visual turn warning system on 10 buses for the next month in parts of Seattle and south King County.

Story

In an effort to improve pedestrian safety and reduce collisions, King County Metro Transit is testing and evaluating an audio and visual turn warning system on 10 buses for the next month in parts of Seattle and south King County.

The audio system, called TurnWarning, announces “caution, bus turning” in English and Spanish and includes a left-side strobe light activated when a bus is turning at an intersection. The installed system is triggered when the bus driver turns the steering wheel at least 270 degrees left or 360 degrees right.

This system was tested for three days this week on eight buses as they traveled through busy intersections in downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and Madison Park. Staff recorded initial observations and pedestrian feedback that will be further analyzed as part of the evaluation. Another month of testing remains on a total of 10 buses traveling around the county.

“One collision is one too many, and every incident involving a pedestrian has the potential to have the worst outcome for physical injuries and emotional effect,” Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond said. “We have methodically strengthened our approach to safety over several years, and considering technology is one more option. We want to see how it might work in our community.”

Metro saw an increase of pedestrian incidents in 2012 and 2013 and implemented pedestrian awareness training in 2014 with the agency’s 2,600 bus drivers. Metro saw the number of pedestrian incidents drop in 2014, with 23 incidents compared to 34 in 2013.

Pedestrian incidents can happen anytime and anywhere, requiring Metro drivers to remain vigilant and on the lookout as they carry 120 million riders, make 3.5 million bus trips and travel 47 million miles across King County every year.

Despite their efforts, sometimes riders become injured as they run alongside a bus and slip and fall, other times distracted or impaired pedestrians walk right into the side of parked or moving buses. Sometimes, though rarely, drivers make mistakes as they are turning at an intersection and may not see a pedestrian crossing the street.

Since 2009, King County has paid $14.2 million in claims for 24 pedestrian-related injury bus incidents, including one that occurred in 2006. Of the 23 pedestrian incidents in 2014, 7 of which involved turning buses. This year through March 2015, there has been one pedestrian-related incident involving a bus. King County maintains a self-insurance fund to pay for claims and loss prevention efforts, and this pilot project includes money from that fund.

The TurnWarning system by the vendor Clever Devices is used in other communities around the country. Metro’s pilot project is estimated to be about $100,000, including the 10 devices, which cost about $4,000 each.

Metro gathered initial feedback from pedestrians during a three-day testing period this week and also will seek feedback from transit operators and focus groups.

Further public comments can be shared by phone with Metro Customer Service at 206-553-3000 or by email to customer.comments@kingcounty.gov. Analysis and evaluation of public feedback and performance of the devices is planned this summer.