Seattle gets talking buses

May 15, 2015, 8:47 AM | Updated: 12:15 pm

Don’t be alarmed if you hear a Metro bus talking to you in downtown Seattle. You’re not going crazy.

King County Metro is testing a new audible alarm system to prevent pedestrian accidents.

“Caution buses turning,” the loud speakers state while the bus takes a turn, followed by a Spanish translation.

Listen to the warning

A total of 10 Metro buses will be using this new pedestrian warning system over the next month to see how people respond to the warning.

It’s cued automatically every time the bus driver turns the wheel a certain number of degrees to the right or left.

“We just want to make sure that pedestrians know that a bus is coming,” said Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond. “Particularly in this day in age with distracting driving &#8212 we all know about that &#8212 there is also distracted pets.

“We see so many people walking through a crosswalk texting, they have their earphones on, and they may not know a bus is coming,” he added.

Desmond said one bus-pedestrian accident is too many and he’s hoping this warning system will be effective. In 2014, Metro buses hit a total of 23 pedestrians. Seven of those accidents happened as the buses were turning.

Desmond said Metro is trying to determine if this is the best system for our region.

Related: Many areas of Seattle ‘don’t work well for anybody’

“Some agencies are very pleased with it, they have found it effective. Other agencies have tested it and have decided not to go with this,” Desmond said.

“Our colleagues in New Jersey, our colleagues in Cleveland like this technology,” he said. “They have found it effective. It has helped them reduce the number of pedestrian accidents. So we need to see the same.”

If it doesn’t work as Metro hopes, Desmond said they’ll keep looking for something better; possibly using a warning system that alerts drivers of impeding collisions or obstructions. A lot of cars have such systems already.

The system can be programmed to be activated by time of day, where the bus is traveling, or to minimize the annoyance factor.

Tell us about your chokepoint

“We might not have the warning system on as the bus is going through a residential area,” Desmond said. “The technology allows us to do that. That’s all going to be part of what we learn as we test this equipment.”

The warning message is set at 90 decibels. In downtown Seattle, next to heavy construction and traffic, it was barely audible Thursday morning.


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Seattle gets talking buses