92 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Buses vs. Rail”

  1. If you look at the second accident around the 1:24 mark, you’ll see that the street the light rail is on has a red light (does this particular light rail have to follow traffic signals?), but the next angle around the 1:36 mark shows a red light for the bus.

    1. Sorry, but at the 1:33 mark, the train clearly had a proceed signal (see the vertical white bar).

      1. Horizontal traffic lights are slick streetscape design, but fatal to the color-blind. Which I bet she was.

      2. Hmm, I’m not so sure about that one. There are many localities which use horizontal traffic signals versus the vertical ones. If there were drastic differences between the two, I would expect that there would be plenty of lawsuits and therefore, the lights would be re-installed as vertical. It hasn’t happened. At least, yet.

        If you can find a study to prove this point, please let me know.

      3. No studies found yet, though I look.

        Did find this picture:
        So I guess Transport Canada or Nova Scotia recognizes that there might be an issue.

        So does New Brunswick and Quebec, apparently:

        But plenty of experience driving with someone who is color-blind and who lives in a place where horizontal traffic signals basically do not exist. And that person asks me “what color is that light?” when we have encountered one.

        I think it is an under-reported safety issue.

      4. Those are some interesting photos. I would love to find out what the story was behind them. Thanks for the links, Erik!

        Yes, in a location where horizontal lights are the exception rather than the rule (i.e. Broadway in Seattle), I would understand some confusion. You should check out the approved configurations for horizontal signals with arrows…I think even the non-color blind would be confused. :)


      5. I’m color blind and I’ve had no trouble with horizontal traffic lights. Even if she has Monochromacy, which is rare, there’s a definite difference in what she would perceive in red and green.

        To me, the green of stoplights looks more like white, and green lights and street lights tend to blend together at night.

    2. Makes me want to have more Bus-based transit! NOT!

      How many times has Vancouver SkyTrain done this?

      1. I don’t think SkyTrain shares roadspace does it? There have certainly been some incidents since the Olympic Line streetcar has been running, but that’s down to the fact that the lines have been there (virtually unused) for years, and some car drivers never see new signs.

        Let’s face it, LRT and road traffic just don’t mix unless there is something much more “in your face” than a standard red traffic signal. It’s time there were high intensity flashing lights to warn road users. Or maybe it should be compulsory for bus drivers to stop at a crossing – same as school bus drivers approaching a railroad crossing.

      2. Yeah, unless they also had a SkyBus, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen with SkyTrain. Maybe SkyTrain hitting an airplane? That hasn’t happened either.

    3. In the article we learn that the driver has had 5 accidents in the past 36 months.

      Looks like the transit union defended her each time so as to have her reinstated. Where have we seen this?

      1. Ms. Harrison, who is in the video above.

        Again, I wonder how she tests for color-blindness. And was she ever tested?

      2. As much as I’d love to get rid of all the “bad” bus drivers out there, if we are involved in an accident, our Union is there to represent us. That’s part of what we pay our dues for. On the surface, my knee-jerk reaction is to say “5 accidents in 36 months? Fire her!”. But reading the article it clearly states that 4 out of the 5 were “not her fault”. (No idea if that means non-preventable or preventable but “not her fault”, or what)

        I’ve been driving for 3.5 years now and have 3 accidents on my record – all minor. 1 preventable and 2 non-preventable. By all accounts from my passengers I’m a safe and “smooth” driver. By the smiles and “thank you’s” I receive on a daily basis I assume I’m a relatively pleasant driver. If, god forbid, I run a red light and hit another vehicle – car, bus, or train – but nobody is seriously injured, are you going to be calling for my head on a plate?

        My point is don’t be in a rush to judge. There are drivers at KCM that I’d like to see kicked to the curb but they are a very small minority.

      3. Oh Matt, don’t you wish those that dumbass who installed the “Do Not Enter” sign on the Eastgate Freeway Station would have installed a little to the right. Like outside of the actually roadway space.

        Agreed. Just because we have accidents on our records doesn’t mean we are bad drivers. You have to know which were preventable or non-preventable. I probably have atleast 10 accidents on my record, from people falling on my coach, cars whacking my mirrors on 1st Ave, I even got to take out and total a single-occupant vehicle in the HOV lane. But none of them were preventable accidents.

      4. Yeah, kind of interesting how I could scrape the side of the bus but not rub my tires. Oh well – as they say, it’s a fixed object so it’s not like it jumped into my way :)

      5. Erik G.,

        In the article we learn that the driver has had 5 accidents in the past 36 months.

        From the article:

        ” Metro officials said she has been involved in five accidents since April 2007 — four which were not her fault and one described as a “minor accident”

        Note that even events like clipping a “No Parking” sign with a rearview mirror are classified as “accidents”. There’s also nothing in that article about the union getting this driver out of trouble for at-fault accidents, so save the anti-union crap for the Glen Beck show.

  2. Trains and soccer? Someone at Red Bull New York knows the way to this boy’s heart. I understand the ownership group really prioritized train access when selecting a site for their ridiculously dope new stadium…

    1. Didn’t NJT recently open a new station to serve Giants Stadium? Too bad it hadn’t been there for all of Red Bull/Metrostars residency.

    1. That’s like seeing one video of a truck colliding with an automobile and saying trucks belong on roads but cars don’t.

    2. Hey Sam, didn’t you hear? One person is dead and two are injured in a truck-SUV crash in West Seattle? What lesson would you learn from that? SUV’s belong on roads but trucks don’t?

      But I suspect you are just trolling anyhow…

      1. Look at city pics from 100 years ago — the pedestrians did own the roads. They would dodge the trolleys and cars (hence, the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers!) but you see tons of pictures of people just standing in the roads chatting while streetcars and carriages pass around them.

    3. It’s not exactly sharing a lane with vehicle traffic, just running in the middle and at ground level. Putting these things above or below ground is just plain weird for the reason that you mention – they don’t belong on roads – because it’s not as if the entire land surface of the Earth is one giant road!

    4. Buses, trucks, cars and bikes don’t necessarily mix well together – but at least they all have one thing in common, the ability to take evasive action to avoid (at least some) collisions by steering their way out of trouble. Trains and trams not only can’t be steered, but they also need much greater stopping distances.

      In an ideal world, they should never be mixed with road traffic, but often the cost and environmental impact of tunnelling or overhead running is prohibitive – so mixed running becomes necessary. The challenge then is for the highway engineers to come up with more robust traffic control systems.

      1. We’re trained not to swerve. All of the training is designed to get us to try and predict potential accidents and then just STOP or at least slow down. Swerving can result in cars being pushed into oncoming traffic or pedestrians being mowed down which can be far more deadly than simply hitting a vehicle.

        Obviously, this is highly situational so I can’t say that not swerving 100% of the time is the right thing to do. The best thing we can do as drivers is to keep our speed down, our eyes moving, and our brains engaged.

      2. To add to this……

        What if a car runs a red light? You can try and slow, avoid swerving, and if you can’t stop than you hit the car. If you swerve, you run the risk of hitting another car, pederstians, a fixed object, or even tipping the bus. This just went from you hitting the car, which ran a red light and having a non-preventable accident to swerving, possibly causing another accident which could end up being a preventable accident on your record.

        Or if a car cuts you off, you can just hit it or you could swerve into the car next to you, possibly sending it into oncoming traffic. I’d rather just hit the car that cut me off. Chances are they will be cited for the accident.

        In the case of KC Metro, and most other transit agencies, you causing an accident because you avoided the first one is going to be you’re fault.

  3. Why not put at least the cars and trucks underground instead? Europe has been running street rail for over a hundred years- and it’s up to the other more recent modes of transportation to stay out of their way. As they can and do. Question for this discussion: how many road vehicles crash into elevated pillars, and how many accidents are caused by pillars blocking views?

    Mark Dublin

    1. You are correct in your comments about elevated structures causing accidents due to sight-line issues. There also is the issue of going from light to dark which can cause vision troubles and accidents — particularly for older drivers.

      Very few pieces of infrastructure are completely free of safety issues. Certainly our roads aren’t.

    2. Well, that’s the idea with the viaduct tunnel. Of course, there’s the outcry from everyone and their brother in return, including transit advocates.

      1. Yes, because it’s a giant subsidy to cars, and would generate trips that transit can’t be competitive with. It’s social engineering far worse than anyone ever claims of transit.

  4. Metro buses run red lights ALL THE TIME! and they block intersections. Totally not obeying traffic laws!
    I’m not sure who is right here, but I recently saw a documentary that mentioned that in all cities that have light rail there are CONSTANT accidents with vehicles AND pedestrians. They cited one city as having averaged one accident per every 4 months since it was installed. Another city had a 38% accident rate. Why did we put in light rail if they have such bad records?

      1. I’m not sure if it’s been pointed out yet, but the “Metro” in the video is NOT King County Metro, and the light rail involved is NOT Link. It’s in Houston (Their transit system is also called “Metro”).

    1. There’s a difference between running a light just as it changes from yellow to red (i.e. still BEFORE the signals in any other direction turn green) and driving haplessly through a red light you didn’t notice (as in the Houston videos). In fact, they are polar opposites: one requires heightened alertness on the part of the driver; the other results from driving on auto-pilot.

      Frankly, “YesIdo,” I WISH Metro drivers did more of the former. But instead, we get drivers stopping on yellow, or even WAITING ON GREEN (and arbitrarily missing a whole light cycle), lest a tiny sliver of the bus tail block the precious “box” for second or two.

      Are we so indoctrinated about auto-supremacy that 20-40 bus passengers ALWAYS and literally take a back-seat to the POSSIBILITY of one single-occupancy driver being inconvenienced for a few seconds?

      1. HEAR HEAR!!!! I have been on both sides of that classic Half the Artic is in Half the Intersection. More often than not, as a daily Metro rider, it is some moron jumping into the space the bus was GOING to fit in to at last moment… i.e. the driver was making sure there was space to fit, then loosing it at last moment.

        I have also been at the stuck end waiting for the intersection to clear. Most often, at peek traffic times on Friday… or any suddenly sunny afteroon in Seattle. I would have to say at least twice a week one of my drivers gets to hit the brake at last minute to avoid the last minute duck in or lane change by some moron with no idea of how the laws of physics are different for cars vs. bus. and bicycles, and scooters, and last minute pedestians. How Metro keeps from having a higher accident rate is the stuff of great training and good bus drivers.

    2. What you’re definition of run red lights ALL THE TIME?
      If the bus enters the intersection after it turns red, then yes, but as long as we enter it as it’s still yellow, we are okay.

      Don’t knock Metro drivers until you have driven a bus. When the light turn yellow, we have to make a desicion. Stopping the bus is not the same as a car. And as a bus driver or truck driver, the length of a yellow light seems pretty short, for the weight of the vehicle. Sometimes by the time the light changes to yellow, if we decide to stop, we might stop beyond the crosswalk. Other times when we do decide just to go for it, we might enter on yellow, but the bus 40-60 feet long, it may appear that the light was red quite awhile before we cleared the intersection. Also, factor in having a standing load of people. You don’t want to slam on the brakes with standers, so sometimes going through a late yellow light is the better option. But again, I’m only saying it’s okay as long as we enter on yellow.

      Is that what you meant by running red lights? Or do you just see Metro buses deciding to just drive through a red lights?

      1. “If the bus enters the intersection after it turns red, then yes, but as long as we enter it as it’s still yellow, we are okay.” Huh? Just where in the traffic code is THIS spelled out????

        When I learned to drive (admittedly a few years ago…) we were instructed to clear the intersection BEFORE the yellow light turns red == the rear bumper of your vehicle had to be beyond the far crosswalk before the light turns red in your direction. To the best of my knowledge, that’s still the law

      2. Transit Guy,

        When I learned to drive (admittedly a few years ago…) we were instructed to clear the intersection BEFORE the yellow light turns red

        When you learned to drive – did you practice in a 60 foot articulated bus with standing passengers in it?

      3. Transit Guy-

        Yes, I am aware that you should clear the intersection before the light turns red, as instructed in Driver’s Ed, but what I’m saying is, buses can’t always stop safely in the length of a yellow light. Also we can’t accelerate like a car would, to make it through before it turns red either. Also being 45 ft longer than a car, there is a very good chance even if you entered right when the light turned yellow, the rear of you’re bus would still be in the intersection on red. Red Light cameras only take pictures when a car enters after the red.

        No disrespect, but when you and YesIdo HaveOne become bus drivers, then you might realize what Jeff Welch and I are trying to explain. I’m not saying that buses are excluded from the law, but this law and the length of time some traffic lights stay yellow, are not bus friendly because of the weight/stopping distane, or the length of buses. Maybe traffic signals should be adjusted to allow a longer yellow light so bus drivers can see the light change from further away and allow a safe stop.

        I’m sorry that some people feel that bus drivers are so aggresive and out of control, but I wish many could see what we deal with everyday. I know there are some drivers out there that ruin it for the rest of us and mabye Metro isn’t the job for them. But the majority of us are responsible. But listed above, only 9 preventable accidents for ever 1 million miles. Especially considering a large percentage of those accidents are probably hitting a mirror on a fixed object such as a street sign or tree. And I can’t remember the last time a bus hit a car or pedestrian because it entered the intersection on a late yellow. Seems like most of the red light accidents KC Metro has had, have been the car running the red light.

      4. After I posted the above, I want everyone to know that I’m not saying that a bus should continue through an intersection everytime when the light is yellow. The majority of the time, we should and are able to make a safe stop. But what I have described above, is some situations when we know we will be unable to make a safe stop before the stop bar at the intersection, the better alternative is to continue through as long as we enter the intersection prior to the red light.

      5. “If the bus enters the intersection after it turns red, then yes, but as long as we enter it as it’s still yellow, we are okay.” Huh? Just where in the traffic code is THIS spelled out????

        That would be spelled out in

        RCW 46.61.055 — Traffic control signal legend.

        Where you’ll find that a yellow signal means “a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection.”

        In other words, yes, it is legal to enter the intersection on yellow, even if yellow will turn to red before you clear the intersection.

        Once yellow turns to red, it is illegal to enter the intersection. But if you entered the intersection before the light turned red, you did not run the red light.

        This is actually a topic that comes up a lot in discussions of red-light cameras. If you enter on yellow, and the light turns red before you clear the intersection, you did not run the red and should not receive a ticket from a red-light camera.

        People who get these tickets like to claim that’s what happened as a way to justify their driving habits, but the cameras provide video as well as still footage of every infraction, and if you can show that you entered the intersection on yellow, even in the last 0.1 second of yellow, you can get the ticket dismissed, because you didn’t break the law.

    3. YesIdoHaveone,

      [b]Metro buses run red lights ALL THE TIME! and they block intersections.[/b]

      Actually they don’t run red lights “all the time”, and much of the time what you call “running a red light” is actually entering the intersection at speed when the light turns yellow, then red as the bus continues through. The alternative is often braking so quickly that passengers – some who may be standing – get injured from rapid deceleration, not an issue you have with passenger vehicles or even cargo trucks.

      As to blocking intersections – this too is most often unintentional, and unavoidable. Often buses will wait until the road on the other side of the intersection has enough room to accomodate the bus – only to have some jerk in a car zip from the left lane, crossing over IN the intersection, and suck up that space as you’re advancing towards it, leaving you and your bus hanging in the intersection and overlapping a crosswalk.

      Buses are not cars. They take longer to get through intersections. They take up more space. They carry fragile passengers. This canard about buses/drivers being chronically unsafe in their driving habits darn near always overlooks the realities that the physics and geomoetry of 40-60 foot passenger vehicles differs from that of a 15 foot Lexus.

  5. Hampton Roads Transit’s (Norfolk, VA) “The Tide” light rail line is under construction. THey have posted a video simulation of the entire line on their website for people to see what they can expect.

    Maybe this is something that ST could do for East Link to help assuage fears of the nimbys there


    1. HRT is based in Hampton, Virginia; not Norfolk.

      Oh, and that video doesn’t help at all. “NO ONE WILL RIDE / IT’S A WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY” (shouting (ALL CAPS) intentional; this is how the negatives act out here – they make Surrey Downs & Kemper Freeman look like transit lovers)

      1. No, it’s within Norfolk only (runs to just shy of the VB city line)

        Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) and the City of Norfolk have always been calling it a “starter line”, yet the biggest complaint is “it doesn’t go…” (insert destination here) yet the next planned extensions include the main university (Old Dominion), the main Naval Base, as well as the Virginia Beach Oceanfront (our main tourist attraction).

        Most residents of Virginia Beach, Virginia (where I live) are anti-tax bus-is-for-them* kind of people that are “married to their cars”. I’m a proud bus rider living in a car-loving city where service cuts off at 6:45 PM weekdays & Saturdays, with no service on Sundays.

        Those of us who care are trying to get our city council to have a political backbone

        * Officially, HRT’s ridership is 80% minority.

      2. I lived in Newport News and later VA Beach about 10 years ago, the whole Hampton Roads area (Norfolk/Va Beach/Suffolk/Chesapeake/Newport News/Hampton) is definitely a car loving area. I imagine transit of any type would have a hard time, the whole Hampton Roads area is so spread out with little density.

      3. It’s better than Kemper/Surrey. Possible supporters see clear idiots with the all-caps folks. With Kemper/Surrey, they see what *look* like supporters, and are often swayed.

      4. Ben,

        Reid Greenmun (aka Green Reednut, The Imam Of Insanity) is the Vice Chairman/Transportation Chairman of the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA). Among other things, Reid:

        1. Claims that Karl Marx was The Father of Modern Urban Planning, thus “Urban = Marxist”.

        2. Wants mass transit here abolished entirely (despite the fact that it would be in violation of Federal law). He claims mass transit is a device to make us more dependent on government, and – in turn – vote more liberally.

        I could go on, but I think you get that he belongs on meds in a padded room.

  6. In the Transit-Oriented Development area, some of you might find interesting the latest proposal for the station block around Beacon Hill Station, posted at the Beacon Hill Blog: http://beaconhill.seattle.wa.us/2010/03/20/opinion-a-bold-idea-for-beacon-hills-central-park/

    Earlier suggestions for this location that were posted on the blog involved a sort of “active alley” like Post Alley, but this is sort of going the other way, with no retail space, no residential space, no density at all.

    I am avoiding expressing an opinion on it for now, though of course I have one. (Maybe at some point I will write an editorial.) But if any of you have something to say about it, please do comment on the BHB. Particularly if you live on/around Beacon Hill. I know some STB folks are in the area.

      1. It’s just someone’s idea, not a plan that is going forward yet. No opportunities have yet been lost.

        Keep in mind that the property in question is privately owned, not Sound Transit property, and no one seems to know yet what the owners are planning for it.

    1. I like the “active alley” idea. Another thought might be some sort of green space or plaza with activity (cafe, restaurant, etc.) on one or more sides. The odd triangle shaped lot just South of the station on Beacon Ave might be a good candidate. It is a bit small to really do much development on without vacating the alley. Shops could be on the “active alley”, front the park/plaza and have exposure to Beacon Ave.

      I’d really hate to see the entire site turned into a park as what the area needs is more street-level pedestrian friendly activity. Surely there is some parking lot or muffler shop where turning the lot into a park would actually be an improvement.

  7. I have some bad news—and I do apologize if it is old news—but the trolley buses will be gone in two years. Seriously, I heard from two Metro employees earlier this week by the Westlake Station timetable rack—a Metro auditor said they were not cost-effective.

    1. A Metro auditor said they were not cost effective, but there is a lot of debate about that. It is another few years before they’ll be needing to buy new ones so it’s by no means a done deal yet.

      1. No, whether or not you choose to engage with your county council will tell.

    2. Speaking of the trolleys, from what I recall SDOT did an online survey in the past couple of months to survey people’s opinions about the trolley buses. Has anyone heard the results of that? I, for one, live in an area served by the trolleys and far prefer them to diesel buses because they are much quieter and a LOT better at climbing hills than the diesel buses. Even if they cost more than the diesel buses I’d still take them, within reason.

      On a related note, when the KC auditor does his analysis, how does it work? How do they determine what will be cheaper? Do they do scenarios using different fuel costs to try to find some sort of break-even point between trolleys and diesels, if such a point exists? I get the feeling that Metro is just going to fudge the numbers to make the trolleys look worse than they are (I have no proof at all, it’s just me being a paranoid cynic) just to get rid of them. I’ve read in the past here on STB that there is a divide between the diesel crowd and the trolley crowd in the maintenance yards at least so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a push by certain interests to get rid of the trolleys no matter what.

      1. Matt the Engineer did an “Audit of Metro Trolley Bus Audit”, which was done by an outside entity (Booz Allen Hamilton)

        Some of his observations:

        * ETBs are claimed to cost twice as much as hybrids, but he found this claim to be unsubstantiated. The study that resulted in the mothballing of Edmonton trolley bus system made the same claim. Elsewhere, I’ve read that ETBs cost 150% of hybrids.

        * Fuel efficiency of 5mpg for hybrids is claimed, even though Metro has only been able to get 3.8mpg.

        * Engine overhaul for ETBs is listed as 6.7x that of hybrids, which sounds quite bogus, since ETBs don’t have engines.

        * While upfront costs for ETBs are higher, their operating costs are lower. Their higher upfront cost is somewhat offset by longer service lives compared to those for other buses (although actual service lives for the newest hybrid buses are uncertain).

        * One issue with flexibility is that trolley buses can’t kneel for wheelchair access. A trolley bus that has to stop a few times to pick up wheelchair bound passengers can hold up following trolley buses, since they can’t pass each other. One solution is simply to buy new trolley buses with kneeling capability (as well as quick-charge accessory batteries to allow off-wire travel).

      2. joshuadf,

        While upfront costs for ETBs are higher, their operating costs are lower.

        Actually that part isn’t true, as the cost of ETB operation includes the cost of maintaining the overhead wiring and power generation infrastructure, which are what makes the operation of ETB’s cost so much more (with current fuel pricing) than diesel or hybrid buses.

      3. So we need to measure how much the air costs to maintain when we spew fumes into it.

      4. Heck there are even real metrics for the impacts. Carbon emissions have a price in carbon offsets. Other pollutants have a price as well. Your local air quality management agency will tell you what eliminating a ton of CO or NOx emissions is worth. The noise pollution is somewhat harder, but there are typically metrics for figuring out what increasing or decreasing noise pollution is worth.

    1. Then it would be the nightmare we face here in Virginia: Cities and counties are totally independent. Instead of regionalism, we have local governments who think for themselves. This is why, out here, things don’t get done (or, if they do, they’re heavily watered down due to squabbling).

      Be glad Seattle is a part of a larger county

      1. Haha you think there’s problems there with getting things done? I don’t know how Seattle being it’s own county would work, but sometimes it does sound like a great idea… see 20/40/40 and its evil sidekick, 60/20/20.

      2. I’m very familiar with 20/40/40 – I have family in Pierce County and, when I visit, I take the 594 into Seattle all the time.

        But compared to what we have in Virginia? I’d take Seattle + King County any day

      3. Virginia prohibits independent cities and counties from overlapping. As such, the seven cities that comprise the Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) service area largely aren’t on the same page. Transit is contracted annually to each city, and there is no dedicated funding source.

      4. It would be a bit difference since in Virginia cities and counties don’t overlap. Our situation would be more like San Francisco, which is its own county. Muni – w00t!

      1. If we had our own currency, we’d actually get feedback from our economic choices, and we’d grow a hell of a lot faster and with more stability.

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