Choose Your Way Bellevue has an interview on their site with John Toone, the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program manager at King County Metro. John discusses Transit Signal Priority as well as other signal enhancements along the B line – It’s worth a look.
When the RapidRide B line started up in October, signal priority was still not active. As I drove the route I’d frequently get stuck at red lights, hardly an unusual experience when driving a bus. Over the subsequent weeks, as signal priority has been turned on, I’ve noticed the effects of signal priority. In more and more cases “stale green” lights, which Metro trains us to watch for and be prepared to stop at, would stay green long enough to let me catch the light. I actually found this transition a bit disorienting since I usually approach most stale green lights intent on stopping. With TSP active, I find myself making far more lights so I’ve modified the way I approach these “stale green” lights. I keep a bit more speed coming into the lights I expect to stay green but still low enough that I can safely stop. (As John told me in an email, it’s signal priority not preemption, so I’m not always guaranteed a green light)
After speaking with Metro planners, I’ve learned that most of the signals along the B line that were scheduled to have TSP are up and running. Despite that, there is still some tuning to be done. On a recent series of trips, my coach was detected anywhere from 19-25 times out of 33 currently active prioritized intersections. Apparently, there are still some adjustments to be made to the wireless system along the route to detect the coaches. I’m told the work is ongoing and that I should see further improvements over the coming month.
There are also some intersections that don’t have TSP, which I approach the old fashioned way – foot hovering above the brake and accelerator ready to smoothly stop. (I strongly suspect NE 24th St & 152nd Ave NE and NE 40th & 156th Ave NE in Redmond are without TSP. If I’m wrong, then they need tuning I’m working hard to be patient since I can only imagine the ripple effects of giving too much priority to my bus. I try to picture my bus cutting a rough line through a gently rippling pond. The trick for the traffic planners is to make that cut as smooth as possible and not disrupt the other ripples too much.
I’ll add future updates as I hear about or see further changes. In short, while signal priority will never be a substitute for dedicated right of way, it is already making improvements in travel time for RapidRide. As the kinks continue to get worked out, I look forward to seeing even more improvements.
NOTE: Since I drive RapidRide in the morning, my experience is relatively limited. I’m sure the afternoon trips, with their much heavier traffic, are a bigger test for the system. Keep that in mind when drawing any conclusions from reading my impressions. I’m looking for a vacation relief assignment on RapidRide in the afternoon to drive but so far I haven’t seen one.
I’ve been using RapidRide B, in conjunction with the 249, to travel to several locations I would normally drive to. Each time I travel, I plan my trip using various transit planning services including Google maps, Bing, and Metro’s trip planner. So far, all services have worked well with each giving a simple trip recommendation involving a single transfer. My 249 shows up at Bellevue Transit Center where I walk over to a waiting RapidRide B coach which usually leaves within a few minutes. Total travel time from my front door to my favorite food court at Crossroads Shopping Center is usually about 30 minutes.
Getting home, however, has been more difficult to plan. When using Google or Bing maps, I cannot get a trip recommendation that involves RapidRide. All recommendations involve long walks or transfers to other numbered routes with fixed schedules and typically travel a much longer, and sometimes more complicated route. On some trips Metro’s trip planner gives the same results but on others I can get a route recommendation with RapidRide, if I tweak the travel times a bit.
An example will illustrate. Use your favorite transit planning service to get a trip recommendation for the following locations and times:
Start point: 2000 104th Ave SE (Add Bellevue, WA if you need to – Trip planner doesn’t need / want this)
End point: 15600 NE 8th
The result should be a trip on the 249 transferring to RapidRide B. However, if you plan the reverse trip you’ll get many different route recommendations, most of which do not include RapidRide B. On Metro’s trip planner I get a trip on the 245 transferring to the 249 in Overlake. However, if I switch the departure time to 5:20pm I get trip on RapidRide B transferring to the same 249 recommended above but closer to my destination.
I’ve also seen this problem occur with other trips that involve a transfer at Bellevue Transit Center so I’m guessing there is something wrong with the GTFS data for RapidRide B at that point. I’m going to stop digging here, lest I “go down the rabbit hole” as my wife likes to say. Besides, it’s time for bed – I’ve got to get up tomorrow to actually drive RapidRide.
If you are in the know, feel free to add comments or contact me on Twitter and I can work with you to investigate further.
Update: One person I asked to stop eating pointed out a very valid exception to this rule: Managing blood sugar. By all means, if you have a *valid* medical reason to eat something, please do. It’s better for you to spill a few crumbs than to pass out on my bus if you are a diabetic and took too much insulin. The key here is “valid medical reason” – don’t use a marginal or non-existent medical excuse to justify scarfing down a muffin, Ok? (Last I heard, an apple with peanut butter is a better blood sugar regulator than a muffin, although I’m hardly an expert.)
There seems to be some confusion out there about Metro’s code of conduct so let me just clear it up for everybody. From Metro’s code of conduct:
Trust me, no matter how careful you are: crumbs, nuts, shells, grease, chicken bones, ramen noodles, orange Cheeto dust, chocolate, Doritos fragments, half-eaten Thai dinners, granola bar debris, unknown sticky substances or any other imaginable food residue can easily escape your clutches and make it into and onto the seats as well as the floor. It’s a moving vehicle with people shuffling about, after all.
I’ve seen it all and picked it all up. I’ve also heard “I’ll be careful not to spill” countless times, only to go back during my coach check to find some gross surprise waiting for me. So forgive me if I’m a bit militant about reminding folks of the “No eating” rule. I periodically try to “lighten up” and let it slide, as I did this morning. Of course, then I find muffin crumbs, a crumpled up bag, and used napkins on the seat.
For what it’s worth, I get snarky about this stuff because I ride the bus a lot too and would prefer to sit in seats not covered with food residue.
So, could you hold onto your food until you’re off the bus? This bus driver, also a fellow passenger, thanks you.