City Desk

Can You Hear Your Bus Now?

Metrobus is testing out a new audible warning system aimed at pedestrians. As TBD reported earlier, people around town have been encountering buses with the bilingual warnings in English and Spanish. And already, there's a controversy brewing over whether they're too loud.

The anti-Metro blog Unsuck DC Metro posted a recording earlier today of the X8 bus as it maneuvered around some corners at Stanton Park on Capitol Hill, blaring the warning "Pedestrians, bus is turning." Metro, which is trying to rehabilitate its image after a number of high-profile safety lapses (including the June 2009 Red Line train crash that killed nine people), finds itself in a tough position here: Where is the balance between safety and not adding to unwanted audio clutter?

Metro, which has been introducing quieter buses to its fleet, has encountered opposition to noisy buses before. Five years ago on Benton Street NW, one Glover Park resident, Mory Watkins, waged a one-man war against the squeaky breaks of the D2 bus, which disturbed his sleep to the point where, according to The Washington Times, he was "tossing and turning, just waiting for the next screech of the Orion II bus, and the next one and the next one, just waiting and waiting until, finally, he is able to drift off to a fitful sleep out of utter fatigue."

Online, the initial reaction to the pilot project has been negative—the audible announcement are simply too loud—if you think Unsuck Metro DC's irritable commentariat is representative of the general public.

Implementing these types of audible announcements makes sense on a number of levels, especially since it provides pedestrians with visual impairments a warning. Deploying the warnings at intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic and turning Metrobuses— like Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW in Georgetown, Dupont Circle's myriad feeder streets and avenues, "Dave Thomas Circle" near Eckington, and Pennsylvania Avenue downtown, just to name a few—also makes total sense.

But there are quieter residential neighborhoods where many are bound to cry foul when they hear Metrobus' new audible warnings, especially late at night when such noise might carry farther.

Might such a warning have saved the lives of Martha Stringer Schoenborn and Sally Dean McGhee, who were struck and killed by a turning Metrobus downtown in 2007?

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  • Rick Mangus

    More money wasted and you suckers are paying for it by accepting and not saying a word about these fare increases and putting up with this crap! SHEEP!

  • JT

    "Implementing these types of audible announcements makes sense on a number of levels, especially since it provides pedestrians with visual impairments a warning"

    You must be kidding.

    You know what is a warning that a bus is coming? That a friggin' bus is coming.

    If you think people with visual impairments will have trouble avoiding what is already the LARGEST, NOISIEST type of vehicle on the street, well it would be a miracle for them to survive fifty feet from their front door.

    Because, you know, buses are only a tiny portion of traffic on the roads, but they are clearly among the most visible.

    You know why big vehicles make a loud noise when they back up? Because the driver can't see behind him, and people don't expect vehicles to go backwards.

    None of that is true going forwards.

    If a bus driver can't go safely around a corner without an international press release, then he shouldn't be driving. If a pedestrian can't determine whether there's a bus in his path without a bullhorn on that bus, then he shouldn't be walking alone.

  • mark

    Um, no, this is utterly asinine. The bus driver needs to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, for Christ's sake. And on those special occasions when a pedestrian really does need an audible warning -- like when he's crossing mid-block while texting -- I'm thinking the bus driver can use one of those newfangled "horns" on the bus to communicate.

    What we don't need is this Blade Runner-like background noise.