Public transit vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists share roads in urban, suburban and rural environments. Signalized intersections in urban areas represent complex shared spaces.
“Intersections are busy places, with passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, pedestrians and bicyclists all sharing space,” notes Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Executive Associate Director Katie Turnbull. “Transit stops are typically located near intersections, with boarding and alighting bus passengers joining other pedestrians crossing the streets. Bicyclists may also be transit riders, getting their bikes on and off buses, or traveling through intersections.”
Crashes involving transit vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists are a concern in Texas and throughout the country. The 2013 National Transit Database reported 657 incidents 836 injuries and 6 fatalities involving transit vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists in Texas. In addition to injuries and the tragic loss of life, these incidents have financial consequences. A 2017 pedestrian fatality in Seattle involving a bus making a right turn at an intersection resulted in a $7.7 million settlement.
“Making shared space safer for all users is the focus of the Texas Department of Transportation [TxDOT] Project 0-6875, Automated Vehicle/Connected Vehicle (AV/CV) Test Bed to Improve Transit, Bicycle, and Pedestrian Safety,” says Research Engineer Wade Odell, TxDOT’s manager on the project. “The safety of all road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists, is paramount to the department. This innovative research project examined using automated and connected vehicle technology to reduce and eliminate crashes involving buses, pedestrians and bicyclists.”
Turnbull and her research team held 25 meetings, four workshops and four roundtable forums in the first phase of the project to identify safety concerns when transit vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians interact, and examined technologies to mitigate or eliminate those concerns. The research identified bus-turning movements at intersections as a safety risk for transit operators, pedestrians and bicyclists. In Phase 2 of the project, TTI researchers evaluated methods to warn pedestrians and bicyclists of turning buses at signalized intersections, and developed and pilot-tested a smart intersection using visual and audible alerts and a beta smartphone app. Researchers surveyed pedestrians at three intersections in Houston and conducted three focus groups with individuals using wheelchairs, transit riders with visual impairments, and individuals with hearing loss to gain further insights into preferred alert methods and messages.
TTI installed a state-of-the-art smart intersection at The Texas A&M University System’s RELLIS Campus to pilot-test the system. Econolite® — a private company that develops intelligent transportation system solutions — donated most of the signal control and detection equipment for the smart intersection. TTI supported construction of the intersection. The TxDOT project provided the first use of the smart intersection.
The application developed for the TxDOT project relies on a bus communicating with the traffic signal equipment using dedicated short-range communication, a radio frequency spectrum allocated by the Federal Communications Commission to support intelligent transportation systems. The smart intersection determines if the bus will be turning at the intersection based on information from a transportation management system and the bus route and schedule. Fisheye cameras and sensors allow the system to detect pedestrians and bicyclists waiting to cross at the intersection. A supplemental bus sign above the pedestrian signal is illuminated, and an audio “Caution, Bus Turning” message in English and Spanish is provided if pedestrians and bicyclists are detected. Researchers also developed and pilot-tested a beta version of a smartphone app.
“The development of the smart intersection represents an excellent example of public- and private-sector collaboration to address key transportation safety challenges,” says Turnbull. “The results from this project and the opportunities for ongoing research using the smart intersection will ensure that all road users benefit from AV/CV technology.”
The successful completion of the proof-of-concept test and a demonstration for the final roundtable forum on Oct. 23, 2018, wrapped up Phase 2 of the project. Participants at the roundtable forum also discussed potential Phase 3 deployment projects.