Can You Hear Your Bus Now?

By Michael E. Grass - City Desk
|  Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010  |  Updated 7:30 AM EDT
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Can You Hear Your Bus Now?

NBCWashington.com

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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?

Can You Hear Your Bus Now? was originally published by Washington City Paper on Nov 9, 2010

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