Q: What's with those bright white lights blinking on buses inside the downtown bus tunnel? Seattle resident Henry Szymonik, who is among...
Q: What’s with those bright white lights blinking on buses inside the downtown bus tunnel? Seattle resident Henry Szymonik, who is among the many riders who have returned to the renovated and reopened bus tunnel, says those flashing lights seem like overkill.
Metro Transit says those lights, strobes attached to the side-view mirrors of buses, are a warning for waiting passengers in the tunnel to stay back from the curb, behind the yellow stripe, so they won’t be hit by the mirror of an approaching bus. That’s a safety concern because the tunnel floor has been lowered 8 inches so the boarding platforms will match the height of a new generation of low-floor buses and future light rail trains. But the lowering also brings the mirrors down to head levels.
Szymonik thinks those strobes are too white, and too bright. “Why do the new lights need to be so bright, and why do they need to flash so rapidly?” he asked. “Having to see those bright, rapidly flashing lights as I was watching for my bus hurt my eyes,” he said. “I actually kept seeing lights an hour later.”
It seems, he said, that low-level red LEDs would be sufficient to accent the side mirrors, and would provide better contrast to the bright-white headlights.
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A: The reason the strobe lights on the side mirrors are so white and so bright is so they will be highly visible to passengers waiting on the platform inside the tunnel, says Mike Lemeshko, supervisor of Metro’s transit-safety unit. The strobes are an extra safety measure to make people aware of the position of the mirrors as the buses move along the platform.
Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke said the agency wanted to make sure that passengers who might have their backs to the platform and the moving buses would be aware of the mirrors, and that is why the lights flash.
It’s true. Someone could be injured if struck by a mirror. “But there’s that potential at any other bus stop, too, depending on your height,” Lemeshko said.
Yellow safety stripes intended to keep people away from the curb are not unique to Seattle, he said. The speed limit for buses as they approach and leave tunnel stations has been lowered from 15 mph to 10 mph. That way, drivers should be able to honk their horns and stop the bus if necessary, Lemeshko said.
The mirror lights are set at low strobe, between one and three flashes per second, “and they shouldn’t blind anybody,” he said. When buses stop, the strobe goes off automatically. Then it restarts automatically when the doors are closed and the bus reaches 15 mph.
Metro had considered using amber lights, Lemeshko said, “but we found that they blended with other marker lights on the buses.” The agency wants the mirror lights to stand out, and doesn’t figure the solid headlights and flashing mirror strobes should be confusing.
“We’re evaluating it as we go along to see how effective it is,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”
But so far, there are no plans to change the lights.
Q: An Everett woman — let’s just identify her by the initials R.T. — wants to get the word out about a traffic frustration: school-zone speed limits.
“I was given a ticket for going 30 (mph) in a school zone,” she confessed. “The sign said 20 when children are present. Well, there weren’t any children present. I contested it, but according to the judge, it doesn’t matter if there are children present.
“Upon investigation, I have found that the law states that one must go 20 when within 300 feet of a school, whether or not there are children present. So that makes all those signs fraudulent.”
R.T. says a co-worker had a similar experience in a construction zone. “He wasn’t going the posted slower speed since it was a Sunday and no one was working. The sign had said 30 when construction workers are present. He was pulled over and given a ticket as well.”
A: This column has reported before the state law (RCW 46.61.440), that specifies 20 mph in a school zone. But the issue may not be so cut and dried.
School districts have jurisdiction over their posted speed signs. And signs can say different things in different jurisdictions. Some specify “when children are present.” Some say “when lights are flashing.” Some specify certain hours of the day.
To his knowledge, there’s not a national standard for school speed limits, said Brian Jones of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
“The state’s preference is to have all districts install flashing lights with signs for 20 mph when flashing,” he said. So, over the past 18 months or so, school districts have been receiving state grant money for new speed signs and lighting in school zones.
But uniformity is not a done deal. And, as R.T. can attest, when it comes to interpretation of the law, courts still have the last word.