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Imagine if Boston traffic lights were coordinated to speed buses

City councilors want to begin working with the MBTA to see if all the computerized traffic lights the city has been installing could be used to improve bus service.

The council agreed with a request from Council President Michelle Wu for a hearing at which both MBTA and city Transportation Department officials would be invited to begin the discussion.

Wu said the T and the city are already working on such a system in the South Boston waterfront area.

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perhaps the City should focus on emergency vehicle priority first.

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Why would one have to be over the other? If you're instituting one, instituting both is just as easy.

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Then again, we do have a form of signaling priority for emergency vehicles courtesy of sirens. The technology that for transit signal priority can also be deployed for ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles. It just requires transponders in both the vehicle and signal, both of which can be calibrated to exact different outcomes depending on the circumstance (and fwiw, many MBTA busses and trolleys on the B and E already have vehicle-based transponders, they just lack the correct pairs for the signals in some cases and in other cases where the signals have been updated, the MBTA and/or the host town hasn't given the go-ahead for activation). For example, a normal transit priority signal doesn't completely supersede a light signal, rather just shortens it upon approach or extends the green so the vehicle can clear the intersection (it's less about absolute priority than it is about slowly making small gains in operational resiliency and scheduling), but you can alter that for emergency vehicles to make a signal change more immediate.

I'd rather have the city focus on both since there's an economy of scale to be gained from cooperation on this front. The City Council's power is already circumscribed, so they'll need a coalition anyways to bring their ideas to fruition.

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we do have a form of signaling priority for emergency vehicles courtesy of sirens.

Which, with the exception of fire engines, no emergency vehicle drivers seem to know how to properly use - that being continuously as you are approaching an intersection. Going "blip blip" five feet from the stop line provides NO useful warning to drivers approaching the intersection from the opposite leg.

And, amazingly, there is currently no state law mandating the use of sirens by emergency vehicles responding to calls.

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it is annoying when the ambulances and fire trucks from the nearby fire station fly down the street with no traffic at 3 am with sirens on continuously.

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No thanks. Go hang out in DC for about 15 minutes and you'll see how terribly that works. Typically it goes something like this:

- The cars in front of the emergency vehicle panic like deer in the headlights, blocking the path anyway.
- The emergency vehicle blares on the air horn in addition to the sirens.
- People still don't get out of the way.

And this happens so often, and is so loud, and on the short blocks you have no idea if that siren is in front of you, behind you, to the left or right, eventually you just stop caring because your life has been reduced to a constant drone of emergency vehicles. Like the boy who cried wolf, they blend into the background.

How about getting a loudspeaker mounted on them so the co-pilot can just shout specific instructions at people to get them out of the way?

Nothing says "move further right" like BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

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There's no reason these two things are mutually exclusive.

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You mean like when Brookline added new computerized traffic signals on Beacon Street, asked the MBTA if they wanted to be hooked into them to get priority, and the MBTA answered (and I quote) "no, fuck our riders"

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This is the first I've heard of this. Could you cite any articles or anything that I can look into for more info?

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This is too messed up to be true. The Green Line is agonizing on Beacon St.

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The year was aught-seven...

Basically, Brookline was tearing up the old system to put in the controlled lights. They asked the MBTA to join in and get the trolleys synced up too. The MBTA said there would need to be a study done (preferably by the city). Brookline said there's no time and we're not doing the study for you, are you in or out. The MBTA said then we're out because they can't move that fast without knowing all the ramifications from their end.

This is more an example of the fact that the MBTA doesn't have the budgetary leeway to make decisions that might have any financial risk to them. They can't risk any speculation or commit to a project that might not give them the greatest return because something else they put the money into might be more lucrative. They are so cash-strapped, that they can't make "good" decisions for fear of missing out on "great" decisions which might keep them afloat. That fear led to them not getting signal priority for the C Line....not a penchant for screwing riders.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/12/02/beacon_gets_smart_l...

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been spending for the equipment and infrastructure for cameras on transit vehicles? "We'll need to do a study" is MBTA code for "We're not interested, and will try to kill this plan off."

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been spending for the equipment and infrastructure for cameras on transit vehicles?

Roadman, stop beating this dead horse. ALL security cameras on the T.. the new ones installed in the past 10-15 years.. were all paid for by a grant from the DHS and TSA. Most transit systems in the US, who did not have modern systems got this grant. This was in response to the Kings Crossing bombing in London.

Also, ANY service effecting change, including things like signal prioritization which would change schedules, will require a study and public input first. If it affects the schedule in any way, whether it's good or bad, a study and/or public comment needs to be done.

We get it, you hate the T, but please stop spreading information that just is not true.

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that WASTING money on POINTLESS things like "security" cameras and bag searches - which do NOTHING to improve the frequency or reliabilityof service, is some how acceptable because the MBTA is forced to spend the money on that stuff or forfeit that money.

When all of us who rely on the MBTA can get to where we're going in a timely manner without the breakdowns and failures that are occurring on a daily basis, then we can talk about placing cameras on vehicles.

The grant system is one of the biggest boondoggles the Federal Government has foisted on transit systems - time for it to go away.

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If you would bother to do some research on how grant money works, and how that money can't be spent on things not covered under grants and contracts, I'd be happy to make that deal.

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I ride the T every day, and have done so since I moved here almost 17 years ago. I, too, would like trains that run and not break down, or buses that don't smell like burning plastic. So I get your complaint about priorities.

However, it's clear you don't understand how grants work. Grant money must be spent on a specific purpose. And it's just not government grants, all grants are like this. (public or private). And a grant with strings can be a good thing. It makes SURE the money allocated for that specific purpose and not spend on other things. There's alot of examples where this has done worlds of good, because as you know, money is often diverted for other things. (Arts projects, PBS shows, culture events and a few others come to mind of good things that grants have done because they funded a specific purpose)

In the case of this grant between the DHS and the MBTA, like I said above, I agree that we could have used that money elsewhere to improve service. But I fully understand how grants work, so I'm not going to get hung up on the fact that the money can't be used elsewhere instead.

And as a daily T rider, I'm glad the cameras are there. As a daily Uhub reader, I see the stuff Adam posts from Transit Police, so they do work, and do serve a purpose.

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I mean I seem to remember several, several cases from the past couple years where somebody committed a crime and those "pointless" cameras in the stations and busses got a good picture of the perp's face, which was then used to catch him.

Would I rather see the MBTA get money from the DOT to improve service? Hell yeah. But the NSA and TSA have all the money to hand out, not the DOT, and they're going to hand out money related to things they actually manage, like security. Should the MBTA leave money on the table just because it goes to other programs? Absolutely not. Can you imagine the Herald? "MBTA SAYS NO TO FREE MONEY, ALSO UNIONS!!!!!"

And you can't just legally agree to take cash to buy cameras and use it to repair busses instead. That's fraud.

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That's a somewhat more persuasive explanation than "the MBTA wants to screw over its riders for no reason" but it's goddamned depressing either way.

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"We need to do a study first" is code for "fuck you." Think of all the other times instant decisions are made without studies, such as adding late night service and then ending late night service.

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Well, it's now 9 years later (amazing that it's been that long already - I remember very much reading about discussing about it back then - with all the annoyance and bewilderment of why would the MBTA not want it). Assuming the reasoning is because the MBTA wanted to find a "great" decision (and what exactly would be this decision - I can't imagine any scenario where accepting the prioritization means risking future opportunities), has any showed up so far? Sure doesn't feel like it.

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But I think considering some of the changes Baker and his FCB want to do, fixing bus routes to streamline them (to save money) would certainly play well into getting connected to these smart traffic lights.

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No, other way around. Brookline didn't want to prioritize green line.

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For a guy who seems so passionate about transit, I would imagine you would be correctly informed about it.

If you don't believe me, here's an article: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/brookline/2011/01/brookline_mulling_...

The article above didn't exactly cite the MBTA say, "we'll need a study". I do admit I was not able to find an article from the 2007 days (jezzz, was it that long ago now that it is now in the past enough that news from back then is no longer easily found via a Google search? But the 2011 shows Brookline is the one making the initiatives and mention that the original push - allegedly "but for various reasons, including turnover at the MBTA" got left behind.

As a source I do remember, though technically not as official as a news article, the disucssion from railroad.net back in 2011 supports this - here's the link http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=65&t=41493&start=15 .

I know my tone is a bit spiteful. I didn't need to give the foreword, but since you have repeated posts about transit. Posting repeatedly MBTA and city transit matters with a penchant to bring up Baker and stuff, I would imagine you would know about still pretty recent events like how the MBTA resisted such obviously good ideas like giving trains signal priority. Rather than paint as Brookline as the one that been holding up this.

Edit: Somehow I missed Kaz's link and his link was able to find the 2007 article.

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C'mon now, the green line needs this (and stop consolidation) desperately. It needs to happen on both fronts.

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When? Where? How do they work? Examples?
Does anyone have any details?

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The city now has a traffic-control center somewhere (downtown?) into which it's been plugging lights and traffic cameras. That's what she was referring to, not some fancy-shmancy new high-techy type signals that you could necessarily go out and look at.

But somebody please correct me if my incredibly limited knowledge of Boston traffic signalization is wrong.

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- also known as preemption - works on an intersection by intersection basis, and is not controlled through a central traffic control center.

Like MassDOT and other cities and towns, the City of Boston has been systematically upgrading the traffic signal controllers at various intersections. These current generation controllers are designed to accommodate priority control by the simple means of adding the detectors.

Of course, priority control only works if the vehicles have emitters to activate the detectors and, thus the pre-emption. I suspect this is the reason the MBTA has traditionally told Brookine and others "hey, we don't want this."

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Roadman is right. Most new emergency light bars on police, fire, EMS vehicles are equipped with traffic light preemption. When the emergency lights are activated, a sensor on the traffic light arm (if so equipped) gives the emergency vehicle a green light. The white strobe lights on the arms of newer traffic signals flash when the system is activated. This works well since first responders aren't racing through the same intersection every few minutes but I'm not sure it would work with the Green Line or buses which are far more frequent and on the same exact route.

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and transit vehicle priority, although based on the same basic principle, are implemented differently in terms of signal operation. Simply put, green traffic signal cycles operate with two basic parameters, minimum green time and maximum green time. Emergency vehicle priority immediately shortens the minimum green time for opposing traffic. Once the light changes,the green time for the roadway approach the emergency vehicle is coming from is set for a pre-determined amount of time - typically the amount of time for the emergency vehicle to clear plus a safety factor.

Transit vehicle priority will always give opposing traffic the minimum green time before changing the light, but will shorten the cycle if a transit vehicle approaches before maximum green time has been reached. Depending on when the "call" comes in the signal cycle, transit vehicle priority may extend the green time for the approach the transit vehicle is on past minimum green, but will never extend the time past maximum green.

This is why implementation of transit vehicle priority in a corridor that has heavy traffic volumes on both the main road and the intersecting ones (like with Beacon Street in Brookline) has to be carefully studied and implemented. Giving streetcars and/or buses an advantage of two or three minutes is of limited benefit to the entire transportation network if the result is much longer delays on intersecting streets.

All that having been said, note that the Beacon Street reconstruction was a MassHighway project, not a Town project. As such, if signal priority was to be considered, any studies would have been done and funded by the state, not the Town or the MBTA.

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Sounds like a bad idea.

IMAGE(http://cdn.makeagif.com/media/11-25-2013/Ayc_9w.gif)

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IMAGE(http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--b8nglHAB--/cjvscomtmisvoxxryu3l.gif)

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Cambridge is doing it with the #1 bus via funding from the 2016 participatory budgeting program.

http://pb.cambridgema.gov/1bus

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While I am all for transit/emergency vehicle priority to break the cycle and return to normal, I've never really understood why this city can't seem to synchronize ANY of its traffic signals. While I know the geography and "plate of spaghetti" or "cowpath" street layout doesn't help, this is the worst city I've seen for signal synchronization.

It is beyond annoying to have a light turn green and then have a light turn yellow and then red 200 feet ahead. And then have the cycle repeat down the street.

I know I've seen the comment before, but with MIT and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center right here, how can we not make this happen?

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We do coordinate traffic signals where possible, but in this city that's not very many places.

Traffic signal coordination works perfectly when you have a straight grid of parallel one-way roads, like Manhattan.

It's also possible to do on two-way streets when you have a grid of perfectly consistently-spaced intersections (though adding in things like left turn phases makes this much harder).

When you don't have consistently-spaced intersections on a grid, the best you can do is coordinate adjacent signals, but even that is only actually beneficial in terms of reducing average delay in certain circumstances. Things like high turning volumes, pedestrian phases, etc. all throw a wrench into signal coordination. You also have to consider that not ALL movements can be coordinated. Maybe the busiest traffic movement is straight through A and left at B, meaning this movement gets coordinated at the expense of straight traffic, because the higher volume of left turns results in lower average delay with coordination. Furthermore, you have to consider situations like limited storage capacity. With closely spaced intersections, it is important to not allow the queue from the downstream intersection to spill into the upstream intersection (when possible), so this may take priority when designing the signal timing plan.

I can demonstrate with diagrams how signal coordination works, and why it wouldn't work in most of Boston sometime, if you'd like.

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Many of them are synchronized for 30 mph. The problem is that's too fast. Late at night, it works fine, but during the day, between people turning, parking, yielding to pedestrians, etc, the average speed is much lower than that. If they timed them for 15 or 20 mph, I suspect it would actually work much better.

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