Monthly Archives: May 2010

The other C

The other C signalThe other “C” signal

I can’t believe I never noticed this..  I mean, I’ve gone through that intersection how many times, and it never caught my eye. Though I guess to be fair I never needed to look at that particular spot of this intersection.

I had originally thought there was only one “C” signal (at Skidmore Fountain going west) and I was aware that there used to be one at Library/SW 9th, but meanwhile this one at 11th & Yamhill has been there all this time and I never noticed it until it was pointed out to me in the comments of that other post.

Where it's locatedIn context

You learn something new every day!  Of course by now I’m so attuned to watching for so many things that it’s hard to remember a time not knowing where they all were… no doubt I’m never going to *not* notice this signal again!

Chillaxin’ On the MAX

Question: Wasn’t there an officially produced rap about MAX?

Answer: Oh yes.

promo cardI can’t make something like this up.

LyricsLyrics on back of promo card

I own the cd.  Of course.
Don’t lie, you would’ve gotten one too if presented with the opportunity.Chillaxin CD

This was done in 2004 for the opening of the Yellow Line, and was a joint effort produced through TriMet, Sabin Community Development Corporation, and local duo Dynamix. The purpose was to create a public service announcement promoting safe behavior on and around trains to youth by making it cool to look both ways and follow the rules.  The song features include a sampling of some radio transmissions between operators and Control along with train bells and the sound of a moving train.

I’m not going to leave you with only a description of the song. Here it is – “Chillaxin’ on the MAX” in its entirety.  Don’t say I never gave you anything.

Anything to help promote safe behaviors around the trains, you know?

I heard a rumor that there actually is a music video produced for this along with several video PSAs.  Not sure if it’s true of a full-length video, but we do have a video PSA for it now.

~~chillaxin’ on the MAX, you know we be glidin’~~

Decision Point Markers

Okay, back to train stuff.  Here’s a neat safety feature built into the alignment on Burnside (Blue Line) and Interstate (Yellow Line) – the decision point marker.

Decision Point Marker BurnsideDecision Point Marker on Burnside

Decision point marker InterstateDecision Point Marker on Interstate – since the rail is embedded in pavement here they look a little different, but the function is the same.

As you may recall, both Burnside and Interstate are in pre-empt territory, meaning intersections with auto traffic are protected by pre-empt signals, not crossing gates.

Recall that the permissive pre-empt signal aspect is a white vertical:

White Vertical

A rail operator traveling down Burnside or Interstate cannot enter a pre-empted intersection unless their signal is displaying that white vertical. But unlike the pre-empted intersections downtown where the speed limit is 15mph or below (a relatively slow speed to stop from if a white vertical is not yet displayed), the speed limits on Burnside (35mph) and Interstate (30mph) are much higher, and not as easy to stop a train from.  The intersections are also farther apart on Burnside and Interstate than they are in other pre-empted areas such as Holladay and Washington – both of which still run slower than Interstate and Burnside.

So, someone did the math to figure out if a train is going 30 (or 35) miles per hour, and then applies the strongest braking mode permissible to use in normal service (called the Maximum Service Brake, or MSB), how many feet does the train take to stop? It’s about 400 feet at 35 mph under ideal conditions. The decision point markers were then placed between the rails that many feet prior to each pre-empted intersection – orange tents on Burnside; orange reflectors on Interstate.  If an operator reaches the decision point marker and their pre-empt signal is still displaying a yellow horizontal (which indicates stop and does not permit them to enter the intersection), they must immediately apply the MSB braking in order to smoothly and safely stop the train before entering the intersection.

Decision Point Marker on InterstateAnother Interstate picture

One of many safety features built in that commuters never need to think about, but it’s a very good thing that they’re there – they take the guesswork out of how to best stop the train if the white vertical does not come up.

Why Sandi Day was cleared of criminal wrongdoing

I know, it’s another post not about trains.  Sorry.  But consider answering this question to be just one of the many services I provide.

Yesterday the grand jury’s findings were released that Sandi Day, the TriMet bus operator who struck 5 people in a crosswalk as she was making a left turn, killing two, would not be charged with criminally negligent homicide.

Official report here.

And because everyone on the internets is a legal expert (amirite?) hundreds of comments on news sites all over the Portland metro area have Portland’s most charming individuals weighing in with their learnèd legal opinions, most saying they have no idea how Day can walk free, others saying she should go put a bullet in her head.  Nice, eh?

Here’s the thing – the question that was asked in this investigation was not “Was Day at fault?” or “Should Day just go back to driving a bus and put this whole thing behind her?”  No!  The question was “Does this incident meet our standards for criminally negligent homicide?

Since a lot of people seem to be struggling with what that means, I’ve got a perfect example for you.  A few years ago I was summoned for jury duty for the case of Samuel Allen Wilson (I did not serve on the jury, I was #10 in the box but was removed by the judge at the end of voir dire. Out of interest I followed the case anyway).  I’ll summarize that incident for you:

Wilson, at the age of 18, was arrested for drunk driving after he was going down a one-way street in Portland the wrong way.  His license was suspended and he enrolled in diversion classes, promising never to do it again.

The next day, for “sentimental reasons”, he wanted one last ride in his car.  He downed a beer at a friend’s house and a glass of whiskey at his own, pushed his car out of his parents’ driveway so they wouldn’t hear the engine and took off.  He saw a patrol car on Murray by Sunset, turned his lights off and made an illegal turn towards NW Cornell Rd.  He was going about 45-50 miles when he got to the stop sign by Joy Rd, skidded through the right-only turn, hit the median and went airborne into the door of nurse Betty Sherman’s car, killing her.

That, boys and girls, is what the criminally negligent homicide charges are meant for.

Now compare that with Sandi Day, who was not distracted, intoxicated, or using a cell phone.  Following TriMet’s own policy, she dropped off an elderly passenger at his request before making a left turn. A combination of inconsistent lighting, the dark clothes worn by the pedestrians, other vehicle traffic passing through, her position after making the courtesy stop, and the mirrors creating blind spots on her bus meant that she did not see the five people in the crosswalk as she made her left turn.

Is it tragic? Absolutely.  Is it on the same level as Samuel Allen Wilson’s drunk joyride?  No. The jury’s findings were exactly as they should have been in this instance.  As far as I know she still can face civil charges, but no, she was not criminally negligent based on the precedents of what criminal negligence means. And for all of the people crying foul over the result, I hope you’re the same people that try to weasel your way out of jury duty when you get summoned, because I do not want you on mine should I ever be in the situation to need one.

To put things in perspective

A pause in the train stuff because this needs to be said.

The above video, put together by ewedistrict on Flickr, depicts every arrival of a TriMet bus at a stop from 4AM to 12-midnight on a weekday.  It’s not a perfect depiction of bus movement, as it doesn’t show buses deadheading out of service to or from the garages or buses that get pulled in to make a bus bridge whenever rail goes out of service, but it’s a really good representation otherwise.

Lots of little dots moving, right?  I mean, downtown (in the very center of the map) has so many buses in it at one time that it just looks like a giant black dot.

And nearly 365 days per year every year,


You know what?  That’s pretty impressive.

I am not saying this to trivialize the deaths of the women in the recent bus crash. I fully realize that an operator making a mistake behind the wheel of a 40′ 17-ton bus can have catastrophic and deadly results. But I am sick of every idjit and their mother crawling out of the woodwork to demonize TriMet operators as a whole.

This spreadsheet of fatalities has been floating around since the left turn incident several weeks ago which killed two women, listing fatalities involving a TriMet bus since 1988 up to but not including that incident.  There are 30 deaths listed, however some are clearly not the fault of the bus operator:

– 2 people died from shootings on the buses
– another person died when they rear-ended a bus and their car burst into flames.
– 3 bicycles running into a bus
– a pedestrian running in front of a bus
– two cars turning in front of buses

Two other deaths seem to be freak accidents – two people fell (reason why they fell not given) on separate buses and both died about two weeks later – one of pulmonary failure and one of a head injury. There’s also the vague 1988 fatality that just says it was a passenger. And one operator death, which I know the circumstances of but they’re not listed on the pdf, so I’m not going to go in detail about it.

As for the other ones, it’s hard to say who was at fault when it’s just listed as a collision.  I’ve already written about people doing unsafe things around trains, so it’s not impossible to think that some of those other fatalities may have been caused by similar factors.

So let’s see…  that’s 13 deaths that don’t seem to have anything to do with the fault of the operator behind the wheel, meaning 17 or so that may have.  17 deaths in 22 years, and all of those little grey dots covering the Portland metro area interacting with cars and pedestrians and cyclists and jaywalkers and red light runners day after day?

Yeah, your odds of being killed due to a TriMet bus operator’s negligence is really, really low.  Consider this:

Portland Traffic Fatalities

That’s a chart of traffic fatalities in Portland through 2008 (if anyone can find data for 2009 I’d be happy to post it but this was the most recent I could find). Even in 2008, the lowest year yet, there were still 20 fatalities – more fatalities in one year than TriMet operator-at-fault bus fatalities over the last 22 years altogether.

In other words, you are far more at risk of being killed by a car than a TriMet bus.

I’ve been on foot all over the Portland metro area – downtown, Beaverton, Tigard, Gresham, you name it.  Only once did I ever feel concerned about being hit by a TriMet bus (I was on a corner downtown waiting to cross, and a bus made a right turn in front of me, cutting the corner close and going over the curb with their back tires).  I can’t even begin to name the number of times in the last *week* that I was worried about being hit by a car – cars that ignore pedestrian crossing signs at intersections that aren’t signalized, cars that want to turn right on a green light and don’t check for pedestrians, cars that come flying out of driveways without scanning the surrounding sidewalk first, and on and on and on…

Granted, I was only able to find data on fatalities for both Portland auto traffic and TriMet bus operations, so I don’t have non-fatal accidents and incidents for comparison.  Yes, I have been on buses that had lousy operators – either inappropriate conduct with passengers or poor driving skills (and in one case, both) but those operators are few and far between.  And don’t forget that it doesn’t make the news when a pedestrian runs out or a car unexpectedly swerves in front of the bus and the quick thinking & reflexes of the operator prevents a horrible accident.  Ask any operator how many times a day they deal with that – especially those whose routes go through downtown.

The actions of a few bad drivers at TriMet, who are very much in the minority, cannot be generalized to the bus operator population as a whole.  For the bad drivers who are still working there – fine – weed them out.  And while we’re at it, let’s crack down on HR’s hiring and retention practices with regard to bus operators. Do we know they’re doing the best job they can to hire and keep safe drivers and get rid of the bad ones?

I get it that it’s trendy or edgy or something to hate TriMet operators, especially the bus drivers. Even the media is quick to jump to operator blame – as a recent example, check out the original story about a recent separation of a father & son on the train (largely in part due to the father being too busy on a cell phone to mind his young son and keep him from running around out of control on the train) but several news outlets ran half-cocked saying the train negligently left the boy behind before the actual facts and video clearly showing otherwise were released.

So what say we stop blaming all of the good operators out there for everything from soaring autism rates to male-pattern baldness, because all those moving pieces across Portland on a daily basis and an average of less than one fatality per year?  On the whole, they’re doing a pretty amazing job safely getting people where they need to go without incident.

Update – 05-19-10: The driver of the bus in that accident, Sandi Day, has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, though the potential for a civil case still remains. Read the full report from the district attorney here.