Please Don’t Kill Me

I just read that Ontario is now allowing bbusses and streetcars to use the same technology that emergency vehicles are able to use to change traffic signals when they need to get somewhere in a hurry.

The idea is that letting them do so will reduce congestion, speed up bus traffic and get people to their destinations more quickly, which is a fine theory I’ll admit, but the execution has me worried. I do a whole lot of walking and a whole lot of bus riding, and I can’t help but wonder if our Transportation Minister or the CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, both of whom think this is a good idea, have ever actually done the same. Just in case they haven’t, I’d like to share a few observations with them.

  • Any time you manage to save by switching the lights will be all but cancelled out by time spent sitting at a stop waiting for elderly or disabled people to board and find a seat, or by giving directions to people who ask for them.
  • No matter what, transit vehicles are going to find a way to run off schedule.
  • I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is. They’ll run early if they have to if it means messing with somebody’s life, it’s just what they do. But my point is that no bus system in the history of the world has ever been immune to delays, especially ones caused by unexpected circumstances like accidents or stalled cars, both of which happen on a pretty regular basis in most cities.

  • Speaking as a pedestrian, and somewhat more importantly [to me anyway] as a blind pedestrian, I’d like to point out that a fair number of traffic lights aren’t long enough for anybody who isn’t sprinting to make it across the street before they change, and that’s now, when we don’t have anybody other than the occasional emergency response person monkeying with them in order to save a few seconds of travel time.
  • I have no problem with emergency vehicles using this system by the way, I want to make that clear. What I do have a problem with is putting this type of technology in the hands of more people. The more people who use it, the greater chance there is for error, which leads me to my final point.

  • No matter how careful you are, no human is perfect and there’s always a chance that a driver might not see somebody, change the light, and end up running a person down.
  • That’s not to say that once this light changing thing takes off that people are going to start dropping dead left and right, I just don’t think that saving a couple of minutes at most on your way to work or the mall and a person’s life is enough of an even trade to make it worthwhile to take that chance. Besides, if you end up hitting a guy, think of the delays that would cause. We’d probably be right back where we are now, which honestly isn’t that bad to begin with.

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