Test of bus control of lights praised

November 25, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

An experimental system that allows Mass Transit Administration buses to control traffic signals on Ritchie Highway has been hailed as a success that deserves to be duplicated elsewhere.

Buses, outfitted with infrared transmitters, were able to extend green lights -- or even scoot through some red lights -- under a pilot program begun June 1 by the MTA and the State Highway Administration.

"It was a very positive exercise and demonstration," said John A. Agro Jr., the MTA's administrator.

The experimental system shortened the run by about three minutes -- a 13 percent to 18 percent reduction in travel time on the 10-mile portion of the bus route where the lights were altered.

"I think that's a pretty significant time savings," said Mr. Agro.

The full run on the MTA's No. 210 route between Annapolis and Baltimore normally takes 52 minutes.

The improved performance probably has not attracted new riders to the No. 210 Flyer, which averages about 150 passengers a day, MTA officials said. But the fact that passengers know their bus never has to stop at a traffic signal sends a positive message, Mr. Agro said.

"When buses are given priority, our operators feel that, and our customers feel that," he said. "That's something you can't measure."

Thirteen traffic lights on Ritchie Highway from Annapolis to Route 100 and one on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard have been involved in the $155,000 experiment financed by the federal government.

Operating like a television remote control device, the test system uses a pulsing infrared light signal transmitted by the bus and picked up by a receiver mounted on the traffic signal pole.

The system, called Opticom, is made by Minnesota-based 3M Co.

The system not only extends green lights up to one minute, but also allows buses approaching some red lights to pass through an intersection as traffic remains stopped in all other directions.

Critics had wondered if the sight of buses running red lights might not cause other drivers to tag along, but that has not happened, said Thomas Hicks, director of the SHA Office of Traffic and Safety.

"I don't think you can hang your hat on this and say you can do it everywhere," Mr. Hicks said, "but I think we really have something here and we should try it elsewhere."

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