Andy’s article yesterday about Seoul’s holistic bus redesign mentioned something really interesting: that the city patrols dedicated bus lanes with red light cameras.
“Seoul’s Transport Operation and Information Service (TOPIS) provides citywide enforcement of the lanes using unmanned cameras that confirm the registration of any cars who dare use them illegally within five minutes.”
Vigilant enforcement like in Seoul is one of the five ingredients necessary for effective bus lanes, according to the National Capital Region (NCR)’s Transportation Planning Board 2017 report. While part of this monitoring is police presence, another integral piece is traffic cameras.
American cities might not have the other necessary ingredients (like political will to even install bus lanes), we do have one major ingredient already: traffic cameras.
According to a database compiled by traffic enthusiasts Jonathan Melby and Angela Buffington, there are over 4,000 traffic cameras in the United States: most of these only record cars that run through red lights, but some also capture speed infractions. Could these also be used to capture vehicles illegally using the bus lanes?
New York-based computer scientist Alex Bell used speed and red light cameras to record the number of times the bus lanes and bike lanes near his home were blocked. The New York Times wrote:
Mr. Bell’s project focused on one city block — St. Nicholas Avenue between 145th and 146th Streets — over the course of 10 days. His preliminary findings were stark: Using traffic-camera footage trained on one bus stop and two bike lanes (one for traveling north, the other for heading south), Mr. Bell found that the bus stop was blocked 57 percent of the time, while the bike lanes were blocked 40 percent of the time.
All of this came from one camera mounted on top of a traffic light. It wasn’t supposed to capture this data: Bell downloaded the footage and created his own software to detect illegal uses of the lanes.
But to use traffic cameras to enforce bus lanes, cities need to pass legislation authorizing this. According to NCR’s report, San Francisco and New York are the only cities with this type of legislation, but news broke earlier this year that Washington, DC is considering it as well.
In light of the failure of DC’s temporary bus lane on Rhode Island Avenue – largely because of a lack of enforcement but also inadequate signage for drivers – bus lanes need enforcement to work. Traffic cameras could be the solution. (And luckily, DC already has the most traffic cameras in the country – maybe they could move these to transit corridors.)
Photo of a Baltimore bus lane by BeyondDC