Why you need to get your public transit on Signal Priority

Transit Signal Priority.png

So Transit Signal Priority (TSP) is this amazing piece of transit technology you've probably not heard of. 

You need to advocate for it, however, because it's complex and initially expensive, but the benefits in any environment with public transit would be astronomical. 

The idea is simple. Any time a bus or a trolley comes to a lighted intersection, a sensor on the light recognizes it and extends a green light or reduces the time on a red light so to give more efficiency to the public system. 

If you've ever been on the Green Line in Boston, you'll be scratching your head as to why no one thought of this sooner, as the line is a use of last resort for most Bostonians. But this could work anywhere, as bus systems could use it too, especially after the aging subway systems of Washington D.C. are seeing massive shutdowns for maintenance, New York's subway isn't currently doing a lot better and Boston's MBTA is just, well, still paying off the Big Dig ($8 billion was taken from the public transit service to pay overages for the vehicular transport quagmire that became the Big Dig in Boston).

Anyway, this system has worked wonders in the Netherlands, and U.S. cities have taken note. The transit authorities of Boston and New York, as well as those in Birmingham Alabama are looking at the system to improve service. San Francisco, which will do anything you ask if you slap a progressive stamp on it (just kidding San Fran, but it can look that way from the outside), is already experimenting with the idea.

But like so many good ideas these days, like legalized weed, prostitution and wooden shoes, it's coming out of the Netherlands. The Dutch have streamlined their trolley service so that it's almost impossible for one trolley to get stuck at a red light in normal or even heavy traffic. It's insane, especially considering an article two years ago in the NYC.Streetsblog.org said that NYC is years behind implementation of such a system for their buses and Boston is still in the early stages, according to MBTA Spokesperson Joe Pesaturo.

So advocate. The better the public transit options, the more people will take them and the less traffic you selfish drivers will have to deal with. We should also start thinking about advocating to our friends, as it is not uncommon in my experience for people to have fears of public transit. Everyone has their own reasons, but in the age where everything is recorded on someone's phone somewhere, the personal safety of those on the subway isn't really in all that much danger (that's not to say you're free from being grossed out by people, sorry, that's never going to go away).

Public transit is the only way we're going to fix congestion. Look at Hartford, Connecticut. For years, residents complained about a lack of parking, and then the city implemented a huge development of parking in the city, but they put in tons of surface lots. Now the city isn't more accessible, and the loss of property revenue is hurting the city, to the point where the Courant.com reported last year that Parking Craters, which are plaguing urban areas around the country (sorry Hartford, it's not you, it's me).

America has a love-hate relationship with cars. We love the insular environment a car gives us, it cuts us off from having to deal with people, but public transit is the only thing that's going to let us travel without traffic in the future. We need to all advocate (if we changed that word to avacadoate, maybe we can get more millennials on board?) for improvements to transit, but the TSP is the best-looking and cheapest option, though it's not without its problems. 

For buses, the problem becomes the side streets that buses don't generally travel down. More time in green on the main arteries of a city will mean more time in the red for the side streets. It's a subtle bit of teasing that will have to go on in a traffic engineer's calculations, which, from what I've been talking to advocates of the TSP in Boston at least, has been the main reason for the MBTA dragging its feet on this. I imagine it's a similar concern in NYC and other major metro areas, but I honestly' don't have that information. That doesn't excuse Boston, as there is no such obstruction for the Green Line streetcar system. 

So get out there and complain. We need to advocate for this and get our public transit going. Maybe the revenue could help build some decent infrastructure. Probably not, but I can dream.

“Remember, I'm pullin' for ya, we're all in this together.”

Red Green