san francisco: cameras will enforce transit lanes

Lanes that protect transit's speed and reliability are only as good as their enforcement.  San Francisco, like many cities, has long had a few lanes whose enforcement was so spotty as to render them advisory.  Now, the city is getting serious, with camera enforcement and significant fines. 

I think another feature will eventually be necessary:  Full painting of bus lanes in the same way that we usually paint bike lanes, along with signage on approaching intersecting streets, so that there is no "I didn't DSCF5960know" excuse.  Sydney, for example, paints its bus lanes deep red, with gaps at the points where cars can cross for turns.

In addition, if you approach as a motorist on an intersecting street, you will see a sign with a lane diagramDSCF5971 of the street you're approaching, so that there's no excluse for turning into a bus lane.  Fines (stiff) are often advertised prominently.


27 Responses to san francisco: cameras will enforce transit lanes

  1. Mikenbondi February 12, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    I’ve been caught in London’s bus-lanes which are fractionally painted, and often only visible once you’re in them. Then there’s the small problem of extricating yourself when the lane you’ve just left refuses to re-admit you. By that time the local authority revenue-gatherers have spotted you and handed out a fine.
    There are also ones in London where it’s unacceptable to go in the lane, even if you’re turning left at the next corner (AND the forward lane is not moving because of obstacles ahead). Apparently revenue-gathering outweighs all considerations in these circumstances too.

  2. Jarrett at February 12, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Mikenbondi.  Would better painting and signage have prevented you from entering the lane? 

  3. Anon256 February 12, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Two problems I’ve observed with the 34th St bus lanes in New York:
    – The lanes were painted red less than two years ago, but the paint has already almost worn off in many places. Keeping the red as bright as is shown in Jarett’s photo is pretty high-maintenance.
    – Some of the most common vehicles to see in the bus lane are parked police cars. Camera enforcement won’t be effective at deterring them.

  4. Rob February 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I’d guess pigmented pavement is probably the better long term solution. It doesn’t have adhesion problems that paint can have for one thing, and doesn’t wear off.

  5. José Madeira de Freitas Garcia February 12, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    The new BRT lanes on Avenida Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro are marked with overhead signs on each block. Since cross streets are one-way, every other block indicates the available turn lanes. Thus approaching a right turn street, the four lanes are marked (with arrow):
    All traffic (forward arrow)
    All traffic (forward arrow)
    Busses only (forward arrow)
    Busses only (forward arrow) and All other traffic (right arrow)
    Non-bus vehicles on the right lane are required to turn right.
    The alternate block is marked:
    All traffic (forward arrow and left turn arrow)
    All traffic (forward arrow)
    Busses only (forward arrow)
    Busses only (forward arrow)
    The signs are clear and there’s no deniability. They’re also well-respected in practice.

  6. Simon Minelli February 13, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    As some people have already noted, there are concerns about the durability of the paints in cold climates where they use harsh salts. In my hometown, Mississauga, Ontario, they are running a pilot project with a small patch. They already have a bus lane with pigmented pavement as mentioned above and it seem to be holding up really well so this might be the ideal solution.

  7. Alex B. February 13, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    Automated enforcement is generally a good thing – it can help shift behavior in a positive way.
    The trick is that such enforcement works best with bright-line rules, and rules that are enforced as such.
    In DC, there are a lot of automated enforcement cameras. The ones for red light running work well and are generally accepted by the public, as running a red light is a bright-line distinction. There’s been talk of expanding these to include infractions for blocking the box, where some folks feel this is a more subjective violation (sometimes you get stuck in an intersection through no fault of your own) that’s inappropriate for automated enforcement.
    Speed cameras are trickier. It’s one thing for a camera to issue a ticket for speeding on an appropriately signed and designed street, but there have been some instances of grade-separated highways with rather low limits relative to their design speed, and drivers feel targeted for revenue.
    Bus lanes represent something else, too – I think the trick will be in communicating the law, identifying the lanes, and making violations as much of a ‘bright line’ kind of rule as possible will be critical to success. It’s also vital that people see this as a step towards efficiency, safety, or some other public purpose. Speeding on a residential street is a safety hazard. Going 65mph on a freeway designed for 65mph, but signed at 45mph isn’t as much of a hazard, and the driving public sees that as a revenue grab or some sort of entrapment.

  8. Jarrett at February 13, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Alex.  Again, very clear markings of a bus lane make bus lane violations a "clear line".  The painted line is just like painted lines in tennis; the camera can see very easily which side of it you're on.  J

  9. Alex B. February 13, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    I agree, the clear lines for the bus lanes would be legally sufficient – but in terms of shaping behavior, I think more will be needed to show that drivers are not allowed in those lanes.
    As you note, painting will likely have something to do with it, but I’d imagine a great deal of signage will also be necessary.
    The red light cameras work, in my mind, not just because the rule is a bright-line one, but also because the rule is ingrained in every step of a driver’s education. This is less true with speed limits, where I learned how fast you could expect to go without risking a ticket, for example.
    I wonder if some of the work on separated, in-street bike lanes could help, too. Some strategically placed flex posts and other such visual cues might help with creating a self-enforcing space.

  10. Jarrett at February 13, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I've also seen very small raised bumps used on the edge of the lane, noticeable to a motorist but not to bus passengers.

  11. Mikenbondi February 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Oh bum. My very long response yesterday has been swallowed by the site.
    The short version is that better painting and signage _may_ have stopped me entering the site:
    * Kerbside signage is usually inadequate as it often gets concealed by buses & trucks.
    * painted roads don’t work if visibility is poor ( dark wet nights for example ) and I know this to be true in Sydney
    … and it’s easy to make the mistake of following another vehicle into a kerbside lane when it turns after a stopped bus. It often just looks like another lane has opened up.

  12. Mikenbondi February 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Automated enforcement is often unforgiving of driver error, particularly on roads that the driver is travelling for the first time.
    As I noted in my first post, it’s easy to enter a restricted lane by accident but can be difficult to leave it. Is it then better to keep driving and not obstruct that lane, or to stop dead until you can re-enter your original lane? Answers on a postcard please.

  13. Jarrett at February 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Mike.  See here for how to deal with "swallowing long posts":

  14. Eric Doherty February 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Here in Vancouver Canada, a lot of our bus lanes are in effect during peak periods only. I think most of these should be switched to 24/7 in some form (I have been delayed up to half an hour on the 99B-line bus because of parking in the bus lane and off-peak congestion).
    But in the meantime, perhaps some form of electronic signage combined with bus mounted cameras would be effective (and cost effective). Is anyone aware of examples of this? Or any effective method of stopping people from driving and stopping in peak-only bus lanes that also reduces the ‘didn’t know’ factor?

  15. Mikenbondi February 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Unfortunately it didn’t supply a rejection message.
    I assumed it had gone off for moderation. Ho hum.

  16. Wesley Kirkman February 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Fantastic. I’ve often been waiting on the transit islands in the same situation pictured in the article you linked to — standing right next to a car stopped in the bus lane at a red light, so the bus couldn’t make it to the island. Once, when this happened, a police car with his window rolled down was stopped in the other (non-transit) lane. I asked him if he was going to ticket that person for being in the transit lane; his response was “people gotta get where they are going.” I guess transit users don’t count as people in his book.
    Certainly there will be a lot of wailing about privacy infringement.

  17. Alai February 14, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    If the cameras are very efficient at giving out tickets, it might be worthwhile to allow a freebie for each person (or license plate, or whatever). It would put a big dent in revenues, no doubt, but probably have close to the same deterrent power, while greatly reducing the antagonism.

  18. Dave February 14, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    @Wesley; if you’re on a public road, I see no privacy issues… can you elaborate?

  19. Greg in Osaka February 14, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    A proud moment for me as an Australian was when a former prime minister (whom I generally admire greatly) was fined for driving in a Sydney bus lane. He had pleaded guilty to using the bus lane to “shuffle” through congestion after a sporting event.

  20. Greg in Osaka February 14, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    @Alai, great idea.
    In my home state of Victoria, Australia (of which Melbourne is the capital) there is, rightly or wrongly, a lot of cynicism surrounding traffic fines. They are seen, by some, purely as revenue raising.
    The idea of one “free pass” or an emphasis on “demerit” points may reduce such cynicism. “Demerit” points where infringement may accumulate towards suspension of a licence, higher renewal fees or in Japan being dragged in for a public lecture, could be such an alternative or associated deterrent.

  21. EngineerScotty February 14, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    While bus lanes are not as common in the US as they ought to be, the fact that asphalt is frequently used for paving streets in ‘Merica suggests one obvious strategem:
    Auto lanes paved with asphalt, bus lanes with concrete. Already many bus stops and their approaches are concrete on otherwise-asphalt streets, given the penchant for the high axle load of city busses to chew up asphalt. In the daytime, it’s obvious.
    And there’s always the “bus track” like EmX in Eugene does–busses drive on narrow strips of pavement (set in grass or some other porous surface), one for each set of tires. Looks like fat concrete rails. Cars don’t even try to use the bus lane there (or if they do it’s rare).

  22. Ben Smith February 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    In Ontario it is law to yield to a bus merging back into traffic. Obviously, this is not always adhered to. I think this would be a great opportunity to put in cameras. It could help improve safety and generate much revenue from selfish drivers.
    On a personal note, on numerous occasions I’ve been honked at for yielding to the bus by idiots who can’t read the yield sign on the back of the bus.

  23. Corey Burger February 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    Mikenbondi, I understand your concern, but my fear is this: If you cannot seem to realize you are in a bus lane, how are ever to see the pedestrian or the cyclist? Your inattention is going to kill people (literally).

  24. Al Dimond February 20, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    @Corey: Driving in unfamiliar places really can be confusing. In cities the total amount of stuff to watch for can really be overwhelming. You turn right onto a road (in a right-driving country) and you turn into the right-most lane, as you do most places. But this time it’s a bus lane. You’ve been watching for pedestrians as you make your right — you’re looking straight forward at them, not down at the pavement for markings.
    For this reason, having a single “free pass” for offenses that are minor and unintentional makes sense because it removes this fear of being fined for making a small mistake on an unfamiliar street. When people blatantly queue-jump or block the lane for significant amounts of time, book ’em the first time. If the free pass is really limited to truly unintentional violations, heck, give people one per year. Show that your intentions aren’t just raising revenue and you’ll get more support.

  25. Nathanael Nerode March 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    I’m wondering how long it takes before you realize that building lots of solid-concrete, differently-colored, camera-enforced exclusive bus lanes ends up being a more expensive, less durable, more carbon-intensive bus-technophile version of building railway tracks.

  26. Wesley Kirkman March 8, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Sorry Dave, just noticed your question. I guess I was just referring to all the Freedom Avengers in the US. Those people get riled up about red-light cameras; I’ve even heard of lawsuits being made against jurisdictions with such cameras. I assume they’ll be in out in force in response to these cameras. Hopefully SF Muni can keep the cameras in operation.

  27. Public Parking San Francisco July 22, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    For transit-only lanes to operate effectively within a city, they must remain clear for the next transit vehicle. But many drivers, frustrated with the crowding of the car lanes, drift into a roomy transit one out of either ignorance or contempt. The problem requires a lot of manpower to enforce, and therefore often goes unenforced.