Cyclists say sensors are part of, but not the only, solution to dangerous driving

Kimberly Estrada and Nicolas Johnson
SMC Corsair/Daily Press Staff Writers

Having lost a friend hit by a semi-truck two years ago, SMC Bike Club member Justin Okubo
understands just how tragic traffic accidents can be. He even cited a recent incident where his
friend was hit by a charter bus recently.

“He was riding, and there was some debris in his way, so he had to move out to avoid it,” Okubo said. “The bus passes him too closely… then the draft of the bus just pulls him into it.”

Santa Monica recently began making efforts to address concerns like Okubo’s on City buses. Four months ago, the Santa Monica Mobility Division worked with the Big Blue Bus to install sensors on Big Blue Buses in an attempt to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

These installations are part of a new initiative called the Collision Avoidance System Pilot
Program, offered by the company Mobileye. According to its website, the system consists of four sensors placed on Big Blue Buses that will warn the drivers 2.7 seconds in advance before an imminent rear-end collision.

They also immediately give an auditory and visual warning if the
bus exceeds the speed limit, departs from its lane without a turn signal, or is about to collide with pedestrians or cyclists. The technology has been installed as a one-year pilot program.

Staff said they began thinking about the system in response to an increase in pedestrian usage in the city.
“The recent expansion of the Expo Light Rail line, along with the addition of bike/pedestrian paths and downtown pedestrian scrambles, forecasts changes in pedestrian demand with a likely increase in the number of pedestrians in the City.

Therefore, it is imperative to remain proactive in the goal to reduce collisions and eliminate pedestrian fatalities,” said a report prepared for City Council.

One of the Big Blue Bus drivers, Deborah Morrison, has already experienced driving with the
new system.

“I mean I keep my eyes moving anyway, but it is helpful to the bus system that it
beeps,” Morrison said. “If somebody is crossing in front of the bus, you might be focused on
something else or a passenger, so it’s very helpful.”

Quinton Johnson, a bus passenger who has been using the Big Blue Bus to commute for about
ten years, was also familiar with the sensor system.

Johnson said collisions with pedestrians happened frequently because he often sees passengers put their safety at risk to catch
the bus.

“People try to come out sometimes. Usually they’re mentally ill or just got out the hospital,” Johnson said. “They are trying to stop the bus from missing them.”

Cyclists at Santa Monica College had mixed opinions about the new initiative. Joshua Bonilla,
President of the SMC Bike Club, complimented the efforts of the Big Blue Bus and Santa

“It’s obviously for the safety of the pedestrian and also for the bus drivers to avoid
collisions… it’s a benefit for everyone,” Bonilla said.

“Pedestrians now feel safer knowing there
is a system that will help prevent future incidents.”

However, the Vice-President of the SMC Bike Club, Ali Narimi, thought the sensors are not
addressing the real issue cyclists face.

“They should teach their drivers more to care more about pedestrians first rather than just adding something to the bus,” Narimi said. “A lot of times, has happened when I make eye contact with the driver on the left side and he starts coming in front of me.”

Justin Okubo agrees with Narimi that reckless driving is the main issue behind traffic collisions
with cyclists.

Although he approves of the new system, Okubo says, “I find it kind of sad how
we need sensors to help us say, ‘That’s a human being right there. This is someone’s life we can
possibly endanger …until they [drivers] see us as human beings that have families and just want
to get home safe, I don’t think anything is going to change.”

However, Okubo does conclude that the changes are “a step in the right direction.”

This story was produced as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair student newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press.