East Palo Alto greenlights pilot program to speed buses on University Avenue for 2021/22

The East Palo Alto city council has authorize an intelligent transit signal priority (iTSP) pilot program on University Avenue. The project will allow non-profit Sustainable Silicon Valley to implement transit signal priority, which involves extending the green light for buses, to five traffic signals between Bay Road and Woodland Avenue. This will speed up bus travel on SamTrans routes 280/281, as well as the Dumbarton U express bus that serves Stanford.

University Avenue in East Palo Alto sees high levels of pass through traffic, as workers travel from the East Bay into Silicon Valley. Although traffic has lessened in the pandemic, it will likely return pending office reopening plans. Vehicle traffic results in increased greenhouse gas emissions and delays bus service, which has higher capacity than private single-occupancy vehicles.

Speeding up buses reduces travel times for riders and increases bus reliability. These improvements can result in increasing the amount of service SamTrans can provide with existing resources, as faster runs allow the same bus to start its next run sooner. This improved experience and potential for more frequent service encourages higher transit ridership, taking cars off the road and reducing congestion for riders and drivers alike.

This pilot program will serve as a proof-of-concept for what is being labeled “intelligent” transit signal priority, or the same priority schema as existing transit signal priority, but with cloud-based technology that eliminates the need to install physical infrastructure at intersections. Instead, buses equipped with wireless GPS devices will communicate with existing traffic signal controllers connected to the San Mateo Smart corridor communication network or wireless cellular modems.

Sustainable Silicon Valley will work with LYT, a company that provides cloud-based mobility software, to gather historic GPS data on SamTrans buses to determine existing bus speeds and signal delay. The project partners will then activate the cloud-based TSP, and prepare a report analyzing the impact of the project. The report will cover the security and reliability of the communication network, the impact of signal priority on bus speeds, challenges, and recommendations for next steps.

If successful, the pilot could result in quicker implementation of transit signal priority with wireless communication instead of installing more costly physical infrastructure.

The staff report for the agenda item did not include information on when exactly the pilot would start, but the proposed agreement would be effective between the present and February 28th, 2022, with extension by agreement of all partners. Thus, the pilot will likely start in 2021 and extend into 2022.