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What are those weird poles at the Main Street bus stops?

The metal poles at some Main Street bus stops will carry real-time bus arrival displays this fall.

The metal poles at some Main Street bus stops will carry real-time bus arrival displays this fall.

If you’ve been to Main Street lately, you might have noticed that some bus stops have gained a weird metal pole that juts out horizontally.

Well, they aren’t just bizarre metal sculpture art! The poles are for real-time bus arrival displays, which will be installed by the fall.

The displays are part of the Main Street Urban Showcase Project, an innovative transportation improvement program launched in 2004 and jointly funded by Transport Canada (through the Urban Transportation Showcase Program), TransLink and the City of Vancouver.
(Check out the official Main Street Showcase page for more on the project!)

A broad suite of improvements like urban design (like bus and pedestrian bulges), new transit technology (including these displays), and a fleet of larger buses (the new trolleys on the #3 route!) all contribute to more efficient traffic flows and make Main Street more welcoming for pedestrians, drivers, and transit riders, in turn serving the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

An example of the real-time information displays that will be installed at 29 Main Street stops. (Although the 301 Rotnes is not coming to Main St!)

An example of the real-time information displays that will be installed at 29 Main Street stops. (Although the 301 Rotnes is not coming to Main St!)

So the real-time arrival displays are just another feature to improve the transit experience and make your wait a bit less onerous.

The displays will be installed at 29 stops: stops with high volumes of riders, and stops with transfers to other routes. Information from the GPS system on the buses is used to estimate the next bus’s arrival time.

They’re similar to the displays previously found on the 98 B-Line route—however, a key difference is that we’re using a different supplier with improved technology.

As well, in the coming months, we’re working to let on-bus technology ‘talk’ to traffic signals to help keep the buses on time—this is also known as “transit signal priority,” and it’s explained quite well on this page. (I’ll have more on that when the project gets underway!)

And by the way, Main Street was chosen for this pilot project because is the busiest local bus route in Metro Vancouver — it carries more riders than many light rail systems in North America!


50 Comments

  • By ben K, August 10, 2009 @ 11:16 am

    I hope that the signs will display either the time-until-next-arrival, or the wall-clock time of the projected arrival along with the current time. (From the photograph, it’s hard to tell what “ca 19:47” means, but if it intends to say “about 7:47 p.m.”, such information is of course useless without a reference point for “now”.)

    This seems like a no-brainer comment, but I’ve found a similar design flaw in the phone-based trip planner: at the beginning of the announcement, it indicates the current time. Then, after the slow-paced verbiage, it eventually gives the arrival times of the requested routes. However, more frequently than not, by that point the listener has either forgotten or not paid attention to what the “now” time was. To say “next trip in 3 minutes” would be more useful than “next trip at 11:20 a.m.”.

    -b

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 10, 2009 @ 11:22 am

    Thanks Ben. There’s a number of ways to display the arrival data actually — I think the example photo is in German? Also, I’ve been told that unlike the example photo, the format of the display will be a countdown to arrival (ex. 3 Main, 4 min).

  • By Ben K, August 10, 2009 @ 11:25 am

    Test.

    I just posted a lengthy comment, but it did not appear. Are these posts pre-moderated? (I forget.) There seems to be no text indicating one way or another though. So this is a test to see if this comment immediately appears, in which case, I will presume the disappearance was a fluke and then make an effort to re-compose the substance of what I wrote.

    On the other hand, if comments are queued and moderated, forgive my impatience and please throw this one out. =)

    b

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 10, 2009 @ 11:25 am

    No, they’re not moderated — they just take a while to go up for some reason. The server containing the Buzzer blog is behind a firewall: I think that has something to do with it.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 10, 2009 @ 11:27 am

    I should add: I’ve flagged this as an issue and web staff are looking at it!

  • By Ben K, August 10, 2009 @ 11:28 am

    Excellent then, sounds great. =)

    (and I hereby cower shamefully for my public display of misplaced impatience with the comment thingy)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 10, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    Cowering not needed! It’s a weird issue. I know if I posted a comment on a blog and it didn’t show up until 10 minutes later, I’d figure something was wrong or there was some tinkering going on in the background.

  • By ;-), August 10, 2009 @ 11:53 am

    Any ideas when we will see real-time data on the mobile site?

  • By Kin Lo, August 10, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

    I just remembered, when I went to Banff, I saw those signs. And if you want to know how many buses there are in Banff, only four!

  • By ;-), August 10, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    Extending Ben’s comments above….

    I mention this before but it still an issue.

    I discovered if I post with Internet Explorer 8 (like 80% of the world), my comments will be ignored. Version 6 and 7 we’re OK. But when MS updated the browsers, I was helpless. It took me weeks to discover this pattern.

  • By Matt L, August 10, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

    First, if it carries more passengers than many light rail systems, why isn’t it converted to light rail? Let’s get some needed rapid transit upgrades, European style!

    Second, I’d rather see the real time information made available in an API rather than just on the mobile site. Let us do all kinds of mash-ups with it as developers, free app development for Translink then! Speaking of which, where’s the release of the GTFS feed at?

    Finally, something is broken with your comment section, the instant I load the page it’s pre-filled in with this Ben K guy’s name, email address and website. That ain’t good.

  • By Elfren Ordanza, August 10, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    That is nice to see. Why can’t they do this to all of the stops like around Greater Vancouver?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 10, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    Erp… that’s a known (and awful) issue with the Buzzer blog.

    We’re just as keen to get the GTFS data out to you! The only snag is that the map data that we use is owned by the Province — it’s part of the Provincial Road Atlas. We are currently in talks with them to allow the GTFS feed out… and that is still ongoing.

    As for light rail: any kind of rail development is expensive to implement, and as you may know, we’ve got some ongoing funding challenges at the moment :(

  • By ;-), August 10, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

    Can’t we just strip out the map data? We only need the time the next buses will arrive at that given location, adjusted for delays.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 10, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

    Elfren:

    Well, it basically comes down to an issue of cost. The displays are a relatively expensive way to provide information that is justified mainly for high-volume stops. But for Main Street, the federal government helped provide funding for these displays, as it’s part of the Main Street Urban Showcase, a federally funded transportation program.

    As well, the City of Vancouver, another of our partners in this project, helped facilitate the installation of the displays. In general municipalities are responsible for the shelters, benches, etc at almost all stops in the region — so the City agreed to have the displays in the stops, and worked to get power installed at the stops so the displays can run.

    However, this doesn’t mean that no information will come to other stops. While the bulk of planning was completed for Main Street a while ago, TransLink has begun a regional wayfinding study, trying to figure out how best to bring customers information out on the system. Real-time information displays are one relatively expensive option, but a wide range of other tools for information provision are also under consideration for stops across the region.

    The other tools might include maps and schedules at bus stops (different design than existing), more visible bus stop flags, on-street pedestrian-oriented maps or new station-area maps, and newly designed paper maps. Below are some links to examples from other cities of pedestrian-oriented maps as well as maps and schedules posted at bus stops.

    http://www.luminantdesign.com/work/examples/portland.html

    http://www.alpha-ezl.org/images/train_bus_stop.jpg

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/acencini/2513570689/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/35094885@N08/3795285840/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/orcmid/3801837212/

    http://seattletransitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/departures-full
    .png

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_9gyA0tzaNA0/RfhO3LlB_qI/AAAAAAAAAZg/8jcLI2Wtl6
    I/s640/IMG_1041.jpg

  • By Colton K, August 10, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    Great blog Jen! I love it.

    It would be nice if Translink would fix the existing 98 B-line real-time information displays, most of them are broken, for example the one at Burrard and Robson has been displaying the wrong time (by about 18 hours) for the last six months.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 10, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    Colton: Sadly, the 98 B-Line will be discontinued as of Sept 7, so I’m not certain we will get to those displays :(

  • By Dennis, August 10, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

    I’m also looking forward to the GTFS release. :)

  • By Dale, August 10, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

    When commenting about Main Street, what does it mean “…all contribute to more efficient traffic flows”? What and How?

  • By Dan, August 10, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

    Jhenifer,

    What is happening with the “older” GPS system on the Richmond Artics (The 8000 Series) used for the 98 B-Line. Rumors that i heard it will be scrapped and the new TMAC system will be installed. Can you confirm that or do you know anything on it?

  • By Allan Kuan, August 10, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

    I just got a bug that may be not-so-nice. I am not sure why but someone else’s email, name, and website showed up on my comment form. >.<

    As for the B-Lines, that system will probably go as the buses get mid-life refurbishment… they don’t really serve us a purpose once the B-Line is dismantled.

    As for real-time stop information… the buses currently have GPS and trackers that tell drivers if they’re on schedule… and it’d be nice if those were somehow used for real-time stop information.

    (e.g. If bus is on time then cell phone may state bus arriving at that time, but if bus is late or early the time data would be sent to a server that would subtract or add time to estimate when the bus will come. The data could then be streamed to cell phones and websites or to solar-powered displays.)

  • By cree, August 11, 2009 @ 1:37 am

    Will SkyTrain and Canada Line have something similar to this equipped to the trains and stations anytime soon? Especially if it’d be able to display the times for the next 3 trains – useful for outbound trains to Surrey, Richmond, Airport, et al.

    So this new system is only tied to the #3; but say when you’re in downtown, would it still only show the times for the #3, or would it show times for other routes as well on a particular multi-route stop?

  • By Derek Cheung, August 11, 2009 @ 4:51 am

    As part of the traffic signal priority setup, each intersection with a traffic light along Main Street has a white antenna array mounted on a utility pole.

    The antenna array at Main & Terminal (top of the pole on the southeast corner) is particular expansive; looks like a certain alien probe which Cartman experienced on South Park!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 11, 2009 @ 9:05 am

    ;-) and Allan:
    With regard to the real-time info thing — ;-) is referring to our earlier plans to get real-time information out to customers. However, my colleague who is managing this project is currently on holiday, so I don’t have a good idea of its status at the moment.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 11, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    Cree:

    On the Downtown sections, it will show times for all buses that at that stop (#3, #8, #19). As there are only two lines on the display, the routes will be rotating on the displays at stops that have 3 buses.

    SkyTrain doesn’t have any plans to change their current system right now, but Canada Line does have displays installed that show the time to the next train — check out this post and you’ll see a photo of it there.

  • By ;-), August 11, 2009 @ 10:34 am

    When you colleague is back and needs volunteers to do some beta testing. I’m many of your bloggers (including myself) will be happy to provide feedback, especially on presentation of the data.

  • By Heidi, August 11, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    Neat, thanks for the info! I live in the area and have been puzzling over those poles for a few days–knew you’d have something up soon enough :)

  • By ron, August 12, 2009 @ 8:07 am

    What is the estimated toimeframe by which these Main street displays will be functional?

  • By Neal, August 12, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

    If any route needs this, it’s Main street. I don’t believe I’ve ever ridden a 3 that was on time. Most other routes are good for being on time, but there is something about Main street…

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 13, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

    Ron, I’m told that the displays are expected to be functional by the end of August.

  • By Julien, August 14, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    Looking forward to the new displays. The #3 although frequent can often be stacked 3 deep ending up with 20 minute frequencies.

    Was there an option for solar powered display signs? Is this an item that maybe Carmanah in Victoria could supply? I can imagine that the cost of ripping up 20 feet of sidewalk and running power lines to the displays, although payed for by the city would have been significant. A solar display would instead allow the signs to be easily redeployed in necessary.

    Secondly how are the signs receiving the travel information? Is it via radio or landline?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, August 14, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

    Julien: here’s the answer from TransLink planning:

    Five options, including solar were considered for power on Main Street:

    1. Solar
    2. Street light (ie: drawing power from the street light’s power source)
    3. Hydro (ie: drawing power from local hydro poles)
    4. Hybrid hydro/street light
    5. Trolley pole (ie: drawing power from the trolley wire on Main)

    The trolley pole option was the least expensive, even including cost of the trenches that had to be dug for the power lines. In addition to cost, there were other disadvantages to solar power. First, it would require storing a battery pack inside the pole. This would necessitate a wider pole with a larger base that would have taken up more sidewalk space and would have been a tripping hazard. Second, the solar panels would have been too large to easily house at all of the bus stops. Third, solar power is always challenging in Vancouver because of the climate. Main Street has some especially difficult locations because dense, relatively high buildings shade the sidewalk for part of the day.

    Solar power will continue to be considered as an option for other projects and may become more feasible as the technology improves.

    Also, regardless of the power source, the signs cannot be easily redeployed to other locations. This is because the displays are much heavier than a bus stop flag, so the poles must be anchored deep into the ground (like a street light pole). However, this is not a major problem because the selection of the display sites was based on passenger boarding volumes. Because land-use change so slowly and because new east-west bus services are rarely introduced in the City of Vancouver, it will take many years for boarding patterns to significantly change on Main Street. If a stop did become busy enough to warrant a display, though, it would be simpler to install a new display than to relocate and existing one.

    WIth regard to how the signs receive the travel information: it is wireless. The displays use the same system that will power transit signal priority along Main Street.

  • By Keenan, September 3, 2009 @ 2:41 am

    Reading this post reminded me of a Georgia Tech electrical engineering project called ‘WaitLess’ (see my link).

    Obviously the technological considerations there are quite different than what TransLink needs, but I think their concept is a good one that can impart multiple types of information with a simpler interface. TransLink already has large maps installed at some stops, augmenting these with some LEDs and a feed of live bus locations could provide useful and intuitive information to users.

    Has TransLink considered any sort of ‘live map’ display such as this (though publishing the bus data on the web as GA Tech does would be a big step too)?

    Also interested in the GTFS data being available. All we really need are stop GPS coords and bus schedules. The community can do (at least a lot of) the rest. This dataset will be very useful once the CoV gets their Open Data initiative off the ground.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 3, 2009 @ 9:38 am

    Keenan:
    We don’t currently have any plans to develop a “live map” display. We’re not against it by any means: it’s just not currently planned for development, especially given TransLink’s budget shortfalls predicted for the coming years.

    With regard to the GTFS data, we are working to make that transit data publicly available. However, we are currently in talks with the Province to get the data released, since the Province owns the proprietary information in the Road Atlas included in our data. Those talks are still ongoing.

  • By ;-), September 3, 2009 @ 10:04 am

    I think I asked this in another thread. If the Road Atlas information is what’s holding us back. Why not just strip the information out just prior to releasing the information public.

    For example, the mobile translink site doesn’t have mapping information and neither does the SMS timetables. We just need the timetable text data to be adjusted for the delays. As gravy there should be information how many minutes is the schedule bus behind. There is no need for any fancy maps to show where the bus is currently located, especially if it increases bandwidth and delays implementation.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 3, 2009 @ 10:20 am

    ;-):

    I’ve asked about your question and here’s the answer.

    As it relates to the GTFS files, the Road Atlas data is not fancy map stuff, but just basic geospatial information. The problem we face is to release our data, we need an accepted format/standard that is not proprietary, hence
    GTFS.

  • By Hardcore Rider, October 15, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    My question is about Transit Signal Priority… when buses approaching an intersection trigger a green traffic light.

    Won’t an approaching bus make it more dangerous for pedestrians who are in the middle of crossing the street since the time duration to cross the street will now be shortened?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, October 15, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

    I don’t know — I’ll ask the staff in charge of this project and see what they say.

  • By ;-), October 15, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

    @Hardcore: I don’t think it will change immediately. Unless there is a computer fault (I’ve seen a few of them), the program always allows time for pedestrains in the intersection to cross safely before changing.

    For example, if you come to an intersection controlled by a pedestrian light and you push it. It always allows for cross pedestrian traffic to safely cross before changing. Same applies to intersections with cyclists priority buttons.

    It’s amazing the difference a few seconds makes to transit when they have these extended green lights.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, October 16, 2009 @ 10:13 am

    Hardcore Rider, ;-):

    Here’s the answer given by the project staff — it’s pretty much what ;-) said!

    The pedestrian crossing times won’t be compromised by the priority request. For example, when a pedestrian activates the pedestrian crossing, it is programmed for a specific time and will complete its cycle even when there is a priority request from a bus. Only when there aren’t any pedestrians crossing can a traffic signal actually grant a priority request from a bus.

  • By ;-), October 16, 2009 @ 10:52 am

    Generally we have intersection buttons on poles for pedestrains, street buttons for cyclists, as well as road sensors (left lights) for vehicles to adjust light timings for maximum usage.

    However road sensors generally can’t tell the difference between buses or cars. Today road sensors were used in bus only lanes in Richmond and some street lights assessed vehicle heights to see if it is a bus to give it priority.

    The first transit priority intersection I saw was Sea island and Sexsmith. Drivers would load passengers on Sexsmith just North of Capstan, then drivers would step out of their seats to push a little button at the stop to help with clearing the intersection a few minutes later. Do anyone remember those days?

  • By Sean T, October 16, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    I believe the example photo is Norwegian. This appears to be the corner of Trondheimsveien and Hasleveien in Oslo.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, October 16, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

    Nice work Sean!

  • By Eddie, October 27, 2009 @ 11:32 pm

    I am pretty sure these will only hold a green light green for a bit longer. It will not change a red light to a green light or shorten crossing times for pedestrians.

  • By ;-), January 27, 2011 @ 12:33 am

    Some news on the real-time schedules…. we need to wait more….
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/01/24/bc-video-translink-gps.html

  • By Simon fourt, December 7, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

    I live on Joffre ave in burnaby routes 116 & c6 I would like to we would like to have a bus shelter built. Also a bench so that the elders can sit while waiting for the buses to come.

  • By Stefanie Lee - Buzzer Contributor, December 10, 2012 @ 8:32 am

    Thanks for your suggestion, but almost all bus shelters and future decision about new locations are the responsibilities of your municipality. You can probably find an email address where you can send in your suggestion on their website.

  • By AddTransit, April 26, 2016 @ 10:50 pm

    Hi, I was looking at the earlier questions about when the GTFS feed would be released. A quick Google search shows that GTFS feeds (including GTFS-realtime) are now available at https://developer.translink.ca/ Hope this helps.

Other Links to this Post

  1. New poles along Main Street « metrobabel — August 10, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

  2. re:place Magazine — August 12, 2009 @ 8:12 am

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