Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrians


Construction has made a busy Silver Spring street dangerous for pedestrians

In downtown Silver Spring, a busy Georgia Avenue sidewalk is closed for the construction of a new apartment building. The signed pedestrian detour is very inconvenient, and many people are choosing to walk in the travel lanes of the road instead.


A pedestrian walks in the right lane of northbound Georgia Avenue rather than using the inconvenient detour. All photos by the author.

A couple weeks ago, Foulger-Pratt, the general contractor working on the new building, closed the stretch of sidewalk in the 8600 block of Georgia Avenue to begin construction on the site.

The closure is just north of the crossroads at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, the heart of downtown Silver Spring. A quarter mile from the Silver Spring Metro Station and very close to a number of high rise commercial and residential buildings, the area sees a lot of foot traffic.

While there is a detour for people on foot, it requires them to cross Georgia Avenue twice, along with Fidler lane, resulting in three streets crossings where there were previously none.


A map of the current detour pedestrians must take to get around the construction. Image from Google Earth.


Pedestrians opt to walk in the road alongside moving vehicles rather than using the signed detour.

Closing the right lane could allow for a temporary sidewalk

There's a simple way for the Maryland State Highway Administration to solve this problem: close the northbound right lane of Georgia Avenue to create a temporary sidewalk that's separated from traffic by barricades.

In the right lane of northbound Georgia Avenue where the construction is, on-street parking during the week is allowed except from 3:30-7 PM. Since many drivers are already accustomed to this lane usually being a non-travel lane, it shouldn't be much of an issue for the SHA to close this lane to create a temporary sidewalk.


The closed sidewalk, looking south. Note the parked car in the right lane beyond the construction zone.

While closing the lane may cause some delay at rush hour, doing so could also save lives.

Roads


The feds might pay for smarter drunk driving penalties in DC

Most people would say they favor harsher punishments for drunk driving. But when it comes to keeping impaired drivers off the road, the most important thing is having laws that work.


Photo by VCU CNS on Flickr.

During testimony at a recent DC Council Transportation Committee hearing in favor of laws to eliminate road deaths, Mothers Against Drunk Driving State Legislative Affairs Manager Frank Harris supported increased use of ignition interlock devices, which are mechanisms that test the driver's blood alcohol level and keep a car from starting if the driver is under the influence.

The District barely uses its current ignition interlock program. Right now, only nine people in the District have one, which is a much lower rate than in Maryland or Virginia. Harris said relying on the devices more would be more effective than current penalties.

Revoking licenses, Harris said, is a "hope for the best" policy: there's a risk DWI offenders will drive anyway. With interlock devices, there's a higher chance offenders drive soberly.

The bill currently being proposed for DC would require two-time offenders and offenders with particularly high blood alcohol concentrations to use a device. According to Harris, if DC were to require all DWI offenders to install an interlock device for at least six months, a federal incentive grant from NHTSA of around $200,000 could cover the cost of the program.

25 other states, including Virginia, have such a requirement for first-time offenders.

Interlock devices cost a little less than $3 a day. While most people who are ordered to use interlock devices have to pay for them, most states require manufacturers to provide devices to people who can't afford them, a model DC could emulate.

Roads


Bad pedestrian design mars the intersection where Vision Zero launched

On Wednesday, DC officials unveiled the Vision Zero plan to make roads safer for walkers and cyclists, as well as drivers. But at the very intersection DDOT made the announcement, pedestrians are already getting short shrift.


The new beg button to cross Maryland Avenue at 10th NE. Photo by Andrea Adleman.

A new traffic light recently went in at the intersection of 10th and Maryland NE after years of community requests to make traffic along the street safer. But at the signal's crosswalks, a pedestrian walk signal only comes on if you press a button and wait. DDOT's rules say these "beg buttons" are a bad idea, but they keep installing them anyway.

After requests by the local ANC, DDOT changed the light to be pre-timed from 7 am and 7 pm, meaning it has a pedestrian walk signal during every cycle from green light to red light. But at all of the other lights along Maryland, there's a walk signal during every cycle at all times.

Moreover, at 10th and Maryland, if someone presses the button during a green light, they have to wait for the light to turn red and then green again to get a walk signal, despite the fact that the sensor will extend the green time if more cars show up during the cycle.

The ANC had asked that this signal always be pre-timed but DDOT responded that they would have to study the issue more to ensure that it wouldn't delay vehicles. However, DDOT's own study has shown that many cars are actually speeding at this intersection, with over 90% driving over the 25 MPH speed limit at 5 am.


Image from DDOT.

DC's rules discourage beg buttons

Pedestrian Actuated Signals, or "beg buttons" as they are often derisively called, are more common in outlying areas than they are in the city but can still be found in the District. Another location that has them is the intersection of North Capitol & L and along M Street NE at the NoMa Metro.

DDOT specifically discourages them, including in the MoveDC plan, because they make people wait longer to cross on foot, they're less predictable, and they're more challenging for people with disabilities who may not see or be able to easily reach them. Specifically, MoveDC says beg buttons should not be used near transit stops or in any area where pedestrians are present for at least 50% of the cycle during the hours that see the most use.

This does not mean, of course, that such signals should be used at areas that don't meet these conditions.


Image from DDOT.

While it's true that DDOT has recently made some helpful changes by adding the traffic light and changing the layout of 10th and Maryland, the pedestrian buttons violate the spirit of Vision Zero that the Mayor showcased at Wednesday's event.

Retiming the light to make it so all cycles have a pedestrian phase would make crossing at 10th and Maryland much safer. And on a bigger scale, DDOT's engineers and consultants would do well to follow the agency's pedestrian safety policies a bit more closely.

Roads


Here's how DC plans to eliminate road deaths

This morning, DC officials released their plan for Vision Zero, the campaign to eliminate all deaths on the roadways. It lays out analysis about crashes and strategies to make roads safer.

The Vision Zero team collected a lot of data about actual crashes, and also asked people online and at events where they felt unsafe. For pedestrian safety, the most crashes are (not surprisingly) downtown where there are lot of pedestrians. However, people seemed to talk about some other places where the road design or other factors might deter them from walking, like Pennsylvania Avenue SE and the Hill East area.

For bicycling, respondents seem to have talked a lot about places like the 15th Street protected bikeway, where a lot of people are riding and drivers frequently block the box at corners, but crashes happen in some other real hotspots like Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road.

Driving crashes basically seem to happen everywhere people drive, in approximate proportion to how much traffic there is. Drivers seem to be concerned on H Street/Benning Road NE and in a variety of trouble spots in places like Takoma and Petworth. South Capitol Street, Barney Circle, and a lot of spots on Capitol Hill also got many mentions.

More than half of pedestrian and bicycle deaths happened in the 15 high-crash corridors in this map. (Much of the traveling happens there too, so this isn't a huge surprise). But these identify places where changes could have the most impact.

This map shows where camera tickets happen in relation to crashes. There are a few very high-ticket cameras in spots, like the K Street underpass under Washington Circle, but it's not clear from this map that the locations correlate that much with danger spots.

What to do about this?

The report lists a lot of strategies to reduce and eliminate road deaths. You can read them all in the report, but here are a few highlights:

  • Fill sidewalk gaps on 40 blocks.
  • "Install or upgrade" 20 miles of bike lanes and bikeways. At least five miles would be protected bikeways.
  • Build two "protected intersections" as a pilot project. This concept was proposed for New Jersey Avenue and M Street, but wasn't put into effect.

  • Create an Urban Design Unit in the Office of Planning. Have it redesign some dangerous public spaces to be safer and also more inviting.
  • Pilot some lower speed limits, including two major streets with 25 mph limits, two neighborhoods with 20 mph limits, and some 15-mph limits around schools and other spots with youth and seniors.
  • Revise the manual engineers use to design streets so that it mandates designs that accommodate all users, not just cars. There would also be a Complete Streets law requiring this. Mandate that a road's "design speed" as well as the speed limit are right to ensure the street is safe, rather than designing a fast street and posting a low speed limit.
  • Organize some "hackathons" to get residents engaged in analyzing safety data and devising solutions.
A lot of the plan is about tracking more data: Data about sidewalk maintenance, bike traffic with authomated counters, Capital Bikeshare crashes, construction closures, seat belt usage, and more. The plan calls for more data to be collected and also more to be publicly released.

Increased enforcement, especially against unsafe behaviors, is another real focus. One area the plan calls out is U-turns through bike lanes, dooring, passing cyclists too closely, and other dangerous behaviors around cyclists. It also recommends enforcing good behavior for everyone around work zones and parking garages.

It will be the responsibility of DDOT and other agencies going forward to turn this plan into actual action on the ground. That will require residents continually pushing agencies and also insisting that politicians take the principles seriously.

What do you think about the plan?

Roads


Proposed rules aim to get serious about road safety in DC

The DC government has committed to "Vision Zero," a goal of eliminating all road deaths. A detailed plan from the Bowser Administration will come out Wednesday, but in the meantime, legislators have been putting forth their own proposals for laws around safety.


Photo by Jonathan Warner on Flickr.

Four bills in the DC Council about road safety proposals were the subject of a hearing on December 8. Here's a rundown of what they will do.

Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015

This bill, introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson, would increase fines for people who repeatedly engage in distracted driving. Anyone with three violations within eighteen months would get his or her driver's license suspensded and points on the license.

Today, first-time violators who purchase a hands-free device do not face any fines; the bill would end that waiver.

Speakers at the hearing were broadly supportive. Many asked whether or not it went far enough. Both the District's Bicycle Advisory Council and Washington Area Bicyclist Association expressed interest in expanding a ban on driving while using a hands-free phone device (it's illegal for all road users to use a handheld phone). That ban now applies to school bus drivers and novice drivers; witnesses suggested adding drivers in school zones and construction zones, or preferably all drivers at all times.

Others asked that the bill include more provisions for education about distracted driving. (Disclosure: I am acting chair of the Bicycle Advisory Council and testified on its behalf for this bill.)

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015

Earlier this year, Mary Cheh, chair of the council's transportation committee, convened a working group of advocates to discuss potential changes to the law around road safety. The group reached consensus on a number of changes, which are in this bill. Some of the key provisions would:

  • Require the government to regularly publish data on crashes, sidewalk closures, citizen petitions for for traffic calming measures, dangerous intersections, and moving violations.
  • Instruct the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to create Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas (at least one per ward) with no right turns on red, lower speed limis, and more human and camera enforcement.
  • Let cyclists slow down and yield rather than stop fully at stop signs.
  • Write a Complete Streets policy into law. (DDOT has one today, but just as a directive of the DDOT Director which can be revoked at any time.)
  • Create a curriculum on safe cycling and walking for schools; require taxi and other for-hire drivers to go through training on bicycle and pedestrian safety.
  • Apply the laws for motor vehicle insurance to bicycle insurance, and allow bicycle insurance providers to require policyholders to register their bikes.
  • Impose larger fines on repeat violators (up to five times the fine for a fourth offense) for violations including speeding, blocking a crosswalk, and illegal stopping or standing including in a bike lane (sorry UPS!)
  • Allow aggressive driving citations for drivers who commit three or more or a set of violations (like speeding or improper lane changes). This which carries a penalty of $200 and 2 points and mandatory driver education.
  • Forbid using a phone in the car when not moving.
  • Require side under-run guards, reflective blind spot warning stickers, and either blind spot mirrors or cameras on all heavy-duty vehicles registered in DC. This is currently the law for District-owned vehicles.
  • Create a Major Crash Review Task Force to review major crashes and recommend changes to reduce the number of them.
You can read a complete list of changes here.

Much of the discussion for this bill focused on the fact that it does not lower the speed on residential streets, a proposal which the working group discussed but didn't reach consensus on. WABA had several proposals for ways the bill could go farther to create safer streets.

Some witnesses opposed pieces of the law. Several were uneasy about letting cyclists yield at stop signs.

The Metropolitan Police Department's representative argued that the law was primarily about convenience and might, in an urban environment, lead to more crashes. In response, Councilmember Elissa Silverman asked if there was any evidence that it might lead to more crashes, and MPD conceded that there was none. Mary Cheh cited a recent study showing that crashes dropped 13% in Boise following the passage of a similar law in Idaho.

Insurance industry representatives said that this law would need to be coupled with a dedicated education effort. One witness from the insurance industry also objected to regulating bicycle insurance.

Vision Zero Act of 2015

This bill comes from Mayor Bowser and is a companion to the forthcoming Vision Zero plan. Like the Safety Act, it would also mandate a Complete Streets system. Like the Distracted Driving Act, it would increase fines and add points for distracted driving violations.

In addition, it would enhance penalties for operating all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes on District roads and require ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders and high blood alcohol content (BAC) first-time offenders.

While supportive, WRAP, MADD and AAA all suggested that the bill instead require interlock devices for all DUI offenders, as 25 states do now.

Regulatory changes

In addition to the legislative changes mention above, both Cheh's working group report and the Vision Zero action plan recommended regulatory changes, some of which have been addressed by proposed rules that the Bowser administration proposed Friday.

These rules would:

  • Require side underrun guards for certain vehicles.
  • Require drivers to clear damaged but operational vehicles from the travel lanes.
  • Require drivers to yield to buses merging into traffic.
  • Designate certain streets as neighborhood slow zones with a maximum speed limit of 20 miles per hour (and near high-risk areas like playgrounds, as low as 15 mph).
  • Add points for several offenses such as overtaking another vehicle stopped at a crosswalk or intersection for a pedestrian.
  • Increase fines for infractions such as driving more than 30 mph over the speed limit (including possible jail time), running a stop sign, driving on the sidewalk, unsafely opening a door into traffic, or striking a cyclist.
  • Break the violation for parking in a bike lane into two categories, one for commercial vehicles and one for non-commercial vehicles, and raise the fine from $65 to $300 and $200 respectively.
Since these changes are coming in regulations from the Bowser administration and not a bill in the DC Council, there is some conflict about whether the increased fines will be effective, and whether they're even allowed.

Mary Cheh told the Washington Post she wanted to make sure "the mayor has authority" to raise the fines and asked, "Is there data that supports that this is something that will deter people from speeding? Otherwise people would think this is just a money raiser."

What else could be done?

In addition to formal changes to the law and regulations, the working group recommends other steps District agencies could take to improve safety. Some of these recommendations include:

  • A universal street-safety education program for all elementary school students (which has already gone into effect).
  • More automated cameras for enforcement.
  • Greater "no right turn on red" restrictions in bike and pedestrian priority areas.
  • Distributing more free bicycle lights.
  • Equipping large District-owned vehicles with audible turn warnings.
  • Providing more information about bicyclist insurance.
After becoming a campaign issue in the last mayoral election, District leaders have been busy this year, through multiple efforts, in working towards that goal.

Pedestrians


Video: Crossing a city street should not be this dangerous

Crosswalks are supposed to make it safer to walk across a street, but they don't work if drivers don't stop or slow down. This video of my morning commute shows how scary walking can be, and why it's worth taking efforts to make crosswalks better.



Video of the walk across North Capitol at Pierce Street NE by the author. "Please pardon the Blair Witch Project-style framing," he says!.

Motorists in DC are required by law to stop when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, just as if there were a stop sign. But morning commuters on North Capitol Street don't seem to know or think much about this law.

Every day, the 80 and 96 buses let off passengers by a crosswalk on North Capitol at Pierce Street NE. There aren't any signs reminding drivers to yield, and trying to cross the street to get to NoMa is something people do at their own peril. Check out the video to see what I mean.


North Capitol and Pierce Street NE, where the author shot the video. Image from Google Maps.

I didn't set out to film this video. I was more focused on crossing the street alive than documenting the experience. But I had my camera out and it just occurred to me to hit record since nobody would otherwise believe what I face every morning trying to get to work.

As you can see, drivers don't stop regardless of whether a person is standing in the middle of the intersection long before they get there. And that's even when cars may have to stop after they get through the crosswalk.


Wildebeest migration across the Mara River. Photo by jeaneeeem on flickr

In my 14 years here, I've seen DDOT add more prominent street paint, signs, and bollards, all of which I have to assume is to remind motorists to stop and to make streets safer.

For the specific problem I'm talking about, perhaps WMATA could move the bus stop to coincide with a traffic light one block south of Pierce Street at L Street. DDOT could also make the light timing accommodate people crossing instead of just motorists turning left. Either way, leaving a crosswalk there and no protection for anyone using it is a recipe for disaster.

As an occasional motorist myself, I know it's not fun to stop every few blocks when you're trying to get somewhere. But if we can learn to yield to people in crosswalks, we won't need a dedicated light or stop sign and everyone can get where they are going safely.

Another crossing that's particularly dangerous because drivers rarely stop is where Rhode Island Avenue NW meets 7th Street, right by the Shaw library. Do you know of others? Let us know in the comments. Maybe DDOT will take note.

Pedestrians


The National Zoo has clarified its safety concerns. Turns out you're the problem.

The National Zoo is changing its hours because of safety concerns, but Zoo users aren't so sure that's necessary. The Zoo director clarified Friday that his concerns aren't about crime or animal safety; what he's really worried about are people jogging and running into Zoo maintenance vehicles.


Photo by Ron Cogswell on Flickr.

A November 6th email from Lyn Mento, the executive director of Friends of the National Zoo (which handles most of the Zoo's communications to members), said the shorter hours would "protect and safeguard our visitors and animals, especially when it gets dark earlier in the fall and winter."

But it's unclear what, exactly, is threatening animals' health and welfare. In fact, when it comes to actually explaining the safety concerns mentioned in the email, the the only thing Zoo director Dennis Kelly has clarified is that joggers literally run into the Zoo maintenance vehicles and that happens more when it's dark. Here's what he recently told the Washington Post:

"We've had for some time, going back years, increasing concern about safety and security," Kelly said. "We've observed many near misses for walkers and joggers, particularly in the dark. We've had joggers with headphones bumping into parked vehicles."
Rather than blaming visitors for the problem, the Zoo could let them help solve it

It seems like the Zoo is saying that its drivers shouldn't have to act safely and responsibly.

The Post article, noticeably, does not specifically focus on vehicles running into joggers and pedestrians, and seems to only mention people running into vehicles. Rather than assembling a plan for keeping people safe—posting signs that communicate safety concerns, installing more lighting, marking pathways for vehicles and people, or making vehicles more visible, for example—the Zoo director's statement positions joggers and pedestrians as the absolute cause of closing the Zoo for three extra hours everyday.

The focus on blame and consequences leaves the Zoo's visitors locked out from a key decision. The analysis that informed Kelly and his staff is not available for member or public review, and that isn't likely to change before the Zoo's hours do.

There are more ways to fix safety issues than to just close a place down

There are lots of public venues where people driving vehicles need to account for people walking around. The National Park Service maintains the National Mall and other parkland using vehicles, mostly while the parkland is in use. Amusement parks stay open long hours during the summer, while resupplying concessions, picking up trash and making repairs.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits the National Zoo, operates a Safety Committee "for gathering and disseminating best practices in safety within zoos and aquariums." This committee could serve as a resource for examining the full range of options to include best practices and professional training. The National Zoo's director currently serves as an adviser to the committee, and a Fire Protection Engineer from the Zoo who serves as a member.

The Zoo could work with the committee to find ways to make its paths safer without just closing them.

The Zoo didn't give the public much notice on this change, which isn't a first

The decision appears to be sudden and based on an issue that had not previously been communicated to stakeholders in member newsletters, Congressional testimony or media interviews. Yet, the Zoo says this has been based on a longstanding problem.

Last summer, the Zoo shocked patrons and received national press coverage for closing its beloved Invertebrate Exhibit on six days' notice. Kelly explained the brief transition time as the only way to maintain "our standard of quality" in the exhibit. Negative comments and feedback dominated social media and press coverage. Here's an example from Wired magazine:

Having the nation's zoo suddenly and with little public warning close a long-standing exhibit is unprecedented. Public comments on the Museum's Facebook page are overwhelmingly shocked and negative, including some from volunteers that work at the Zoo.
By waiting until the last minute to announce changes that the public won't like, is the Zoo limiting public discussion and criticism? I have no way of actually knowing, but I'll say that it certainly seems that way.

The Woodley Park Community Association will host Dennis Kelly, the Zoo's director, at its upcoming meeting for a discussion of the Zoo operating hours changes. The meeting is open to the public and will be held on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 7:30 pm at Stanford University in the Washington Building (2661 Connecticut Ave NW).

Pedestrians


Zig zag road stripes can get drivers to pay more attention

At 11 points in northern Virginia, the familiar straight dashed lines on the road give way to a series of zig zags. The unusual markings, the result of a project from the Virginia Department of Transportation, are meant to alert drivers to be cautious where the W&OD Trail intersects with the road—and bicyclists and pedestrians frequently cross.


Virginia DOT installed these zig zag markings to caution drivers approaching the intersection of a popular walking and biking trail. Image from VDOT.

After a year-long study of this striping treatment, Virginia DOT officials say the markings are effective and should become part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices—the playbook for American street designers.

VDOT found the zig zag markings slowed average vehicle speeds, increased motorist awareness of pedestrians and cyclists, and increased the likelihood that drivers would yield. They also noted that the effects of the design change didn't wear off once motorists became used to the it—they still slowed down a year after installation.


This photo shows another style of zig zag pavement marking tested in Virginia. Image from VDOT.

VDOT says the results indicate that zig zag markings are a more cost-effective solution for conflict points between trails and high-speed roads than the current treatments: flashing beacons placed above the road or off to the side.

The zig zag concept was imported from Europe. It is currently used in only two other locations in North America: Hawaii and Ottawa, Ontario. It was one of more than a dozen European traffic management techniques VDOT zeroed in on to test locally.


The zig zag markings reduced motorist speeds approaching the trail at Sterling Road by about 5 mph, according to VDOT. The effect remained strong over time. Graph from Streetsblog.

The W&OD trail is a popular route for both recreation and commuting in the DC metro area. Between 2002 and 2008, there were 21 collisions involving cyclists and two involving pedestrians along the trail, which intersects with major roads at 70 points along its 45-mile path in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.

The effect of the zig zag markings was measured using speed radars over the course of a year. Feedback from motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians was also collected using online surveys. While the survey did not come from a random sample, 65 percent of drivers said they were more aware because of the markings and 48 percent said they liked them. The zig zags were also popular with cyclists; 71 percent said the markings affected driver behavior.

Said one respondent: "Drivers rarely stopped before the markings were installed. Since installation, they stop much more often."

Transit


Many buses have built-in blind spots that make driving them dangerous

A lot of people want to make Vision Zero a reality, ending preventable deaths on our streets. An often-overlooked barrier to making that happen is blind spots on our buses that leave people using the street at risk because drivers can't see them. The good news is that fixing the problem is both easy and inexpensive.


Huge blind spots on left turns lead to far too many pedestrian deaths. All images by the author.

Essentially, all transit buses in the United States are built as cheaply as possible, with mirrors and pillars that create blind spots that are over a foot wide. That's too large for even the best-trained driver to reliably overcome, meaning people who share the street with buses are at risk. Since 2000, well over 500 people in the US have died because of this problem.

When policymakers invest in safe streets and pedestrian crossings, as well as dedicated lanes for transit and bikes, everyone benefits. Safety efforts like well engineered Vision Zero and safe street programs are no-brainers.

I work in the transit industry, where those of us who support effective Vision Zero campaigns talk about the path to safety being the classic checklist of the "three E's:" it starts with engineering, which is followed by education, and only last comes enforcement.

In the case of these blind spots, policymakers have failed at the highest level: engineering. If we want to end fatalities, safe street engineering must not end at the curb.

On modern buses used in New York and DC, for example, the typical pillar and mirror, which are as wide as a legal pad at arm's length, are directly in line with pedestrians in left turns. Over a dozen pedestrians can disappear behind a blind spot so large:


A stunning safety failure; only the driver's arm is visible.

To compensate for the hazard, bus operators are taught to "bob and weave" or "rock and roll" in their seat. This means swaying nearly 20 inches, attempting to see around the widest pillar and mirror. Imagine doing that several times in every turn. Tragically, a moving operator and moving pedestrian can still remain unable to see each other. Additionally, poor cab design (like the huge steering wheel) confines all but tall operators, in some cases leaving them unable to lean more than a few inches.

Also, while safe bus mirrors are used in a few systems, most North American designs widen the blind spot and directly block the driver's view of people walking in the street.

We can fix this problem, and for cheap

Larry Hanley, the president of the largest transit union in North America, has said these safety and engineering failures transform buses into "mobile manslaughter machines."

One solution is to simply mount mirrors lower so that drivers can still see people walking in the street while also being able to monitor surrounding traffic. King County Metro in Seattle has already adopted the ATU-recommended design, a move that has saved numerous lives.

Similarly, structural changes are easy and inexpensive. In the case of the bus above, the engineer who designed it told the ATU that eliminating the blind spot between the windshield and side glass would cost less than $300: the fiberglass would just need trimming and the window seals would need to be out of critical sight lines.

The result? A smaller blind spot than in your car!


Current European designs incorporate the structural changes recommended

Change is not convenient, but in this case it is not difficult. Designs from 60 years ago were significantly safer, lacking these blind spots.


A 1960's bus from GM lacking blind spots.

Changing buses means changing laws and culture

Unfortunately, North American manufacturers have chosen, at least for the moment, to stick with the status quo, a decision that saves pennies for themselves and transit procurement departments but costs lives.

Currently, neither the bus designers nor agency decision makers are being held legally responsible. Instead, that burden falls on drivers facing charges including manslaughter, while having no say in continuing purchases of unsafe vehicles, when excellent designs, as seen here, are ignored.

In DC, ATU Local 689 and ATU International have presented detailed findings about these local hazards and these low-cost solutions to WMATA and DDOT, both of which plan to procure more buses in the near future. Neither agency has committed to blind spot elimination in their procurement process.

As the truth of this unacceptable hazard and bloodshed it leads to become more broadly known, liability will eventually drive change. Public pressure from informed transit advocates can make repeating these mistakes uncomfortable for those selecting future fleets.

It is our hope that as riders, advocates, and workers awaken to the benefits of Vision Zero, they will demand that Mayor Bowser and the WMATA Board make these simple fixes. The welcome attention being paid to rail safety needs to also go toward Metrobus and DC Circulator service to help all of us move closer to zero fatalities on our streets and in our transit system.

The safety of bus riders, operators and people using the street should not rely on driver gymnastics or luck, and it need not continue to.

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