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Will DA Ken Thompson Drop Case Against Bus Driver Who Killed Senior?

On the evening of December 23, 2014, 78-year-old Jean Bonne-Annee was crossing New York Avenue at Farragut Road in Brooklyn when an MTA bus driver ran him over while making a left turn.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Bonne-Annee died at the scene. He was the eighth pedestrian killed by a turning MTA bus driver in 2014.

Police arrested driver Reginald Prescott and charged him with violating the Right of Way Law, which is intended to hold drivers accountable for killing or injuring pedestrians and cyclists who are following traffic rules.

Because Prescott was driving a bus and was charged for killing someone, TWU Local 100 and some members of the press have devoted much attention to a crash that otherwise would have received little or no notice. On Tuesday Pete Donohue of the Daily News reported that District Attorney Ken Thompson may bow to pressure from the TWU and dismiss the case.

Arraignment proceedings for Prescott were canceled, Donohue reported, “as prosecutors and his union defense lawyer agreed neither to go forward with a formal reading of the charges nor require Prescott to enter a plea, as is customary.”

“We pressed a pause button to say ‘stop’ with the view towards the district attorney ultimately dismissing the charges completely against Mr. Prescott,” TWU Local 100 legal director Kenneth Page said.

A spokeswoman for Brooklyn prosecutors would only say that the case remains under investigation. No new court date for Prescott was set during his appearance in court Tuesday morning.

“[T]he case is still being investigated and the charges have not been dropped,” a Thompson spokesperson told Streetsblog via email.

As Ben Fried wrote this week, before the Right of Way Law NYPD and prosecutors didn’t investigate the vast majority of serious traffic crashes, and declined to pursue charges in fatal collisions that did not involve extenuating circumstances like DWI or leaving the scene. The strength of the Right of Way Law is that it removes driver intent from the equation: If you harm someone who is walking or biking with the right of way, you committed a misdemeanor.

The court process may reveal that Prescott was not at fault. What shouldn’t be in doubt is a full and fair disposition of the case. Otherwise, people who are following all the rules will continue to be denied the protection of the law, as they were before.

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De Blasio Defends Right-of-Way Law to Dimwits in Albany [Updated]

Update [February 26]: The quote from the mayor has been updated to include his full response.

At a hearing in Albany this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the new city law that enables police to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people with the right of way. He also shed some light on how officers determine whether to file charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

Mayor de Blasio in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

State Senator Marty Golden, who represents Bay Ridge, focused on the high-profile arrests of bus drivers who have killed or injured pedestrians in crosswalks. Golden asked if the Right-of-Way Law is even necessary. “If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. Do we need to arrest these people, and is that necessary?” Golden asked. “Should we be locking up bus drivers?”

Here is the heart of the mayor’s response:

Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash… what the law dictates is that if there is serious injury or fatality, and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons. So this is a new law with a clear standard. It is a stricter standard than that which existed previously, and that’s for a reason, because people were being killed and grievously hurt in all sorts of instances and there wasn’t a clear enough legal consequence. So the law, I think, has been a step forward. It should be applied respectfully and sensitively, especially — I agree with you — our public service workers always deserve respect in every situation, and I appreciate the work they do. But again, the officer on the scene has to make a determination… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.

At an MTA press conference minutes later, Daily News reporter Pete Donohue asked MTA Chair Tom Prendergast whether he thought bus drivers who injure or kill pedestrians in crosswalks should be subject to the Right-of-Way Law. Prendergast’s response avoided answering questions about the law itself.

“For whatever reason, the legislation was written the way it was. I’m not going to get into details of it,” Prendergast said, stressing that bus driver unions, the city, and the MTA alike are working to reduce crashes. “I drove a bus for 30 days,” Prendergast said. “The two hazards that you’re most faced with are right turns and left turns, and so I can totally appreciate the difficulties bus drivers have.”

While Prendergast did not address how the law is enforced or whether bus drivers should receive the special exemption that the TWU is seeking, he did say the MTA may adjust bus routes to limit turns through crowded crosswalks and may ask DOT to offset pedestrian crossings to minimize conflicts. (In the 1990s, the Giuliani administration moved some Midtown crosswalks to mid-block locations and installed pedestrian barriers at corners, which remain in place today.)

Read more…

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Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

Read more…

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Pedestrians With the Right of Way Should Always Have Protection of the Law

Jiahuan Xu, 15, had the walk signal when she started across Grand Street in Williamsburg Friday morning. Before she reached the far side of the street, she was struck by a bus driver turning from Union Avenue and “pinned under the left front wheel,” according to the Daily News. After emergency responders rescued Xu, she was taken to Bellevue Hospital and may lose her left leg.

jiahuan_xu

Jiahuan Xu, 15, may lose her leg after an MTA bus driver struck her while she had the walk signal.

Francisco de Jesus, the MTA bus driver who struck Xu, faces a misdemeanor charge under the city’s recently enacted Right of Way Law, which means police took him to the 90th Precinct for a desk appearance ticket and he faces a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail if convicted (a sentence with jail time for a first-time offense would be nearly unheard of, however).

The rush to discredit the new law came immediately after the arrest. TWU Local 100 spokesperson JP Patafio said bus drivers should not be held to the standards of the Right of Way Law because the “law of averages has it we’re going to get into an accident.” The Daily News’ Pete Donohue wrote that de Jesus was treated “like a common criminal.” And three City Council members — I. Daneek Miller, Peter Koo, and Donovan Richards — introduced a bill to exempt all bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

Lost in the scrum was Jiahuan Xu and, in a larger but very real sense, everyone who walks in New York. Our laws are supposed to protect people walking who have the right of way. The justice system should recognize that by imposing consequences on people who injure pedestrians with the walk signal. But before the Right of Way Law, that almost never happened.

Thousands of people are hurt while walking on New York City streets each year, and of the victims who are struck in crosswalks, a majority have the walk signal. Until last year, however, NYPD policy discouraged any consequences for drivers who struck pedestrians with the right of way unless police personally witnessed the collision. The Right of Way Law changed that, enabling law enforcement to file charges based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence.

The question raised by the arrest of Francisco de Jesus is not whether he’s a decent person. Good people make mistakes with harmful consequences every day — and in general the law recognizes that carelessness can rise to the level of a crime. And this isn’t a debate about whether bus drivers have a hard job. There’s no doubt that driving a bus in New York is demanding, stressful, and deserving of respect.

The question is: Do our laws protect people walking with the right of way, or not?

Read more…

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MTA Bus Driver Runs Over 15-Year-Old Girl in Brooklyn Crosswalk [Updated]

Turning MTA bus drivers have killed at least 12 people in the last two years. Image: News 12

Turning MTA bus drivers have killed at least 12 people in the last two years. Image: News 12

Update: NYPD told Streetsblog the bus driver involved in this crash was arrested and charges are pending. Transportation Alternatives tweeted that, according to police, he was charged under the Right of Way law.

An MTA bus driver ran over a teenage girl in a Brooklyn crosswalk this morning.

The 15-year-old victim was walking north across Grand Street at around 8:45 when the Q59 driver, southbound on Union Avenue, struck her while turning left onto Grand, according to NYPD and DNAinfo.

Video from a nearby bodega’s camera shows the bus swinging around the corner just as the girl steps into the crosswalk, hitting her and then dragging her out of the frame.

“Oh my God, the lady was crossing the street. He did not see the lady. The people in the street were screaming,” said Jose Aguilar, 48, who owns nearby Grand Gourmet Deli.

“I saw the girl crossing the street. The bus came in fast,” said Aguilar’s worker, El Mehdi Ouafiq.

He said a woman stayed with the girl when she couldn’t pull her from under the tire.

A video Ouafiq shot shows the girl’s bright green shoes poking out from beneath the bus’ large wheel while a group of people huddle around her trying to help.

The Daily News reported that the victim “was pinned under the left front wheel.”

A spokesperson with the NYPD public information office said the victim suffered a severe leg injury. Reports on social media that the victim died were not true, the spokesperson said, but she had no further information. A tweet for confirmation on the victim’s condition to the Highway Department, which investigates traffic crashes, got no response.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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St. Louis Stunner Runs Away With the Vote for America’s Sorriest Bus Stop

This bus stop in the St. Louis suburb of Lindbergh was the overwhelming favorite for sorriest bus stop. Photo: NextSTL

This bus stop in the St. Louis suburb of Lindbergh was the overwhelming favorite for sorriest bus stop. Image via NextSTL

In the end, it was never even close. This bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in suburban St. Louis won wire-to-wire in the voting for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America.

There was plenty of worthy competition, but something stood out about this stick in the ground next to what seems to be a divided highway. The only thing marking the stop is a single, lonely signpost — no sidewalk, no bench, and not much in the way of destinations.

The stop is actually an important connection point, as a spokesperson from St. Louis Metro Transit explained in the comments (we confirmed that it was in fact Metro):

The stop is on Lindbergh, a major north-south artery. The speed limit is 40 MPH in that section (it is not a freeway.) The overpass you see in the photo is Page Avenue, a major east-west artery. Vehicles use exit ramps to make the connection between the two streets, but there is no safe way for pedestrians to cross between Page and Lindbergh. So, the Page bus leaves Page Avenue, drops people off at that bus stop who need to transfer to the Lindbergh bus, and then returns to Page. It looks odd, but serves an important purpose.

Metro spokesperson Patti Beck added: “We do need to help our customers get to where they need to go and there is no pedestrian infrastructure along those two major roads.” She said the agency tries to work with municipalities in its service area to ensure there is proper pedestrian infrastructure when possible.

Indeed, the lion’s share of the blame doesn’t lie with Metro, but with the public officials and agencies who have created such a far-flung, high-speed street network. Transit, walking, and amenities for bus passengers are afterthoughts.

Read more…

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Who’s Against Better Sidewalks and Bus Stops? These People…

CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks and bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Some CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks at bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Bus bulbs are sidewalk extensions at bus stops that enable passengers to board without the driver pulling in and out of traffic. They save transit riders time, shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, and keep sidewalks from getting cluttered by bus stop furniture. Who could be against that?

Well, on the Upper East Side, a few members of Manhattan Community Board 8 raised a stink Wednesday night about a plan to add bus bulbs to 86th Street. They were convinced bus bulbs would lead to gridlock and refused to believe a DOT analysis showing otherwise.

The plan from NYC DOT and the MTA to upgrade the crosstown M86 to Select Bus Service also calls for real-time bus arrival information kiosks and off-board fare collection, though not bus lanes. The line carries 25,000 riders daily — more passengers per mile than any other NYC bus route — and serves a neighborhood where about three out of every four households do not own a car. The plan would bring a combination of bus bulbs and neckdowns to the corners of Park, Lexington, and Third Avenues [PDF].

DOT first identified the M86 as a possible candidate for Select Bus Service in 2009, and approached CB 8 in 2012 about adding bus bulbs to 86th Street. At the time, the board didn’t object to the suggestion and, seeing that bus bulbs would provide space for off-board fare payment kiosks, asked for the machines [PDF 1, 2]. CB 7, which covers the M86 on the Upper West Side, followed suit and requested off-board fare payment in 2013.

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Streetsblog USA
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Help Streetsblog Find the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Atlanta's Buford Highway, via ATL Urbanist.

Atlanta’s Buford Highway, via ATL Urbanist

It’s contest time again, and competition is going to be stiff for this one. After handing out a Streetsie award for the best street transformation in America at the end of 2014, we’re going to do some good old public shaming this time: Help us find the most neglected, dangerous, and all around sorriest bus stop in the United States.

Most bus stops don’t amount to much more than a stick in the ground. No shelter, no schedule, and nowhere to sit. Better bus stops would mean people could walk to transit without taking their life in their hands, and that transit riders could wait for the bus with dignity. This contest will provide definitive evidence that transit agencies and DOTs have to do a lot better.

The above example comes from Atlanta’s notorious Buford Highway, where pedestrian infrastructure of all types has been completely neglected in favor of wide open asphalt.

It will be hard to top the example below, however. That’s an actual bus stop in Cleveland. The only indication is a very small RTA logo under the highway sign for 71 South (you might have to zoom in to actually spot it). What exactly people are supposed to do when they get off the bus here is unclear, but it’s a sorry statement about how seriously Ohio DOT takes bus riders’ needs.

This is an actual bus stop in Cleveland. We swear. Image: Google Maps via Tim Kovach

An actual bus stop in Cleveland. We swear. Image: Google Maps via Tim Kovach

If there’s an awful bus stop where you live, send us your pictures of it along with a written description of the context, and we’ll put the worst up to a popular vote. You can leave an entry in the comments or email it to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

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Bus Lane Foes Lancman and Simanowitz: Car Dependence Is a Fact of Life

Image: NYC DOT

Most of the delays for riders on the Q44 bus occur while the vehicle is in motion, indicating that dedicated bus lanes would help clear a path for faster service. Image: NYC DOT [PDF]

What happens when you hold a meeting about better bus service but bus riders don’t show up?

Residents of Kew Gardens Hills packed an open house last night in a near-panic about the carmageddon they fear if bus lanes are installed on Main Street in their neighborhood. While the crowd last night was big and boisterous, very few regular bus riders turned up. Residents of other neighborhoods along the route who would benefit most from bus lanes — a key component of Select Bus Service plans — were also scarce last night.

In the absence of a pro-transit constituency, City Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz fed the crowd’s perception that giving more street space to buses would cause a traffic disaster. The SBS supporters who did attend said transit riders should get a chance to weigh in before decisions get made. However, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was in attendance, seemed prepared to back off bus lane plans for the neighborhood already.

DOT has been mulling Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica for routes on Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, Parsons Boulevard, and 164th Street. Last night, the agency narrowed its focus to the Q44, which carries 28,700 riders each day. The route travels between Jamaica and the Bronx Zoo, following Main Street through Flushing.

The project will upgrade limited-stop Q44 service to a full SBS route, including off-board fare payment, traffic signals that hold a green light for buses, and pedestrian safety upgrades at key intersections, all of which were well-received at last night’s meeting [PDF].

DOT has already added bus lanes to some streets in downtown Jamaica and is bringing centralized control of traffic signals to downtown Flushing. While DOT has not laid out where it would add new bus lanes, the specter of dedicating street space to transit was too much for some Kew Gardens Hills residents to bear. “It’s a disaster,” said Community Board 8 transportation committee member Carolann Foley. “You lose a whole lane going down Main Street, so the traffic is going to be crazy.”

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz don’t think anything can change the car dependence of their districts.

DOT and the MTA have now added bus lanes to more than half a dozen major streets for SBS routes. Nowhere has carmaggedon ensued. On Webster Avenue in the Bronx, for instance, general traffic moves just as fast as it did before, but now the tens of thousands of people who ride buses every day get where they’re going faster.

Lancman and Simanowitz, however, view traffic as an unstoppable force of nature. “The bus ridership in the neighborhoods that I represent is not very significant,” said Lancman, who has helped lead the bus lane opposition with Simanowitz and local civic associations. “In my district, better bus service is not going to make up for people losing parking spaces… People are not going to suddenly get on a bus and shop on Main Street and lug their groceries home.”

“There are a lot of cars, and there are going to be more cars,” Simanowitz said. “We’re not going to get cars off the street just by putting in an express bus lane. It’s a fact of life. The cars are here.”

Read more…

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Lancman and Simanowitz: Let’s Keep Queens Bus Riders Stuck in Traffic

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Tonight, DOT and the MTA will hold an open house to solicit input for proposed Select Bus Service routes linking Flushing and Jamaica. The plan to reduce travel times for tens of thousands of Queens bus riders has broad support from advocates and local electeds, including Assembly Member Nily Rozic. But the Times Ledger reports that Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz and City Council Member Rory Lancman, who purport to be in favor of the project, oppose dedicating new street space to buses.

Bus service could be upgraded along Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, and/or 164th Street, according to a DOT map of proposed SBS routes. The Times Ledger notes that these routes were chosen for SBS after studies found current trips to be “long and slow, affecting roughly 68,000 daily raiders.”

A key component of bus rapid transit is, of course, dedicated bus lanes, but Lancman and Simanowitz would rather keep riders mired in traffic.

They met with the DOT and the MTA last Friday, where the agencies updated them on the proposal. The lawmakers expressed support for ideas such as offboard ticketing, synchronizing lights and reconfiguring left-turn signals.

“The final proposal could include a menu of strategies for improving bus service and we are only opposed to the closing of a travel or parking lane,” Lancman said.

Simanowitz said other parts of the proposal such as on-street fare collection and displays indicating bus times do not necessitate SBS.

“The rest of the aspects of a BRT proposal are all legitimate things, but things they could be doing anyway,” he said.

Lancman opposed congestion pricing and once blasted a DOT proposal to improve a deadly intersection outside a school. That he considers a dedicated transit lane “closed” says something about what Lancman thinks of people who use transit. Beyond that, it seems Lancman and Simanowitz simply don’t want to take the necessary steps to make BRT work well.

But other electeds do. “BRT is good news for drivers as well,” wrote Rozic in an op-ed for the Daily News. “Dedicated bus lanes reduce interaction between buses and other vehicles. This will reduce traffic jams and minimize the risk for traffic crashes.”

Eleven Queens lawmakers signed on to a letter this month in support of the plan, the Times Ledger reported.

“The evidence shows that these improvements make the streets safer for pedestrians, help bus riders get to their destination faster and it doesn’t have a negative impact on traffic flow for everybody else,” said John Raskin of Riders Alliance.

Tonight’s open house is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:00 at the Townsend Harris High School Library at 149-11 Melbourne Avenue.