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Traffic Justice

MTA Report on Fatal Bus Crash Doesn’t Say What the Post Says It Does

The MTA's diagram of the crash that killed John Lavery last October.

The Post ran a story today blaming the death of 64-year-old John Lavery in the Bronx last October on a broken street light, not the bus driver who struck him. But the very report cited by the Post, obtained by Streetsblog [PDF], reveals that the MTA's internal investigation ruled the collision was preventable, and that driver Theresa Gallagher failed to take the turn at a safe speed, as drivers are trained to.

Gallagher was the first MTA bus driver charged under the city's Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor to injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. The Post's Daniel Prendergast, citing "a damning MTA report," writes that a "broken street lamp made it impossible for the veteran driver to see the man, who was on methadone at the time, the document shows."

While that explanation provides convenient fodder for TWU Local 100's campaign to exempt bus drivers from the law, it's not what the MTA report says.

At about 1:30 a.m. on October 3, Lavery, walking with a cane, was crossing East 147th Street with the signal "in close proximity to the crosswalk" when he was struck by the "left front section" of the bus.

MTA bus drivers are instructed to take turns at no more than 5 mph and to scan intersections for pedestrians. While New York City Transit's Office of System Safety did find that a broken street light reduced visibility at the intersection where Lavery was killed, the investigation also determined that Gallagher took the turn at 11-15 mph -- more than twice as fast as bus drivers are supposed to even when visibility is ideal:

Had the bus operator properly scanned for pedestrians and executed the left turn at the required speed of not more than 5 mph... it is possible that she would have had sufficient time to visually search and detect the pedestrian crossing the roadway and potentially taken the proper actions to avoid this accident.

And here is the conclusion of the MTA's report:

OSS has concluded that the most probable cause of the accident was the actions of the B/O [bus operator], who failed to observe the pedestrian prior to impact and made the left turn at approximately 11-15 mph. Contributing to this accident was a non-functioning overhead street light, which most probably significantly reduced the conspicuity of the pedestrian crossing the roadway.

After an investigation by NYPD, Gallagher was later charged with careless driving and for violating the Right of Way Law.

The crash that killed John Lavery is exactly the kind of situation that the Right of Way Law intends to prevent -- a driver's failure to exercise due care harmed a pedestrian following the rules. So far in 2015, the first full year that the Right of Way Law has been in effect, MTA bus drivers have not killed any pedestrians. Last year eight people who had the right of way lost their lives after being struck by MTA bus drivers.

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