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.

  • Joe R.

    Anyone know if MTA buses have onboard speed recorders? I know a lot of intercity buses have those.

    I’m getting physically nauseous thinking of the “trial of blood and soft tissue” in the graphic above. I’m guessing anyone who witnessed this won’t soon forget it.

  • Rabi

    I almost feel bad bringing this up, but Daniel Prendergast isn’t related to Thomas Prendergast, right?

  • ohhleary

    So first the TWU said that bus drivers shouldn’t be arrested and cuffed at the scene; now they’re saying they shouldn’t be arrested and cuffed three months later after an investigation concluded the driver was at fault. They also said that the standard MTA report process already in place was sufficient; now they dispute the conclusions of the report.

    They just keep moving the goalposts and their true goal shines through: to absolve their drivers of any and all responsibility.

  • steely

    apparently not. Just a cub reporter trying to break into the biz and make ends meet. Just doing his job, throwing innocent pedestrians under the you know what

  • Joe R.

    And that might be fine if the MTA itself was willing to accept responsibility but it isn’t. A good analogy might be punishing the restaurant owners instead of the restaurant delivery people because they’re the ones who set the working conditions which result in their delivery people riding recklessly. If the MTA really does take a hard line on drivers not adhering to schedules then it’s setting conditions which result in reckless driving. Therefore, it makes more sense to punish the MTA, not individual drivers (unless they’re shown to be doing things not in keeping with the MTA’s conditions of employment).

  • Reader

    It needs to be said (because TWU seems to think the opposite) but no advocate thinks this driver acted INTENTIONALLY. She didn’t mean to kill anyone. She clearly had a clean record, as the report states. But if she took this turn at twice the allowed limit, I might interpret that as a sign she had done it before, perhaps many times before. The fact that someone died as a result was not an accident, then, but almost a statistical inevitability.

    This is exactly the kind of mentality the ROW was meant to discourage: you may think you’re a perfectly good driver because, hey, you know what you’re doing and have never hurt anyone in the past. So what if you bend the rules? But there are things that every driver does, such as taking a turn too fast, that can result in tragedy. As news of this law continues to spread, hopefully drivers will rethink the little things that, while not as reckless as drunk driving or texting, contribute to a dangerous environment on NYC streets.

  • AlexWithAK

    Well said. In general, there are many drivers who do dangerous things all the time, whether out of monotony or aggression. They keep doing what they’re doing because they’ve never hurt anyone… Until they do.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    there was a gruesome photo circulating that was chilling in the extreme.

  • Eric McClure

    Nailed it.

  • c2check

    I’m increasingly in favor of much can more robust black box data collection for all vehicles.

  • Kevin Love

    And how many times have I seen bus drivers blasting through intersections and turning at way, way more than 5 MPH?

  • They’re shamelessly spreading the Post story but ignoring the actual MTA report that mentions probable operator action and excessive speed on social media ( twitter @TWULocal100 and Facebook )

    Another thing worth mentioning is that State Senators Marc Panepinto, Diane Savino, and Velmanette Montgomery apparently believed that only bus drivers were subject to arrest under the Right Of Way Law when they voted to weaken it last week. If I was cynical I might suspect TWU100 lobbyists may have mislead some folks in Albany. Montgomery actually said it was wrong to arrest bus drivers and not arrest others.

  • ohhleary

    By the way, I just want to point out that “absolving drivers of any and all responsibility” is pretty much what a labor union like the TWU is tasked to do. It’s self-destructive and alienates natural allies, but they’re tasked to defend their members first, under virtually all circumstances. This planted, factless story in the Post is further proof that they don’t want to have a sane, civil discussion of ways to make buses safer; they want to go nuclear.

  • Rabi

    I, at least in general, agree. Part of what’s so unfortunate about the current animosity between TA and TWU is that the two sides really should be allies in pushing for MTA policies that both make bus operators’ jobs easier and make pedestrians safer. The two goals potentially have a lot of overlap.

  • Flakker

    Do you really believe that the MTA is getting on the drivers’ cases to make schedule? I keep hearing about buses running red lights, but it’s rare that I ride a bus that moves like its passengers have somewhere to be.

  • Joe R.

    That’s what we keep hearing from drivers. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know. The MTA will certainly never admit to it, just as the NYPD never admits to having summons quotas.

    Even if such a thing exists, yes, based on the way buses run, which is usually as slow as you know what, I doubt any MTA policy of enforcing schedule adherence is even close to what you might see in Japan, where being 30 seconds late a few times can cost a train engineer their job. Maybe the drivers get a verbal chastising if they have a pattern of being late. I doubt much more than that happens.

  • Alex F

    Another question for everyone here: This impacts everyone all the time. Why are walk signals coordinated so that crossing vehicle traffic gets a green light when the walk signal say go? This occurs at many intersections (no doubt many of the dangerous ones) across the city, where the majority of traffic must turn into the pedestrian traffic. It even happens at T intersection, and is simply stupid car oriented design. In this case, given that traffic at that intersection can only go left or right, when the walk signal says go, the vehicle signals should be red.

  • Andy Trafford

    “Street closed due to construction” means “I can rail this corner without worrying about oncoming traffic”

  • Andrew

    The law is quite explicit that motorists making turns must yield to pedestrians. The problem you cite is only a problem if motorists don’t take that requirement seriously. (Of course, the NYPD gives them no reason to take it seriously.)

    In your alternative, pedestrians would undoubtedly have only a few seconds of each cycle to legally enter the crosswalk, with the bulk of the cycle time devoted to motor vehicle traffic and only motor vehicle traffic.

    Exclusive pedestrian phases (Barnes dances) may make sense in a few isolated settings, but in general they’d make it take a lot longer to get anywhere on foot (or by car). In practice, pedestrians would probably continue to cross when motorists have the green, only they wouldn’t be protected by the law.

    The problem isn’t the signals. The problem is that the law isn’t enforced with any degree of seriousness.

  • BrandonWC

    Alex has a point about T intersections. If on the green phase cars can only turn though a crosswalk, the light should at minimum be replaced with a flashing yellow.

  • stairbob

    I seem to recall de Blasio saying that police are being trained to arrest drivers for RoW violations without relying on the accident investigation squad. When are we going to start seeing a large percentage of drivers who injure pedestrians get charged?

  • JamesR

    DOT has been rolling out Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) walk signals across the city for the last few years at designated sites. They really do make a big difference in reducing the ability of motorists to bully peds in the crosswalk.

  • Joe R.

    There was a study showing pedestrians in NYC actually make their own LPI:

    The reaction time of NYC pedestrians to the walk signal averaged negative three seconds. I do this myself constantly, traffic permitting. Why not start crossing sooner if you can avoid being in the path of turning vehicles?

  • D’BlahZero

    Right after bicycle riding has been ticketed out of existence, they’ll get right on that.

  • stairbob



Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying […]