Three years ago, on Valentines' Day in 2007, Sally McGee and Martha Schoenborn, both of Alexandria, were struck and killed by a Metrobus at the corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The bus driver, Victor Kolako, struck the women as they crossed with a walk signal in the crosswalk. Kolako was charged with negligent homicide and later sentenced to a year in prison. Metro had seen a rash of bus fatalities that year, and newly-minted General Manager John Catoe vowed to improve safety.
Safety at Metro has gotten a lot of attention in the past year, with the June 22 Red Line crash, the subsequent worker deaths, so on and so forth. Metrobus safety has also been back in the spotlight, highlighted by a Metrobus striking a pedestrian in Dupont Circle last summer. That incident was also followed closely by another pedestrian death in Trinidad.
What happened with this seemingly good idea? Well, like all good things, it came to an end. Prompted by seeing a bus with the light bar installed but not active, I asked Metro about the status of the project. According to Metro spokesperson Ron Holzer, the program was a pilot that involved 100 buses in the District of Columbia. Holzer said that jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland never approved usage of the lights. In some cases buses outfitted with the pedestrian alert lights have been transferred out of the District, and the light bars were deactivated. The program was never expanded beyond the 100 initial buses. I also asked if the bus that struck Amanda Mahnke was outfitted with the lights. Due to ongoing litigation, Holzer declined to answer the question. I've dug up a few photos from the day of the crash, and it looks as though that bus was not outfitted with the lights.
While it's difficult to know how many accidents might have been prevented with the usage of these alert lights, it's disappointing to see the program left to wither. As the lights break, or the buses get transferred out of the District, the lights will go away. Given the high price tag of accidents, both in human lives and dollars spent in litigation, it seems a project like this would be well worth the initial investment.
Is this just another case of Metro talking the talk after an accident, but failing to follow through? Reading through a press release after a deadly crash in 2007 feels like reading the same press releases from 2009.
Photo originally by flickr user taftbasket. Modified for emphasis.