TriMet is no stranger to left-turn bus accidents such as the one that killed two pedestrians and injured three others in a downtown Portland crosswalk on the night of April 24.
PORTLAND — TriMet is no stranger to left-turn bus accidents such as the one that killed two pedestrians and injured three others in a downtown Portland crosswalk on the night of April 24.
In fact, earlier this week, Oregon's largest transit agency agreed to pay a record $1.5 million to a woman who lost a leg after it was crushed by a bus turning left into a crosswalk in January 2008.
Just three weeks before the downtown bus tragedy, one of the 17-ton vehicles hit a woman near a Sellwood-Moreland movie theater, knocking her out of her shoes. She had the walk signal as the TriMet driver turned left.
But despite recent history, and a federal study showing that bus-pedestrian collisions are more than twice as likely to happen during left turns, TriMet hasn't altered its operating procedures, The Oregonian has found.
By contrast, other transit agencies have made changes after pedestrians were hit by left-turning buses.
In the past year, transit agencies in Des Moines, Iowa, and Cleveland have adopted no-left rules and ordered drivers to honk before turning right. Cleveland is also among six cities where buses are being outfitted with pedestrian-warning systems.
"These are happening a lot," said Kathy Shaw Clary, spokeswoman for GRTC Transit in Richmond, Va., where a pre-recorded voice will soon tell pedestrians "Caution: Bus Turning" at intersections.
A 2008 Federal Transit Administration study of bus-pedestrian collisions found that, among other things, drivers often fail to properly "re-scan" crosswalks during arcing left turns. What's more, the research showed pedestrians have difficulty recognizing when big, rear-axled vehicles are about to turn left.
In Portland, outgoing TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen has called for a top-to-bottom safety review after a No. 9 TriMet bus plowed into five pedestrians at a downtown crosswalk on April 24.
Danielle Sale, 22, of Vancouver and Jenee Hammel, 26, of Gresham died under the wheels of the vehicle at Northwest Broadway and Glisan Street. Sale's boyfriend, Robert Erik Gittings of Boise, remained in fair condition Tuesday.
Jenee Hammel's older brother, Ryan, and his wife, Jamie, had minor injuries.
After an unscheduled stop to drop off a rider, TriMet driver Sandi L. Day allegedly made a sweeping left turn across a second lane on Glisan to get onto Broadway. She had a green light, but the group of five had a walk signal.
The January 2008 accident that cost 68-year-old Patricia Ann Smith her left leg was similar.
Smith is baffled that it took the death of two women for TriMet to conduct the type of rigorous safety review that might address the trouble with left turns. "They need to deal with this problem," she said.
Smith was walking her dog across Northeast 21st Avenue near Lloyd Center when she was hit by a bus driven by Tracey Lynn Hughes.
The walk signal said go. Smith entered the crosswalk. Hughes, who also had a green light, turned left. The bus clipped Smith's dog, then ran Smith over.
Investigators believe Hughes didn't see Smith.
Video from inside the bus showed Hughes turning into the crosswalk and then abruptly stopping. Several horrified riders can be seen jumping to their feet.
Hughes comes into view as she rises from the driver's seat, shocked, a hand cupped over her mouth.
Smith was trapped under the bus. At the hospital, surgeons amputated her leg beneath the knee.
TriMet, which admitted fault, said the $1.5 million settlement is the largest it has paid.
Jane Paulson, Smith's attorney, said her client, who now uses a wheelchair, must pay $220,000 in medical bills.
Just days before the bus hit Smith, TriMet sent each of its drivers a training bulletin alerting them to the just-released FTA study.
After reviewing bus-pedestrian collisions in the nation's intersections, the study found that 60 percent involved turning buses. And nearly 70 percent of those involved a left turn.
With the safety review just starting and police still investigating the pedestrian deaths downtown, TriMet officials are reluctant to say what operation changes might be coming.
Since adopting its new operating policies in March 2003, Cleveland's Regional Transit Authority hasn't had a single bus-and-pedestrian collision. "We usually have three or four a year," said RTA spokesman Jerry Masek.
But TriMet officials said eliminating left turns would be "functionally infeasible," especially on downtown Portland's grid of one way streets. Spokeswoman Bekki Witt said the agency is also reluctant to adopt a honk-and-turn policy because "it implies that bus operators should rely on the horn instead of their awareness of pedestrians."
But Gloria Manon said a honk on the rainy night of April 5 would have saved her some bruises. After walking out of Southeast Portland's Moreland Theatre, where she had watched "Ghost Writer" with a friend, Manon stepped into the crosswalk at Southeast Bybee Boulevard and Milwaukie Avenue.
"I heard my friend say, 'Gloria, watch out!'" she recalled. "And then I was hit by the side of a bus."
It was a No. 19, turning left.