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No “Criminality” in Bus/Pedestrian Accidents; Information Scarce

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May 31st accident on Essex Street

Earlier this month – in two separate incidents – pedestrians were sent to the hospital  after being hit by those so-called “Chinatown buses.”  We’ve been trying to gather more information about what occurred, but details are scarce.  While the NYPD says there was “no criminality” in either accident, many questions remain unanswered.

In the past few days, City Councilmember Maraget Chin’s office has begun looking into the cases, which have raised new concerns about the large number of charter, tour and commuter buses roaming the streets in Lower Manhattan. One Lo-Down commenter wrote recently, “These buses need more regulation!! How many more people need to be hit? My heart goes out to the two pedestrians who were injured, and hopefully survived.”

To recap, the first accident happened on Memorial Day, at about 1130am. A middle-aged man became trapped under a Lucky Star bus, suffering injuries to both of his legs. DNA Info’s account:

The man was passing westbound through a crosswalk at Essex Street on Canal Street across from Seward Park around 11:30 a.m., said the driver, who declined to give his name. The driver, who was making a left turn on to Essex Street from Canal Street on the green light, said he signaled for the pedestrian to pass in front of his coach before completing the turn. The driver said he checked his side mirror after waving the pedestrian by and couldn’t explain how the man got caught under the wheels. “I don’t know how he got under my bus,” said the driver, who was operating a Lucky Star bus that travels between Manhattan and Boston. He described the victim as “about 50 years old” and said he was walking with a female companion at the time. Witnesses said the man suffered injuries to both legs, and the driver said he could see the “skin was separated from the muscle.”

The second incident occurred June 8th.  Witness Yarden Yanover observed:
A… bus turning at the corner of Clinton and East Broadway ran over a 50 year old Hispanic woman around noon time… The driver remained seated, while pedestrians were yelling at him to back up, which he finally did. The pedestrian was alive when the ambulance picked her up.
According to Nicky Teo, 7th Precinct community affairs officer, neither victim suffered life-threatening injuries. Citing privacy concerns, he declined to release their names. Teo said no witnesses have come forward in either case, and no security cameras captured what transpired, so it hasn’t been easy to piece together exactly what happened. He encouraged anyone who might have seen either accident to call the precinct at 212-477-7311.
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Conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians are, of course, a fact of life in New York City.  But as our elected officials focus on the “Chinatown bus problem,”  these sorts of incidents are piquing their interest. Chin, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver State Senator Daniel Squadron and Community Board 3 have been working with city and state agencies on legislation that would regulate interstate buses.  The details of recent accidents are obviously relevant to their discussions.
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Many questions remain about this month’s incidents on Essex and East Broadway.  Were the drivers and their bus companies properly licensed? Did the drivers, as well as the pedestrians, obey traffic signals and other traffic laws? What statements were given to the police by the drivers and the victims? In an effort to learn some of these answers, The Lo-Down is filing a requst for the accident reports, under New York’s freedom of Information Law.
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In the past, media organizations have struggled to obtain detailed information from the NYPD about traffic accidents. Streetsblog has been rebuffed on numerous occasions by the police department. Last January, Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives, told Streetsblog the problem is not simply a refusal to release details:
We’ve found that the amount of data that’s collected at the scene, especially when it comes to bikers and walkers, is insufficient… They don’t include a box to note the travel speeds of vehicles before the crash. There’s nothing to record if the driver had a suspended or revoked license. There’s no specific space to record roadway characteristics or street design. There’s nothing that prompts them to automatically look for a truck route sign, bike lane, or other features.
Meanwhile, there’s not much progress to report on the legislative front.  Elected officials are drafting bills to be introduced in the Legislature and City Council establishing a permit system for buses traveling between New York and other cities, such as Boston and Washington, D.C.
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The legislation would presumably require bus companies to prove their drivers are properly trained and designate locations in which the buses could legally park. Right now, they’re only allowed to pick up and drop off passengers, but they regularly linger curbside for long periods of time.  The NYPD says it does not have the resources to ticket and tow buses violating the law on any kind of sustained basis.
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Drafting the bills has been a painstaking process because separate city and state legislation is required. Lawmakers are also going to great lengths to make sure their proposals don’t impinge on federal interstate commerce laws. Don’t look for any action on the proposals in the near future. Given the dysfunction in Albany and the battle over the state’s budget, there’s virtually no chance the bills will be introduced in this legislative session.
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