Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Open Letter To Des Moines Area Regional Transit

Dear DART,

It's been a rough couple years, hasn't it? According to a WHO-TV investigation, your buses have hit seven pedestrians in Des Moines since 2006. And while I'm no student of physics, I know that in a bus versus pedestrian accident, the pedestrian always loses.

A friend and coworker of mine happened to be one of those pedestrians in the wrong crosswalk following the wrong "walk" signal at the wrong time when one of your bus drivers made a left turn and ran her over. I do not exaggerate: She was
run over by a bus. Imagine for a second what that felt like. Imagine for a second what the rest of her life is going to be like. Will she recover from the physical injuries? I don't know. My experience with less-gruesome but still life-altering accidents tells me that her body will never be the same. Will she recover emotionally? Will she still be the perpetually laughing person I remember? I hope so.

As a cyclist in downtown Des Moines, I may be a little over-sensitized to your presence. After all, just about everything on the road is bigger and faster than I am, and your buses are some of the biggest, fastest predators I encounter. I've never had a near miss at the hands of one of your drivers, but I've also learned to give them a wide berth. When I get off the bike and live among the pedestrians, my head is on a swivel. Honestly, I feel safer crossing
against the lights where I can see what's going to hit me and -- hopefully -- your driver can see me before that happens.

So what has your answer been? A policy of -- get this -- having your drivers
honk whenever they make a turn. Do you think that your 40-foot diesel behemoths are somehow sneaking up on us? That if you just add a little more noise pollution the problem will go away?

Let me propose a different solution. Rather than making our streets a Darwinian "I warned you with my horn, so it's not my fault if you don't move" tangle of fear and noise, why not adopt a policy that places the burden of responsibility and safety on the
least vulnerable actor in the situation? Instead of expecting a fragile human body to get out of your way, why not instruct your drivers that anything smaller than their bus (be it pedestrian, cyclist, or Toyota Prius) gets the right of way no matter what -- with the light, against the light, in a crosswalk, in the middle of the block, wherever. If it means a bus has to come to a dead stop before making a turn so the driver can get a clear view, so be it. Is that really more inconvenient than putting tire tracks on another human being? And if it is, so what?

Don't get me wrong: I'm a huge supporter of public transportation. I was a die-hard DART rider (though it was the MTA in those days) when I first moved to Des Moines. As a cyclist, I'd much rather deal with fifty people going downtown in one of your buses than dodge each one of those fifty people driving alone.

But you gotta stop running over my friends and blaming them. Go pick on someone your own size, why don't you?


Scott Loveless said...

I read somewhere that bus drivers are often taught to be aggressive. Need to get your bus from the left lane to the bus stop on the right side of the road, but there are cars there blocking the way? Just go ahead and merge. They'll move, because they know who's gonna lose this fight.

After living in St. Louis for several years, I believe this to be true. My actions, including taking the sidewalk "lane" on one occasion, are why I never had a collision with a bus.

It sounds like the bus drivers in Des Moines are taking it to an extreme, though. But it's not surprising.

Stacia said...

As a resident of Des Moines, I'd just like to say "Hear Hear!"

Amy said...

Buses running over pedestrians? Might does NOT make right.

What penalties are imposed for bus drivers who steamroll humans?