Las Vegas Sun

October 4, 2015

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Traffic accidents:

Accident pushes concerns about bus stop safety back into spotlight

The bus stop by the Crown & Anchor pub on Spring Mountain Road sits on the sidewalk, leaving a few feet of concrete between the bench and the road.

Blood, glass and metal speckled the concrete Thursday morning, the scattered remains of the impact between a car estimated to have been speeding at 100 mph and several people waiting for the bus. Snow-white sheets now covered four people, all believed to have been waiting at the stop, who died. Others injured in the accident lie in local hospitals.

As rescue workers fished the driver, Gary Lee Hosey Jr., 24, out of his wrecked vehicle, he was overheard saying: “Did I make it to the liquor store?”

Police believe the driver had been drinking. Speeding east on Spring Mountain, he hit a dip in the road, went airborne, lost control and slammed into the bus stop and the people.

Hosey faces four felony counts of driving under the influence causing death.

It’s not the first time innocents awaiting a bus have been killed by drivers in the Las Vegas Valley.

The most recent fatal bus stop incident was in July 2008, when Patricia Hoff died and Patricia Hughes was so maimed, she had to have both legs amputated at the knee. That, too, was a morning accident. Lawsuits related to the accident are still winding their way through court. In May 2009, Steven Murray was sentenced to 18 years to life for the accident; he had told police he ingested Percocet and Valium the night before the accident.

That accident led to an intensive study by the Regional Transportation Commission into potential bus stop safety measures, including erecting concrete bollards of protection around bus stops.

Erin Breen, chairman of the RTC’s Bus Shelter and Bench Advisory Committee, said she initially favored bollards, similar to the rounded concrete masses erected in front of federal buildings. She changed her mind after reading how pieces of concrete break off and become projectiles when hit by a speeding vehicle.

“If a car going 100 mph had hit one of them, it would have been like firing a gun at those people,” she said.

There’s also the Americans With Disabilities Act to consider. Bollards, which cost around $1,500 each, might create so much of a sidewalk bottleneck that wheelchairs couldn’t get past them. In that case, land behind the bus stop would need to be purchased to make room for more sidewalk.

Ultimately, the bollards idea came and went. Instead, the RTC has embarked on a program to move bus stops behind sidewalks, at least five 5 from the road. It was helped by a 2007 state law allowing the RTC to obtain easements near bus stops from utility companies; the bench and shelter of the bus stop then are moved off the sidewalk and onto the easement.

Of 3,400 bus stops throughout the valley, 515 have been moved since 2008. The $15 million cost has been covered through federal grants, said Carl Scarbrough, the RTC’s transit amenities manager.

The problem remains with land owned by other private businesses. Some of those businesses do not want a bus stop on their property or would only give up land at a steep price. With public dollars scarce, the added cost makes the idea less appealing. So far, Scarbrough said, the RTC hasn’t attempted to obtain easements from those private businesses.

Bus turnouts are likely the best safety measure, said Denis Cederburg, Clark County director of public works. Turnouts not only move the bus out of traffic’s way, but they push pedestrians awaiting the bus several more feet away from the road. The problem is cost.

Construction of one turnout is $40,000, Cedarburg said. That doesn’t include the cost of purchasing additional land to make room for the turnout. In five years, the county has built about 25 turnouts on major thoroughfares.

State Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, agrees turnouts are the ultimate safety measure, but he doesn’t want to wait another half-century or whatever it might take to have them built throughout the valley.

Hoping to become chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee during next year’s legislative session, Manendo said he would make bus stop safety a priority in committee discussions. At first blush, he said, he believes bollards might need to be addressed.

“Turnouts are great, and that’s the best way, but we can’t wait 50 years,” he said. “In the meantime, we just have to do something, especially on these major roads. This has been a horrific year, period, for pedestrian safety.”

Thursday’s accident has seemed to push the agenda of change in other people’s minds, as well. Susan Brager, Clark County Commission chairwoman, said she hoped to address bus stop safety at an upcoming commission meeting.

Brager is the survivor of a pedestrian-vehicle accident 45 years ago that nearly took her life. She relived all those memories — being crushed between two cars, one of them helmed by a drunk driver; hearing that she was dying; and spending two months in a body cast, then months more at home in bed — after hearing about the Spring Mountain Road accident.

“I was blessed, truly, but hearing these things brings it back, instantaneously,” she said.

She called pedestrian safety a “high priority” for Clark County, and she wants commissioners to talk about obtaining federal grants or figuring out some way to fund bus stop safety features.

“We cannot lose one more person to an incident at a bus stop,” Brager said. “Something, whether it is putting up warning signs at bus stops for people to be aware of traffic, has to be done because this was senseless,” she said. “There’s never a good death, but this was totally horrific.”

Breen, who is also director of UNLV’s Safety Community Partnership and one of the valley’s leading advocates for traffic safety issues, said there was one task that can be done immediately. The problem is it can't be purchased.

“The common denominator in these accidents is speed and impaired drivers,” she said. “If we’re going to do something and if the commission wants to do something, reduce existing speeds.”

Admitting that posting lower speed limits likely wouldn’t have stopped Thursday’s crash, Breen said it might make a difference in more average accidents.

“Because speed is related every single time,” she said. “The RTC has looked and looked and looked. There’s no engineering for idiots. … The only thing we can point our finger at is reducing speed.”

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