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Are More Accidents Waiting to Happen?

If I were a wiseguy, I’d suggest the brand new $324-million Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley be called the Orange Crush.

Just four days after opening, two buses collided with cars Wednesday, and one of the accidents left 15 people injured. That makes three crackups in one week if you count last Thursday’s collision during a training run.

So what’s going on?

Nothing that couldn’t have been predicted. Particularly in a city filled with idiot drivers on cellphones. In fact, I was on a trial run a few weeks ago with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky when I saw more than one example of an accident waiting to happen.

We were heading west on the dedicated bus line that cuts between North Hollywood and Warner Center when I noticed several blind intersections. At these locations, a wall serves as a sound barrier and extends nearly into the intersection, blocking the bus driver’s view of cross traffic. If the driver of a car blows a red light, I told Yaroslavsky -- something that happens about every two seconds in L.A. -- there’s no way for the bus driver to react in time.

(Preliminary reports indicated there were no visual obstructions involved in Wednesday’s accidents. In other words, the bus drivers at least had some warning of imminent collisions, as opposed to what could happen if a car came blasting through a blind intersection).

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On my preview ride with Yaroslavsky, he suggested we go ask our bus driver about blind intersections. It’s a potential problem, the driver acknowledged. Bus drivers would have to drive as defensively as possible, he said, and slow down.

His real fear, the driver said, was not a car suddenly appearing in front of him, but a kid on a skateboard.

It all looked dangerous enough that I called MTA transportation manager Gary Spivack. (In the interest of full disclosure, I backed the busway back in 2001 when some Valley residents were doing the NIMBY dance. But I’m not the yo-yo who designed the blind intersections.)

“Ultimately, making physical changes ... may have to come about,” Spivack said. “But we’ve been stressing with our operators ... that they don’t go across intersections at 35 miles an hour. We reduced the speed so they can go about 25 miles an hour. Secondly ... they’re always told” to put one foot on the brake when crossing an intersection.

News flash:

At 35 mph or 25 mph, you’re not going to be able to stop a 60-foot-long bus in time to avoid nitwit drivers who blow red lights.

Yaroslavsky realized this after witnessing several near-misses. On Wednesday morning, after hearing of the first accident of the day, he suggested that MTA chief Roger Snoble slow down the buses. After the second accident, Snoble imposed a bus speed limit of 10 mph at intersections.

These are transit experts?

Ridership on the line has been good so far, and once the kinks are worked out, connecting service is improved and drivers get out of the way, the 14-mile Orange Line could be a gem. But if local residents and I could anticipate accidents that will create a stampede among personal injury attorneys, why couldn’t the MTA?

What about plexiglass windows on the sound walls? Or, better yet, what about crossing gates?

“Everything is on the table,” said Yaroslavsky.

Let’s hope so. A couple more accidents, and the name Orange Crush may stick.

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Reach the columnist at steve.lopez@latimes.com


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