On Saturday, December 1, the two year delayed Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) bus service began operation on the 9 mile stretch of Central with great fanfare to coincide with Small Business Saturday. The city’s transit department had “ station ambassadors” at each of the 19 ART bus stop platforms in the middle of central to answer questions and help direct passengers. Mayor Tim Keller even took the opportunity to ride the bus for photo ops. It was announced the ART bus service is free through the end of the year with the city scheduled to start charging fees on January 2.
ART is a replacement of the 766 Red Line, which runs from the Central and Unser Transit Center to Louisiana Boulevard before turning north to the Uptown Transit Center It also extends the 777 Green Line, which serves Central Avenue all the way from Unser Boulevard to Tramway Boulevard.
SIX ACCIDENTS IN 12 DAYS OF FULL OPERATION
The local news media has reported that there have been 6 accidents involving the ART Buses in the first 12 days of full operation.
The first crash involving an ART bus happened on Central near 52nd Street on Wednesday morning, December 4. APD Police reported that a driver was in the ART bus lane when he was hit by the bus. The driver of the car hit was taken to the hospital for medical treatment, and the bus had to be towed.
The second ART bus crash happened in front of the New Mexico State Fairgrounds at Central and Louisiana at around 4:30 p.m on December 4. A driver sideswiped the bus with their front left light as they were trying to turn into the ART lane. The bus was scratched, but resumed service. No injuries were reported.
On December 5, a third ART bus crash was reported near Central and Monroe. According to one news report the crash involved a black Dodge that appeared to have damage to the driver’s side door. Accroding to news reports, a driver heading east merged into the ART bus lane thinking it was a left-hand turn lane, east of Nob Hill on Central near Monroe.
City spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said this of the accident:
“The driver of the car needed to be turning left, and he told officers he thought he needed to be one more lane over … He turned into the ART bus.”
On December 6th, the city confirmed a 4th crash involving an Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus in its first week of service. According to a news report, a car crashed into the bus around 10:30 p.m. Friday, December 6 at Central and Princeton, possibly after trying to pass another vehicle by using the ART lane. The driver of the car was taken to the hospital in unknown condition, and the bus only sustained minor damage to the front bumper.
On December 7, a 5th accident involving another ART Bus occurred around 5:15 pm on Central Ave. SW, near New York Ave. SW., directly across the street from the El Vado Hotel. There were approximately 10 passengers on board, at the time of the crash. No one was injured.
On December 11, a 6th Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus crash was reported in southwest Albuquerque. The crash happened at Central Avenue and 52nd Street. It is the same spot the first ART bus crash happened. According to a city spokesperson, an eastbound ART bus had the right of way and was trying to proceed when a black vehicle turned in front of the bus. The driver of the black vehicle was at fault. The ART Bus sustained minor scratches and resume its normal route.
Media reports of all 5 accidents can be viewed at the below links:
As of December 20, there have been 10 accidents with ART Buses. The city says it has “$300,000 in replacement parts, including mirrors … fenders, windshields and windows and wheelchair ramps, doors, the whole slew of different parts” to repair the ART Buses in anticipation of all the accidents. According to this report, the parts are interchangeable with buses they already have. After 10 accidents, the city is now worried about running out of buses and parts and the city says if they’re forced to take any more buses off the route, they’ll have to change the schedule. According to this report two ART buses are out of commission and it will cost about $80,000 to repair them.
A CASE OF NEGLIGENT DESIGN
(DISCLAIMER: This section is not intended in any way to be an exhaustive or definitive statement of the law to be relied upon as legal advice to anyone or by anyone.)
In general, tort law is a collection of civil law remedies entitling a person to recover damages for loss and injury, even death, which have been caused by the actions, omissions or statements of another person in such circumstances that the latter was in breach of a duty or obligation imposed by law.
When it comes to civil causes of action for negligence to collect damages, a plaintiff in general must establish in court by preponderance of the evidence 5 elements:
1. A duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
2. A breach of that duty by the defendant;
3. A “causal connection” between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting harm;
4. Proximate cause, which relates to whether the harm was foreseeable;
5. Actual harm (monetary or physical damages)
(SOURCE: Pete Dinelli memories from second semester law school, TORTS II)
When it comes to the ART Bus Project, many of the same principles applied to “defective products” and “negligent design” will probably be argued.
Under the law of negligence, one of the most common causes of action for damages that the general public is familiar with is for “defective product” claims involving negligent design of the product. “Such cases involve the design decisions made by the manufacturer during the creation of the product. The focus of a negligent design claim is that even if the product was in its intended condition once produce, there was something inherently wrong with the product that was foreseeable and that caused the damage. In a negligent design case, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant failed to exercise reasonable care, the injured plaintiff must demonstrate that the product created an unreasonable risk of foreseeable injury.To establish a negligent design case, the injured person must present evidence regarding either:
The magnitude of the risk of injury presented by the defect in the product and the reasonableness of the proposed alternative designs, or
Other evidence concerning the “unreasonableness” of the risks in the design”
Many of the principles of negligence and burden of proof requirements apply and are relied upon in “negligent design of highway construction.” Accidents caused by inadequate signage, lack of warning lights, poor lighting, improper drainage, defective traffic control signs, faded highway lines or even unsafe, inadequate or nonexistent guardrails could all be considered negligent road design. Improper maintenance of the road such as loose debris, gravel, potholes, construction refuse, or cement cracks can also be considered negligent road design. When it comes to ART, the bus stop platforms in the middle of central and no left turns along the route could conceivably fall into the category of negligent design contributing to accidents.
Under the New Mexico Tort claims act, the city is generally granted immunity from liability for personal injury barring recovery for tort (41-1-4 NMSA 1978). However, there are exceptions to the immunity. The immunity granted does not apply to liability for damages resulting from bodily injury, wrongful death or property damage caused by the negligence of the government entity and immunity exists for design but not for maintenance. ( 41-4-11. Liability; highways and streets.)
The subsequent maintenance language of 41-4-11 (A) is what is problematic and says immunity granted “does not apply to liability for damages resulting from bodily injury, wrongful death or property damage caused by the negligence … in subsequent maintenance of any … highway, roadway, street, … .” The platforms were completed almost a year ago and stood idle and unused and with no accidents. Now that the buses are up and running the city has the duty to maintain the route and required to take steps to reduce accidents now that the city now knows what the problems are with the line and there is a duty of maintenance. If the buses themselves, the platforms and no left turns are contributing to accidents that can now be forseen, and the city does not do anything to mitigate or cure the problem, it’s a maintenance issue and the language of 41-4-11 (A) kicks in.
In the event that a civil lawsuit is filed relating to any accident on the ART Bus route, it is extremely likely that the attorney for the injured plaintiff will be demanding all documents relating to the design and construction of the ART Bus project. The lawyers will demand to see all the plans, construction designs and traffic flow studies for the project and perhaps even environmental impact studies and the applications with the Federal Transportation Administration for the $125 million dollar grant. At the center of the law suite will be that the city knew or should have known that the construction and design of the ART Bus system would lead to multiple accidents with the buses and perhaps the death of pedestrians trying to catch a bus in the middle of central. What is pathetic is that during public hearings on the ART project held by the previous Republican administration, speaker after speaker warned city officials of the problems associated with building bus platforms in the middle of central.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
After 5 accidents in 8 days of full operation involving ART Buses, the city said it has no plans to suspend service and are looking at plans to add barriers or make changes to the ART stretch. Alicia Manzano, a city spokesperson said:
“We’ve been trying to do an evaluation of the corridor, and we’ll continue to do that over the next six months to see if there are probably areas, if we need to put temporary barricading. … What we’ve heard from partners across the country, like those in Cleveland who have operated a system similar, it took folks many years to get used to the new driving pattern and it’s just a matter of continuing to educate drivers.”
No one in their right mind will want to take an ART Bus and risk serious injury as a passenger and no one will want to drive central and deal with 60 foot buses barreling down on you on left side. No one will want to wait years for people to get use to driving patterns.
With 4 ART Bus accidents in 7 full days of operation, this is what happens with a negligent design of a bus system. Keller should suspend the service along central before someone gets killed, rededicate the bus lanes to public use and start to find an alternative use for the platforms. It is better to have the dedicated lanes used by the public and the platforms stand idle before someone gets killed. Otherwise, the Keller Administration is setting the city up for lawsuit after lawsuit as more accidents happen.
From the get go, it was a lack of common sense to have a bus system on one of the busiest streets in the city that resulted in one lane of traffic in each direction and that prohibits left lane turns along a 9 mile stretch of central. It was also obvious that the platforms built in the middle of Central would lead to people getting into danger by walking through traffic to get to them. With the 3 accidents its apparent vehicular traffic will have trouble adjusting to having 60-foot buses traveling passing by them on their left side. It was foreseeable that the ART Bus System would result in serious accident.
Complicating the problem is that bus ridership continues to plummet and it is doubtful a “cheesy” little 9 mile stretch of central is going to increase ridership. See the below postscript on bus ridership.
ALTERNATIVE USE SOLUTION PROPOSED
Although the financial cost of ART was $125 million, it did not come out of the city’s coffers. The funding was overwhelmingly from federal grants from the Federal Transportation Department. The real loss the city sustained is the destruction of the character of central and Route 66. Mayor Tim Keller when refusing to stop the project said it would cost upwards of $200,000,000 million to restore central to its original state. The argument made by Keller was highly doubtful without him providing how that figure was arrived. Keller was also presuming the bus stop platforms would have to be removed.
One solution to consider is to get rid of the dedicated bus lanes and return Central to the two-lane traffic it was in both directions and restore the 350 lost parking spaces on Central. An alternative use for the bus station platforms needs to be found. The white “elephant canopies” should be removed and the platforms stripped barren, but leaving the electrical utilities installed. An alternative use for the platforms that blends into the neighborhood architecture needs to be found. Such alternative use could be large sculptures to commemorate route 66, neon signage reminiscent of the 1950s and Route 66’s heyday or even planters for trees and nighttime lighting.
The $50,000 BURQUE sculpture which now sits on a flat bed at the Rio Grande zoo after removed from civic center could be placed on one of the platforms as a permanent fixture. Designed sculptures could carry the theme of the platform’s locations, such as the Nob Hill platform, the UNM platform across the street from the Frontier Restaurant and the Old Town area platform.
The funding can easily come from the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) with general obligation bonds placed on next year’s ballot for voter approval. Funding could also come from the “Art In Public Places” fund mandated for development.
Work on rededicating the bus platforms for other usage would not take as much time nor as much construction and no tearing up central the way ART did.
Given the continuing plunge in bus ridership, it is more likely than not ART is already an obsolete project that no one will use. The $135 million ART Bus project was built on the philosophy “if we build it, people will use it”. With the accidents, the real philosophy is looking more and more like “if we built it, someone is gonna get killed.”
Mayor Tim Keller should order the the transit department to shut down the ART Bus line immediately.
On November 5, 2019, the city’s ABQ RIDE Ridership Statistics by Route for Fiscal Year 2018 (July 2017 through June 2018) were released by the Keller Administration. You can read the report here:
The city report published by ABQ RIDE bus service shows a decreasing number of riders boarding buses in total and a decrease in ridership on some of the city’s bus system’s most popular routes. According to the statistics compiled by ABQ Ride for Rapid Ride buses, ridership fell from 1.91 million total riders on all Rapid Ride routes in FY 2017, to 1.65 million total riders on all Rapid Ride routes in FY 2018.
The Route 66 bus across Central Avenue, the total number of riders fell from 2.26 million total riders in FY 2017, to 2.06 million total riders in FY 2018. Comparing the data between FY 2016 and FY 2018, the ridership decline is very noticeable. In FY 2016 (July 2015-June 2016), ABQ Ride counted 11.20 million riders on all Rapid Ride and regular routes. In FY 2018 (July 2017-June 2018) ABQ Ride counted 9.47 million riders on all Rapid Ride and regular routes.
In a story written by reporter Dennis Domrzalski and published by ABQ Reports on November 18, it was reported very few, or almost no one, uses the Albuquerque bus transit system. According to the United states Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a meager 1.7% of working-age people in the Albuquerque area use public transit to commute to work while 89.5% take cars or trucks to commute to work.
According to the census, there are 322,822 working-age people yet a mere 4,857 of those people, or 1.5%, walked to work, and 6,150, or 1.9% found some other way to get to their jobs. The statistics reflect that 98.3% of the working-age people in the Albuquerque area do not use public transit to get to work all the while the city’s bus system keeps growing despite falling ridership.
You can read the full ABQ Report and review statistical graphs here: