- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Metro’s general manager announced yesterday that the agency will begin a safety-retraining program for bus drivers, after two pedestrians were fatally struck Wednesday evening.

“We need to be proactive,” said General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. “Today we began face-to-face, one-on-one and group sessions with our bus operators to re-emphasize the requirement to wait for and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.”

Mr. Catoe also offered condolences to the families of the two female pedestrians, who were killed at Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street Northwest on Wednesday at about 6:30 p.m.

He pointed out that California has a state-mandated, annual safety refresher course for municipal bus drivers and said Metro would consider a similar program. He said the program likely would require Metrobus drivers to take at least a one- to two-day course. Metro now has no annual retraining program.

Mr. Catoe, who previously served as deputy chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, took over as Metro’s general manager last month and has pledged to make safety a priority.

Victor Kolako,53, the driver of the Route 54 bus that struck the two Northern Virginia women, has been charged with two counts of negligent homicide and placed on leave, Metro officials said.

Mr. Kolako has been a Metrobus driver for more than six years and is the first to face such charges, agency spokes-man Steven Taubenkibel said.

Mr. Kolako made a left turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue from Seventh Street and struck the two pedestrians, who were in the Pennsylvania Avenue crosswalk and had the right of way, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

One of the victims, Sally McGee, of Alexandria, was pronounced dead at the scene. The other, Martha S. Schoenborn, 59, who police said was Miss McGee’s neighbor, was taken to George Washington University Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

The deaths bring the number of pedestrians killed in Metrobus collisions in the past month to three and the number of pedestrian fatalities in the District in less than two weeks to six. The last Metrobus incident involving a pedestrian fatality was on Jan. 16. There have been 12 Metrobus-related pedestrian fatalities in the past seven years, Mr. Taubenkibel said.

The city has taken steps to boost pedestrian safety with an initiative called the “Pedestrian Master Plan.”

Still, one community activist is dissatisfied with the efforts to make city streets safer.

“We called for a pedestrian master plan three years ago, so this plan is three years too late,” said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.

Erik Linden, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, said 12 percent of the city’s residents walk to work, so “the pedestrian master plan raises pedestrian safety to a top priority.”

He also said the agency will take a “very close look at the intersection where the Metrobus accident occurred.”

Mr. Linden also acknowledged that there have been several accidents at that intersection. Agency studies have indicated that the intersection is among the most dangerous in the District.

To reduce bus accidents, Metro recently began testing ultrasonic technology on its buses that would alert drivers to nearby obstacles. The devices have been installed on 50 buses in Northern Virginia.

Metro also began installing strobe lights on buses last month to help pedestrians spot buses sooner. It is first transit agency in the country to put such lights on city buses, Metro officials said. The bus involved in the accident did not have a strobe light, Mr. Catoe said.

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