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Pedestrian Safety Guide for Transit Agencies

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Chapter 5: Legal Issues

It is important to understand the legal context for pedestrian safety in the areas around transit stops and stations. Federal and state laws, local statutes and case precedent all dictate the level of responsibility assigned to a transit agency to address pedestrian safety issues, even if the transit agencies lack the authority to make changes to the roadway or roadway operations. This emphasizes the need for transit agencies to partner with other organizations and assign responsibility for ensuring pedestrian safety and enacting engineering improvements. Ensuring compliance with these laws not only protects the transit agency but can provide the best possible service to pedestrians and transit customers. The legal topics that are discussed in this chapter include:

The laws and cases summarized in this chapter are not exhaustive and include only a selection for illustrative purposes. Transit agencies should understand the laws and rulings applicable in their jurisdictions.

A. Example Laws Pertaining to Pedestrian Access to Transit72

Although many states and local governments have adopted the Uniform Vehicle Code, other state and local statutes differ by jurisdiction. It is the responsibility of every transit agency to know and follow the applicable laws when designing for pedestrian access to its stations. Many of these laws provide minimum requirements and should be thought of as starting points for designers and planners, who have the flexibility to create facilities beyond the minimum design standards. This list is not exhaustive, but is intended to provide initial guidance.

1. Uniform Vehicle Code

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances is a private, non-profit membership organization dedicated to providing uniform traffic laws and regulations through the timely dissemination of information and model legislation on traffic safety issues. The Committee produces a variety of publications related to traffic laws and ordinances. The primary document produced by the Committee is the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC).

Most states have adopted, in whole or part, the UVC as the basis for legislation and regulation related to the operation of motor vehicles on public roadways. The excerpts from the UVC presented below illustrate the basic traffic laws that govern the interactions between pedestrians and motor vehicles. Where applicable, these laws provide the starting point upon which upgrades and improvements are based. Wherever the existing environment does not provide for the safe movement of pedestrians under these rules, additional engineering, education, and enforcement improvements may be necessary.

Pedestrians at Street Crossings

Several sections of the UVC address the relationship between vehicles and pedestrians. These rules primarily focus on right of way assignment at street crossings where pedestrians are legally allowed to cross the street. Driver education and licensing exams are potential methods for educating drivers about these rules and their responsibilities with regard to pedestrians. Drivers should not assume that all pedestrians know all of the rules below, and every effort should be made to educate the walking public about the appropriate laws.

UVC § 11- 502(a) Pedestrians’ right of way in crosswalks
When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.

UVC § 11-1112 Stop when traffic obstructed
No driver shall enter an intersection or a marked crosswalk or drive onto any railroad grade crossing unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection, crosswalk or railroad grade crossing to accommodate the vehicle such driver is operating without obstructing the passage of other vehicles, pedestrians or railroad trains notwithstanding any traffic-control signal indication to proceed.

UVC § 11- 501(a) Pedestrian obedience to traffic-control devices and traffic regulations
A pedestrian shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device specifically applicable to such pedestrian, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.

UVC § 11- 503(a) Crossing at other than crosswalks
Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

UVC § 11- 503(b) Crossing at other than crosswalks [Tunnel or bridge available]
Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

UVC § 11- 503(c) Crossing at other than crosswalks [Crossing between adjacent intersections]
Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.

Pedestrians at Transit Stops

The rules outlined in this section dictate driver behavior at transit stops where a transit vehicle is loading and unloading passengers. Under these circumstances pedestrians are expected, and drivers are required to stop or slow to provide more pedestrian-friendly conditions. Pedestrians should still be aware of their environment and should recognize that the transit service is operating in mixed traffic.

UVC § 11-1403 Passing streetcar on right
The driver of a vehicle overtaking upon the right any streetcar stopped or about to stop for the purpose of receiving or discharging any passenger shall stop at least five feet to the rear of the nearest running board or door of such streetcar and remain standing until all passengers have boarded or upon alighting have reached a place of safety, except that where a safety zone has been established, a vehicle need not be brought to a stop before passing any such streetcar but may proceed past such car at a speed not greater than is reasonable and proper and with due caution for the safety of pedestrians.

UVC § 11-1402 (b) Passing streetcar on left
The driver of any vehicle when permitted to overtake and pass upon the left of a streetcar which has stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging any passenger shall reduce speed and may proceed only upon exercising due caution for pedestrians and shall accord pedestrians the right of way when required by other sections of this chapter.

Pedestrians Near At-Grade Railroad Crossings
The following rules dictate that for safety reasons, everyone (including drivers and pedestrians) must obey warning signs at at-grade railroad crossings.

UVC § 11-701(b) Obedience to signal indicating approach of train
No person shall drive any vehicle through, around or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing while such gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed.

UVC § 11- 513(b) Bridge and railroad signals [Railroad barrier opening/closing]
No pedestrian shall pass through, around, over, or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad grade crossing or bridge while such gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed.

2. Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed as a Federal law in 1990 and has been updated continually. The ADA is designed to ensure that public facilities are accessible for all people, regardless of physical characteristics and capabilities.

The United States Access Board is the agency responsible for developing and maintaining design criteria for the built environment, transit vehicles, telecommunications equipment, and for electronic and information technology. It also provides technical assistance and training on these requirements and on accessible design that may be useful to transit agencies implementing ADA compatible designs. The Access Board’s website provides a wide range of reference materials, resources and helpful links.

As previously discussed in this guide, the ADAAG describes requirements and design guidelines for all types of public facilities, including transportation stops, vehicles and rights-of-way. Chapter 10 of the ADAAG is devoted to transportation facilities. The ADAAG is a minimum design standard for compliance and should be used with discretion. Where additional accommodations are necessary or desirable, the final design should exceed the ADAAG’s design standards.

The full text of the ADAAG can be found online at: http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm.

B. Legal Cases

Past rulings from legal cases can also impact the required level of safety and accessibility that must be provided by a transit agency. These precedents are established in each state individually, although state courts can use out-of-state rulings as background when making decisions. It is important for transit agencies to be familiar with the cases presented below and additional similar cases in their own states.

One of the major legal areas of concern in the complex environment of pedestrian safety is liability. Every organization, government and agency is concerned with avoiding lawsuits and claims against them. Liability for injuries sustained while accessing transit has been assigned to various types of agencies and governments in the past, including transit agencies. The following are some recent legal cases that address transit agency liability for safety of pedestrians while accessing transit. Improvements to pedestrian safety through the types of coordinated efforts detailed in this guide have the potential to decrease the risk of judgements against transit agencies during litigation.

1. Transit Agency’s Role in the Safety of Pedestrian Access Routes to Transit Stops
Bonnano v. Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (CCCTA)73, 74, 75

On the morning of November 16, 1993, Darlene Bonanno was hit by a car and seriously injured while attempting to cross Pacheco Boulevard—an unsignalized intersection with a painted crosswalk—to get to a CCCTA bus stop. The CCCTA had received numerous complaints about the safety of this bus stop starting in the early 1980s. Among other agencies, Bonanno sued the CCCTA claiming the location of the bus stop constituted a “dangerous condition.” In April 2003, the California Supreme Court affirmed the decision that the CCCTA was partially liable for the accident because:

  1. The property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury.
  2. The injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition.
  3. The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred.
  4. The public entity had actual and constructive notice of the dangerous condition a sufficient time prior to the injury to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition. (Government Code section 835).

The CCCTA unsuccessfully argued that the intersection—controlled by the County—and not the bus stop, was the dangerous condition proximately causing the injury. However, the California Supreme Court relied on established law recognizing “that hazards present on adjoining property may create a dangerous condition of public property when users of the public property are necessarily exposed to those risks.” (California Supreme Court, Bonanno v. CCCTA, 9). Although the CCCTA did not control the intersection, it did control the bus stop and was aware of the dangerous intersection its patrons were required to cross to reach the stop. Furthermore, CCCTA could have relocated or removed the bus stop without facing an undue burden. Although CCCTA was found to be only one percent liable in the accident, they were ordered to pay the plaintiff $1.6 million. This ruling suggests that transit agencies should broaden their consideration of safe pedestrian access to include ingress and egress routes to transit facilities across adjacent property. Transit agencies should also work with the agencies that own and operate the roadways in their jurisdiction to avoid dangerous access conditions around transit stops.

2. Transit Agency Liability for Pedestrian Safety During Transfers
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)76

In February 2006, Tenisha Walker was struck by a car while crossing an intersection to transfer between a SEPTA trolley and a SEPTA bus parked across the street. Since the accident was a hit-and-run and Walker lacked insurance, she filed a claim with the state insurance fund, Assigned Claims Plan, which in turn sought compensation from the transit agency. A Pennsylvania court ruled that transit agencies could be held liable for damages resulting from a passenger being hit by a car while transferring between transit vehicles. Under Pennsylvania law, a person standing or walking outside of a vehicle can still qualify as a vehicle occupant if there is a connection between the injury sustained and the use of the vehicle. The trial court ruled that “the transit carrier for both the vehicle from which the passenger disembarked and the vehicle to which she was intending to transfer were the same.” Therefore, Walker was eligible to recover damages from SEPTA because she remained a SEPTA passenger throughout the duration of her transfer. Defining transferring customers as vehicle “occupants” is an important holding because it means that Pennsylvania transit agencies can be sued as common carriers when transferring riders sustain injuries. This case supports a national trend that safe pedestrian access is the responsibility of the transit agency even when a patron is not on a vehicle or even property owned by the agency. When locating stops, planners and engineers should account for the movements of all passengers accessing a vehicle, especially those transferring between vehicles, to provide for their safety.

3. Transit Agency Liability for Pedestrian Safety at Drop-off Locations
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA)77

On the morning of December 14, 1995, Cynthia Wiggins was struck by a dump truck as she attempted to cross a busy highway after alighting a NFTA bus; she died of her injuries 19 days later. At the time of the accident, Wiggins was on her way to work at the Walden Galleria Mall in suburban Erie County, a 50-minute bus ride from her home in inner-city Buffalo, New York. Since Pyramid Companies, the mall owner, did not allow buses serving inner-city Buffalo to stop in the mall’s parking lot, Wiggins got off at the closest bus stop, which was 300 yards away from the mall and across a seven-lane highway with no sidewalk. It was while weaving through parked cars at an intersection on this highway that Wiggins was hit when the light turned green before she was safely across. The Wiggins family sought $150 million in damages from multiple defendants, including NFTA. The lawsuit claimed that NFTA was negligent in dropping off a rider at a location without appropriate pedestrian access, which NFTA knew or should have known made the bus stop dangerous. Instead, the transit agency should have dropped off riders on mall property or at least near a crosswalk. NFTA argued that it fulfilled its obligation to Wiggins by delivering her safely to her destination. Furthermore, the transit agency had attempted to establish a bus stop on mall property, but the mall owners refused to allow it. The lawsuit was settled for $2.55 million, with NFTA responsible for $300,000 of the damages. Although this case ended without a court ruling and no admission of wrongdoing, it suggests that transit agencies face liability risks when they drop passengers off at bus stops in proximity to dangerous pedestrian conditions and should work with local landowners and developers to provide the safest access possible.

Overall, case law indicates that transit agencies bear some responsibility in ensuring that their passengers can access stops and stations safely, even on property that the agency does not own. This means that transit agencies should locate bus stops where pedestrian access facilities are safe and adequate. Even in situations where the roadway, crossing facilities, and pathways are not under the direct control of the transit provider, the agency should work with other involved transportation agencies to provide the necessary facilities or relocate the bus stop to a more suitable location. A coordinated effort by transit agencies and owners and operators of related transportation facilities will result in the provision of safe facilities for pedestrians. In addition to the benefit of reduced liability for the transit agency, improved safety can translate to a more appealing transportation option and ultimately lead to increased ridership.

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Page last modified on January 31, 2013
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