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Bus drivers feel attacked by Vision Zero safety plan

HANNA: A Williamsburg bus driver hit and seriously injured a girl crossing a city street last Friday. He was arrested for “failing to yield.” The charges are new. They’re part of the city’s Vision Zero plan for pedestrian safety.

JOE: Some bus drivers are outraged that criminal charges could put their livelihoods at risk. But Anjuli Sastry reports that the city council is considering an amendment that could keep bus drivers from being arrested.

It’s a freezing Friday morning at the M60 bus stop on 106th Street and Broadway.

AMBI: M60 bus noise in back

The M60 bus runs from Broadway toward La Guardia Airport. It’s just another day for Jerome Johnson. He’s been a bus driver for 22 years. What kind of bus driver is Johnson?

JEROME JOHNSON: “A safe one.”

Johnson is one of many bus drivers who say they feel threatened by Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Vision Zero Safety plan. The plan is trying to increase pedestrian safety citywide.

But transit union officials and bus drivers feel a right-of-way law in the plan attacks bus drivers. The law went effect in August and holds all drivers who don’t yield and then injure or kill a pedestrian accountable.

JOHNSON: We’ve been the victims of a plan that De Blasio has put in place.”

Advocates of Vision Zero feel differently.

OLLIE OLIVER: The right of way law that’s being applied is an important protection for pedestrians.

That’s Ollie Oliver. He’s a field organizing coordinator for Transportation Alternatives, a city group that advocates for safer streets. He says the new law is for all drivers, not just bus drivers.

OLIVER: Weakening the right of way law would not be a step forward for protecting vulnerable road users. They’re not overtly harsh.

Bus drivers are up in arms after a fellow a bus driver was arrested for hitting a 15-year-old girl in Williamsburg last Friday. Another bus driver was arrested in December for fatally striking a 75-year-old man in East Flatbush.

Ed Lovell lives at 96th Street and West End Avenue, another intersection where pedestrians have been killed.

PARENT: It feels dangerous walking around here. I have two young children so I’m worried. (0:04)

But Lovell thinks all drivers in the area are aggressive, not just bus drivers.

PARENT: Bus drivers are not the biggest part of the problem.

A wide stretch of Broadway between Columbus Circle and 125th Street is considered a major crash corridor by the Vision Zero plan and the city has proposed better traffic lights and speed limit radars for the area.

Johnson, who drives up Broadway every day, says it isn’t okay to hit people, of course. But he doesn’t think bus drivers should be arrested for accidents.

JOHNSON: “We as humans sometimes we do make mistakes. We don’t come to work to hurt people. When you feel like you can be arrested for something, it’s kinda stressful.”

New York City Council will consider a proposed amendment next month that could exclude bus drivers from the right-of-way law.

Anjuli Sastry, Columbia Radio News.

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