Is there something about Walnut Street leading to streetcar crashes?

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati streetcar's familiar ding was silenced Tuesday because of two difference crashes, one involving a bus and the other involving a cement truck.

Brandy Jones, spokeswoman for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, said the vehicle did suffer some damage but returned to the system's Over-the-Rhine garage on its own.

WCPO found the streetcar has been involved in six crashes, three during its testing phase and three since it began accepting passengers. Of those six crashes, four have happened in the same three-block area of Walnut Street.

SORTA said the crashes remain under investigation. The vehicles have cameras to capture crashes, but, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation, video any anything else related to a streetcar crash investigation is not a public record under state law.

 

WCPO went to the stretch of Walnut Street in question and found two things: The streetcar track switches lanes at Sixth Street, so if a driver doesn't turn right onto Sixth from Walnut's turn-only lane, he or she could collide with the streetcar. There's also a bus stop on the right side of the tracks at Fifth Street, so buses have to cross the tracks to get back into traffic.

Walnut Street, between Third and Eighth streets, also is one of Downtown's most congested corridors.

"We know we have some issues with that corridor on Walnut Street, south of the library," City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said during a meeting with transportation department officials last month. They were discussing a study to improve the city center's traffic signal system.

The streetcar hasn't been found at fault in any of the crashes yet, depending on the outcome of the latest two investigations.

In many places, it can take automobile drivers some time to get used to sharing the road with a new mode of transportation.

According to data from the Federal Transit Administration -- the government agency established in the 1960s to provide assistance to transit systems of all types across the country -- only 16 major collisions involving streetcars were reported nationwide in 2015. That's not including minor incidents, which, in most cases, means an insurance claim did not need to be filed or there was only minor damage to vehicles involved.

When Portland, Oregon, opened its streetcar system in 2001, it reported five major collisions in its first year. Tucson, Arizona, which opened its streetcar in 2014, saw just two, the data show.

Kansas City's streetcar only saw one collision in its first three months of operations, in which it was determined that the driver of the automobile ran a red light before crashing into the side of the streetcar, Donna Mandelbaum, spokeswoman for the KC Streetcar Authority, told WCPO.

SORTA has measures in place on how to prepare passengers in the event of a traffic collision or other emergency, and the protocols differ depending on the severity of the incident.

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