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STROBE LIGHTS TESTED ON ORANGE LINE BUSES IN NEW SAFETY ATTEMPT.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer

Flashing white strobe lights were tested Thursday on a Metro Orange Line bus as MTA officials considered whether to repaint the 60-foot-long gray buses a brighter color to make them more visible and reduce collisions.

The buses that initially drew raves for their sleek design - they're meant to resemble a train - are getting a closer look after four crashes along the busway since it opened last month.

``We hear very frequently that the gray color is hard to see,'' said Richard Hunt, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's San Fernando Valley general manager. ``It comes up at every meeting I'm at.''

Dark orange is among the colors being considered, as is striping to help the bus stand out.

``We're going to do everything we can to help make the riding public aware this bus is out there, and it's a good thing,'' Hunt said.

Safety became a top issue just days after the Orange Line debuted, when a 78-year-old motorist, who might have been talking on a cell phone, ran a red light and her car collided with a bus. Fifteen passengers were treated for mostly minor injuries; the auto's driver was also hurt.

Three other crashes - all minor - have been reported.

But motorists have repeatedly complained that the busway vehicles are difficult to see, even though they're twice as long as a regular bus and weigh 30 tons.

``If I hadn't been paying attention, I could have run into it,'' said Marcia Meyerstein of Chatsworth. ``Sometimes you really need to see things. That thing goes pretty fast, and it should be able to stand out.''

Experts are mixed on the role of vehicle color in a crash.

A spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit funded by auto insurers, said any link between vehicle color and safety is ``preposterous.''

``Based on the research we have done, it sounds pretty far out,'' said spokesman Russ Rader. ``The overall assessment is that while color may give some effect, it can't be very large.''

But Stephen S. Solomon, a New York optometrist who co-authored a 1995 study that found that red or white firetrucks and emergency vehicles have a higher crash rate than those painted lime-yellow, said gray vehicles are difficult to see.

``It blends into the background.'' he said. ``If there's any fog or rain or bad weather, it blends into that. Orange won't be much better.''

He suggests that the buses be repainted yellow or yellow-green, with fluorescent, reflective trim around the sides.

``The human eye is most sensitive to that particular color. It is a very easily detectable color in almost all the backgrounds.''

The American Public Transportation Association, an advocacy group for the transit industry, does not have standards or recommendations for color, a spokeswoman said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky demonstrated a prototype bus with flashing strobe lights, and said he's open to additional lighting or new paint to make the busway safer.

``If it helps, we ought to do it. Obviously, safety is more important than aesthetics.''

But he added that all the crashes so far have been caused by drivers making illegal turns or running red lights - not by their failure to see the buses.

``That's what I think we need to focus on, the red-light running,'' he said. ``Even if you have the most gaudy bus that can be seen from outer space, if you run the red light, it doesn't matter. You can hit the gaudy bus.''

In the 10 days since the Nov. 2 crash with the elderly motorist, county sheriff's deputies have issued 480 citations to motorists, mostly for running red lights. Los Angeles police have issued dozens more.

The MTA is also considering placing photo-enforcement cameras at key busway crossings.

Hunt, the Valley transit official, said the $300 strobe lights will be tested for the next week. The MTA needs clearance from the California Highway Patrol to regularly outfit buses with the lights.

Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761

lisa.mascaro(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) The three tiny strobe lights, seen at upper right in photo, are the latest safety devices to be tried on Orange Line buses.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 18, 2005
Words:704
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