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Light Rail Crashes Most Common Downtown Near Speer

Good Question: Where are the most dangerous places along the light rail line?
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Laura Triem was struck by a light rail train on Nov. 4 at Speer and Stout. It was determined she was at fault when she stepped in front of the train. (credit: CBS)

Laura Triem was struck by a light rail train on Nov. 4 at Speer and Stout. It was determined she was at fault when she stepped in front of the train. (credit: CBS)

Alan Gionet Good Question
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Written by Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – The trains somehow make their way past a knot of people who part and let it by.

“It looks like and Indiana Jones movie,” one RTD rider told us.

People dashing this way and that, cars scooting across intersections. It’s enough to make a light rail driver ring the bell and honk the horn non-stop.

We took a look at accidents over the years along the light rail line and came up with this; the greater the density, the more likely the crash – at least for the most part. Statistics prepared by the RTD to the Public Utilities Commission show the highest number of accidents between 1999 and June of 2011 in the downtown area.

Three of the top four are near where the light rail crosses Speer. There were 39 accidents where Kalamath crosses near Speer and Colfax. A total of 38 on Speer southbound and 28 on Speer northbound. The only other crossing with numbers that high is where the light rail crosses 7th near Colfax at the entrance to the Auraria campus.

Most of the accidents, by far were train-car collisions. Far fewer were train-pedestrian accidents, and rarely a bicyclist hit.

Downtown people watch nervously as the trains cross the busy 16th Street Mall during the noon hour. Vigorous bell ringing seems to part the people on the tracks. One rider told us he’s seen a lot of close calls.

“Near misses, pedestrians barely get past it.”

Riders have seen “Cars just slamming on their brakes because of the light rail.”

But the number of crashes there is lower. There have been eleven closer to the Convention Center at 14th and Stout and 15 at 15th and Stout.

“I’d say the most challenging times at the Convention Center is when they have big citywide conventions in,” said the RTD’s David Genova, assistant general manager for safety, security and facilities.

Where the stats seem to vary from the density rule, is north of downtown. There have been 20 accidents at Welton and Park Avenue West. A total of 12 at Welton and 21st, 15 at Welton and 22nd and 15 at Welton and 26th.

“One of the situations we see up along Welton is it being a one way street, where we have two way train traffic on the same street.”

Welton is one way northbound.

Drivers may look to the South, but not to the north before making their move to cross Welton from the cross streets.

The RTD has made some changes. There are flashing signs prohibiting turns at 7th and Colfax now when the coast is not clear. But students at Auraria still report cars crossing.

“The light over there says you can’t make a right turn, but the cars tend to do it anyway and it gets me really nervous because they just take it while the train is barely about to hit them.”

There has been improvement at Speer as well.

“When we originally opened the system there was a permissive left turn on a red from Stout onto Speer, so after monitoring the system and seeing that automobiles were not seeing light rail vehicles, we changed that signal system to be a red arrow,” said Genova.

One of the troubling trends is increasing distractions. Particularly with pedestrians and commonly around Auraria.

“Texting, trying to get to class and what not,” a student told us.

“We see that more and more, not just the headphones but you know just people looking at their PDAs. You know walking along texting, or walking along emailing and you can see quite a bit of that as you walk along the 16th Street Mall as well,” said Genova.

Inattention seems the most common cause of accidents. And many we found with earphones even admitted to it.

“You don’t hear the train coming or even recognize it, So they have to honk their horn really loud because you don’t know when they’re moving,” a student at Auraria told us.

RELATED STORY: Mother Of Light Rail Victim Doesn’t Blame Operator For Accident

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