What’s wrong with this picture?
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which operates light rail and bus transit in Silicon Valley, California, sent an email last week asking people not to lean their bikes on these safety barriers.
Lest you think this was motivated by a bureaucratic wish to avoid begriming publicly owned street furniture with your filthy bikes, there is in fact a deeper reason.
These posts bend. Bad things can happen if these posts bend while a train passes by. Here’s a photo-realistic simulation of a bad thing.
In January 2009, a blind man tried to enter a Los Angeles Metro Blue Line train. Unfortunately for Mr Cameron Cuthbertson of Compton, the space he thought was an open train door turned out to be the gap between two train cars. He fell between the cars, then was crushed when the train operator ignored shouted pleas to stop the train from passengers who witnessed the man’s death.
These bright yellow safety barriers mark the space between two light rail train cars when the light rail train stops at a platform. These poles prevent visually impaired passengers from accidentally stepping off the platform into the space between coupled rail cars during the boarding process. Persons with limited vision using a cane will feel the barriers and realize that the space in front of them is not an open door area, but, rather is the space between two trains. Barriers like these have been successfully used by other transit properties throughout the country.
Why do these posts bend? If a train comes to a stop so the doors are at the barriers and passengers need to evacuate, the debarking passengers must be able to push past those posts. It’s conceivable for mechanical malfunction caused by something like an earthquake or a fire to stop the train in a non-standard place.
VTA says their staff have observed people leaning bikes and other objects against the barriers. Customers have even been seen leaning against the poles and being surprised that they move.
“Both situations pose serious safety hazards,” notes VTA in a press release. “The person or their bike could be hit by a passing train if they are not fully behind the yellow line on the platform edge.”
Disclosure: That’s my bike at VTA Japantown Station in San Jose CA in the top photo. I know better, but propped my bike on the posts this morning for illustrative purposes. Do as I say, not as I do. While waiting for the train, I recommend leaning your bike against a fellow passenger.