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After rare bus fatality, GO looks at safety of downtown Toronto station

Passengers boarding GO buses. A woman was struck and killed at a Toronto GO bus station on Feb. 26, 2017.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

GO Transit is looking at how they can make their downtown Toronto bus station safer for pedestrians after a woman was killed Sunday evening.

The spot where the woman was hit is a complicated interplay of moving and parked buses, people waiting to board and others rushing to catch their vehicle. It's a place where pedestrians are warned to keep out of the way of the buses, but one where drivers know they often won't.

"It's a tragic circumstance," said Metrolinx chief operating officer Greg Percy, who is responsible for GO Transit and promised a full probe. "We owe it to the family. We owe it to the driver."

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Sunday's incident is still under investigation and transit staff will not comment on what happened. A source with knowledge of the incident, though, said that the Hamilton-bound woman appears to have bought a ticket and then gone to have a cigarette while waiting to board. The area for smokers is fewer than 20 paces from her bus but, apparently caught unaware when it began to leave, she hurried to try to catch it.

According to police, the woman was "running alongside the bus" when she was struck. She was taken to hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Officials with GO, looking at whether a similar incident could be prevented, will examine visibility, crowd management, vehicle flow and supervisory capacity.

GO staff have already tried to minimize risk at the Union Station bus terminal by teaching drivers to be particularly careful, effectively to assume that pedestrians will be walking erratically.

"Vigilance is the best defence mechanism in all cases," Mr. Percy said.

The "sawtooth" design of bus bays minimizes the amount of reversing buses will need to do. The agency also posts route information on the backs of many buses, to prevent people running in vain for vehicles that are not their own. And they have mounted awareness campaigns urging people not to chase after buses.

But these tactics can go only so far.

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When faced with the prospect of a possibly lengthy wait for the next bus, people may prefer to run after the one they see. And in spite of signs at the Union Station terminal warning people to stay out of the way of buses, the most logical routes can take people across the path of these vehicles. While there is fencing at the west end of the station, along the middle of Bay Street, to prevent people crossing directly from the train station, there is nothing to stop people cutting across the buses' paths if they enter the station on a southbound diagonal.

Mr. Percy said that some of the risks of the current bus station will be addressed when the agency builds a new one, a project which does not have a public timeline. He explained that pedestrian overpasses will help keep passengers away from buses until they are ready to board. The agency will also put a lot of work into how drivers' sight lines interact with "desire lines," the routes pedestrians will logically want to walk.

It is rare for people to be hit by GO transit vehicles. Even more unusual are deaths related to the agency's buses, which spend much of their time driving on highways, away from pedestrians. Only three people have been hit by GO buses in the last five years, and Sunday's was the sole fatality among them. During that same period, the number of GO bus trips went up 45 per cent, without a corresponding increase in pedestrians being hit.

Sunday's victim, which police said was a 32-year-old woman from Hamilton, was the fourth pedestrian to be killed in the city so far this year. That rate is considerably lower than the city experienced in 2016, which was the deadliest year for pedestrians in more than a decade.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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