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Death of boy riding bike in Vancouver calls attention to left-turning buses

Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on April 30th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

A tragedy in Vancouver.

[The story was written by contributor Michael Andersen.]

As Vancouver reels from the death of an 11-year-old boy who was crushed by a C-Tran bus while riding his bike through the intersection of Main and 27th on Saturday, some have noted a common thread it shares with other recent local tragedies:

Buses turning left.

Vancouver's transit agency, C-Tran, has launched an investigation into Saturday's collision; and they haven't yet finished investigating their previous fatality. In December Margaret McCluskey, 88, was killed in a downtown Vancouver crosswalk by a left-turning bus whose driver was preparing for a quick shuffle across three lanes of traffic to reach a stop one block away.

In TriMet's most recent bus fatality, in 2010, a left-turning TriMet bus killed two young people who were walking in an Old Town crosswalk. A few months later, a man riding a bike up Portland's transit mall was nearly killed by a left-turning bus on the northeast corner of Pioneer Courthouse Square.

These circumstances vary – for example, investigators haven't announced whether Saturday's victim, Benjamin Fulwiler, had been riding his bike on the sidewalk or in the shoulder facing traffic. But all incidents happened in well-trafficked urban areas, three of them in broad daylight.

This isn't a fluke. Left-turn fatalities are twice as common between buses and pedestrians as right-turn fatalities, a 2008 federal study found.

As The Oregonian reported in 2010, Des Moines's transit agency removed all left turns from its system after seven consecutive left-turn collisions.

Part of the problem is geometric.

"When buses turn, they pivot on the rear axle, moving forward and then sweeping an arc as the bus follows through the turn," the federal study wrote, quoted by Oregonian writer Joseph Rose. "At first glance, it may appear to a pedestrian that the bus is moving straight forward through the intersection when in fact the operator is initiating a left turn."

Inspired by transit agencies elsewhere, TriMet experimented in 2011 with a system that automatically announced "Pedestrians, bus is turning" in English and Spanish. It didn't work; announcements either triggered too late, or when they weren't supposed to. TriMet pulled the plug after three months.

Replacing all of TriMet's 40,000 daily left turns with three right turns would be impossible, TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said in 2010, in part because of downtown Portland's grid of one-way streets.

C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson said Monday that assessing the agency's policy on left turns is "certainly something we're already doing as part of our process."

The bus was coming south on Main and was
turning left on 27th as the boy was crossing 27th.

Meanwhile, everyone involved in Saturday's fatal collision is grappling with the tragedy. KATU reported that it unfolded as Fulwiler's mother watched.

Eric Giacchino of Vancouver, president of the year-old bicycle education group Bike Clark County, said that whatever the circumstances around Saturday's crash, the busy corridor has no great north-south bike route.

Vancouver's bike network directs riders onto Columbia Street, two blocks west. But Giacchino said Columbia lacks either sharrows or a bike lane, in part because residents have resisted removing free auto parking from Columbia to make room.

Vancouver's 2004 bike plan calls for both Main and Columbia to get bike lanes eventually.

Giacchino said he hopes Bike Clark County's two-week bicycle education course, now offered in several Vancouver middle schools, will help improve the whole community's appreciation for bicycling safely.

"We're going to expand one school a year every year, until we cover the whole county," Giacchino said. "That's my dream."

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Comments
  • Steve B April 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    My heart goes out to the family.

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  • Todd Boulanger April 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    This upper portion of Main Street almost had bike lanes installed as part of its last pavement overlay ~8 or 10 years ago. It passes by a hospital, high school, supermarket, etc.

    And as Jonathan has mentioned, Columbia Street has long been identified as having future bikeway improvements - it is after all the I-5 for Vancouver Portland bike commuters, but sadly this project has stalled within the City at least 3 times over 10 years.

    Marked bikes lanes have an important education role in reminding novice cyclists which direction to ride while in the street.

    Please contact your [Vancouver] mayor, city council member and city manager for the need for complete streets in our city center.

    Tim.Leavitt@cityofvancouver.us [mayor]
    eric.holmes@cityofvancouver.us [city manager]

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  • 9watts April 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Where is the outrage? (See Monday Roundap item referencing Peter Norton)
    “We’re talking less about laws than we are about norms,” says Norton. He cites a 1923 editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – a solidly mainstream institution, as he points out. The paper opined that even in the case of a child darting out into traffic, a driver who disclaimed responsibility was committing “the perjury of a murderer.”

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    • resopmok May 1, 2012 at 6:19 am

      90 years later killing someone with a car is not a crime, it's just a tragic accident.

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  • q`Tzal April 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    The left turn fatality issue seems to boil down to a failure to yield.
    In cases where the user is legally using the road/lane (usually cyclists) the left turning user MUST YIELD to oncoming traffic.
    In cases where the user is in the crosswalk to be traversed by the left turning vehicles again the left turning vehicle MUST YIELD to users of the crosswalk.
    So really the problem is large auto drivers making unsafe and illegal left turns.

    Without stats I'll conjecture that left turn incident rates are lower at intersections that have left turn only lights; often these turns are precipitated by the sense of urgency of trying to dodge through a narrow gap in oncomming traffic.
    If our streets in Portland are incompatible with "left-turn-lite" bus line reconfigurations perhaps the highest priority of the "transit priority traffic signals" should be dedicated left turn lights on transit corridors.

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    • Waterford April 30, 2012 at 9:50 pm

      According to the Columbian, the boy was riding downhill against traffic. It's not as clear as you claim.

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      • Aq`Tzal April 30, 2012 at 11:16 pm

        I agree that would be a major contributing factor in this specific instance, however, in parsing the Columbian article in question it also says that there is a long established issue with wrong way cyclists and pedestrians darting to and fro to catch transit. At the very very least a bus driver should have been aware that this particular couple of blocks is more anarchic than others and that heightened vigilance is proscribed.

        In general I stand by my prior statement. Much as I don't like it it seems as if we are designing a road system that is based upon the principal that drivers are generally incapable of driving safely. As a psychological extension of the impetus that has caused our society to round every corner and cushion every surface we as drivers have become inured to a system that obviates the need to pay attention at all times because it is assumed we can't.
        This is a positve feedback loop in that when less attention is needed to drive the engineer's response is to make the road safer for distracted drivers because it is difficult to enforce attention span. This leads dirctly more road system design centered around the thought process that drivers won't pay attention towhat they are doing.

        It is the self fulfilling prophecy.

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      • Michael Andersen May 1, 2012 at 12:13 am

        Against traffic, yes, but it's not yet clear whether he was on sidewalk or shoulder. We shouldn't draw any such generalizations from this one incident yet, IMO.

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        • LESTER May 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

          There is no "shoulder" or bike lane in the area. One narrow lane in each direction and the left turn lanes in the center. The driver clearly assumes the left turn lane WAY early in the video thus interfering with a northbound car attempting to make a left turn. I'd love to see the rest of that camera's video they cut it off before we see what happened there.

          It is a pretty good downhill there. 3-4% according to Strava. When I head downtown I usually take the lane (on the other side of the street of course) around 33rd. Pretty easy to keep pace with 30mph traffic.

          Here's a link to google map if interested. Bus and cyclist were both southbound on main, bus turning to go eastbound on 27th.

          http://maps.google.com/?ll=45.641353,-122.670574&spn=0.001817,0.002862&hnear=Vancouver,+Clark,+Washington&t=h&z=19

          Tragic crash to be sure.

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      • q`Tzal May 1, 2012 at 2:19 am

        I agree that would be a major contributing factor in this specific instance, however, in parsing the Columbian article in question it also says that there is a long established issue with wrong way cyclists and pedestrians darting to and fro to catch transit. At the very very least a bus driver should have been aware that this particular couple of blocks is more anarchic than others and that heightened vigilance is proscribed.

        In general I stand by my prior statement. Much as I don't like it it seems as if we are designing a road system that is based upon the principal that drivers are generally incapable of driving safely. As a psychological extension of the impetus that has caused our society to round every corner and cushion every surface we as drivers have become inured to a system that obviates the need to pay attention at all times because it is assumed we can't.
        This is a positve feedback loop in that when less attention is needed to drive the engineer's response is to make the road safer for distracted drivers because it is difficult to enforce attention span. This leads directly to more road system design centered around the thought process that drivers won't pay attention to what they are doing.

        It is the self fulfilling prophecy.

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    • Spiffy May 1, 2012 at 10:26 am

      dedicated left turn lights are mostly a waste... I run them all the time because I know better than a light if it's safe to make a left turn... sitting there idling when I could be going is not good for anybody...

      people just need to start paying attention to where they're driving, and they need to be held accountable for their actions...

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    • Tom Hardy May 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      I totally agree with Tzal. The left turn signals are the only thing that seems will give any cyclist or pedestrian safwty from left turning busses. There have been many hundreds of fatal accidents of cars, cyclists and pedestrianc over the last 100 years that busses have been with us.

      Unfortuneatly I am aquainted withthe driver thru the wife.
      Again according to the wife she is a good driver, but my wife is also only a backseat driver.

      I have tried for years to get info to the metro transportation agency to route left turning busses and routes tyo at least 4-way stop lights and preferrably left turn arrow lights. the agency and C-tran consistantly change routes to those intersections where the bus will have to make a hazardous turn. I am truely amazed that there are not many more fatalities like has been noted in the Portland area. It is almost like the managers and addministrators are trying to set up the pedestrians and cyclist as pidgeons in a sjhooting range.

      There I have vented.

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      • Tom Hardy May 6, 2012 at 6:49 pm

        Of course I also have an issue with the wrong way cyclists, those wearing earbuds without helmets talking on their cellphones with the earbuds. so much for suicide advocates.

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  • oskarbaanks April 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I for one am pretty tired of these sad collisions. My father drove a Tractor Trailer rig ON A CITY ROUTE for 37 years, A CITY ROUTE. He had ONE fender bender his entire career, and was proud to tell you about it. It is my opinion that driver's of publicly funded transportation should be held to the highest of standards. I know for most I am comparing apples and oranges,and my rant will do nothing for this boy and his grief stricken family , but had my fathers career choice been C-TRAN, I am sure his awareness level and integrity to apply it would have had the same.

    I am so very sorry to hear of your loss Ms. Fulwiler, there is nothing more I can say, but I am truly sorry.

    sorry for the rant.

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  • K'Tesh April 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Thoughts and Prayers go out to the family.

    Be safe out there people, we're invisible as crash after crash shows.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • i ride my bike April 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Bus drivers are on the whole the best drivers on the road. Most certainly tragic but the media is making this a bigger deal than 98% of local traffic crashes because it involves a public bus and it plays well to their old suburban anti-transit car worshipping audiences. Unfortunately this kind of thing plays out twice a day in the region with motorists in cars killing or maiming peds and bikes and yet there is no response from the media. Funny no one is talking about the autocentric streets in Vancouver that had to be a major factor but of course those are so common most dont even pick up on that especially when behind a windshield.

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    • oskarbaanks April 30, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      I would have to mildly disagree with your statement on bus driver's ( esp.locally ) of late.

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    • ED May 1, 2012 at 9:49 am

      I'm not sure whether bus drivers are better, worse, or about the same as the average car driver, but I am struck that a bus-bike collision is front page news when people dying every day in auto accidents is relegated to a minor "traffic fatalities" column buried inside the local news section. Let's hold bus drivers to high standards, let's design bus routes to minimize the potential for collisions, but let's also focus on auto drivers and the 30,000 to 40,000 deaths that occur on the roads each year. That is the real tragedy. (http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx)

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    • osckarbaanks May 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

      IRMB...I am in total agreement with your point that the media uses an incident like this to sway emotion and dissuade the obvious truth. (CHILD HIT BY BUS!,takes precedence over other local fatality. DUH! sensationalism. we get it.) Infrastructure as it has been for 70 years, and cars are at the heart of their advertising agendas. The fact remains to me, that I expect people who operate public transportation to be held to the highest standards. I am also not trying to imply that THIS bus driver was at fault. I am still waiting to hear what happened, because the fact's seem very cloudy.

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  • Dk April 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I think it's tragic when people fight for their right to park and avoid a full block of exhausting walking and the indignity of looking poor and pathetic at the expense of a young boy's life. I bet those Cadilacs and Hummers look super stylish parked on the side of the road, and I bet their obese drivers will heartily thank the boys mother for not having to walk 20' to do their shopping.

    I'm sorry, I know I'm being inflammatory, and I k ow my tone is less than acceptable, but I wish the public would get over this obsession in thinking that roads belong to cars and other motor vehicles, the don't. And I couch this in being a fairly frequent driver. Even with being a driver, I don't understand why there's an indoctrination in this country that presupposes an ownership of the roads to combustion engines.

    End of rant.

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    • Todd May 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      Notice that there is a weekly section in the Oregonian, as well as many other major city newspapers, dedicated solely to glorifying the latest cars and trucks. Examples like this give me the impression that we as a society are continually indoctrinated to an obsession with auto travel from a very early age.

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  • todd boulanger April 30, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    This used to be my bus stop for 10 years...the recent change in route would make it more difficult for the operator to pick up passengers (in my opinion) and reenter traffic flow and then merge into the left turn lane...all within < 200 feet. It can be pretty harried during the AM peak town bound flow...especially when the I-5 backs up. [I had assumed CTRAN had been rerouted via 4th Plain since it had a traffic signal at each intersection, until I read about this crash.]

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  • todd boulanger April 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    There is a long 'engineering' and 'political' history of the old stop on Main at 25th Street - that CTRAN was trying to "fix" through this rerouting onto Broadway - >12 years.

    The old bus stop in front of the VHA/ ex-High School was historically at 24th Street. As part of the VHA redevelopment of the old High School property the bus stop was planned to be returned to 24th Street at the time the project was completed. (This is why the raised crosswalk was funded and built there and the level pedestrian ramp and path was built leading to it from the Van Vista senior housing.)

    The bus stop was originally planned for inside the south end of the parking lane next to the curb extension through the transportation development review process. Before or near the time that Subway opened it was requested of the City that the bus stop be relocated on the other end of the block in the parking lane - this is why there was a no parking zone sign next to Starbucks for years. Originally, the stop was supposed to be set into the retail facade / under the awning as park of this retail block...and this is why the bench was placed there and still exists next to the cafe tables.

    At or near the time that Starbucks was moving into the north retail pad the bus stop was moved north to the other side of the intersection at the request of the developer/ property owner - now in front of VHA. This was the last location - you could not move it any further north towards the traffic signal or else the #4 bus could not stop in upper Uptown.

    This final less desirable location created a lot of "angst" with the neighborhood, transit advocates, and others over many years...as it was a heavily used stop by many elderly vulnerable pedestrians seeking medical items at the Walgreens...but the location was at an unmarked crosswalk and next to a heavily used retail driveway that turning motorists often would not yield to pedestrians, etc.

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  • todd boulanger April 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Here is some local TV news and their edited portion of CTRAN video of the crash:

    http://www.koinlocal6.com/news/local/story/11-year-old-killed-by-bus-in-Vancouver/IXGgVQboCEKxtS3oR5Hbyg.cspx

    ------------------

    It looks like the cyclist struck just behind the front left wheel - and the first row of seats behind the ADA flip up bench seat. Other coverage shows investigators looking near the front end of the exterior advert panel - this would be in the same general area given the Gullig bus model.

    Photo of this bus model in CTRAN fleet
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/29645101@N05/4223873297/

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  • todd boulanger April 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    The crash reconstruction team will have their work cut out for them...looking at the point of impact on the bus, if the child was moved from this point/ how long the driver took to stop, etc.

    Eyewitness(es) will be very helpful in filling in the gaps of information from the video and now that the cyclist has died (thus cannot tell us what happened from his POV).

    Witnesses should contact Traffic Investigator, VPD Officer Jeff Olson, at (360) 487-7478.

    Too bad CTRAN (and other transit agencies) do not have additional exterior cameras for right/ left hook crashes with vulnerable road users. These cameras are often found on LRTs and trucks/ buses in Europe...and would provide additional information during a post crash investigation...and often helping protect the operator/ agency.

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    • matthew vilhauer May 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      thanks for all the input, the uptown vancouver bus routes & stops (esp. on main st.) are a nightmare. sad to see the comments on the columbian website flaming pedestrians & cyclists. the fact of the matter is that vancouver drivers very often will not stop for pedestrians even in a crosswalk. perhaps the recent enforcement actions (& hopefully future ones) by the vpd might change this. i've even seen drivers lay on their horn at cars in front of them who are stopping for pedestrians in this area. seems that the prevailing attitude of many drivers is that if you are not driving you are in a lower social class & do not deserve any modicum of respect and have no right to use *their* roads.

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      • Tacoma May 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm

        First, my condolences to all. As Kristi states below "This is so tragic."

        As 9watts mentions above, the Monday Roundup item that references Peter Norton in The Atlantic Cities article provides background information regarding the pervasive attitude that you mention in your comment - "...if you are not driving you are in a lower social class & do not deserve any modicum of respect and have no right to use *their* roads." See the Monday Roundup or the direct link is here:

        http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/04/invention-jaywalking/1837/

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  • Kristi Finney-Dunn April 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    This is so tragic and I sooooo feel for the family. And for everyone else involved (driver, passengers, witnesses). I'm not even going to try to figure out what happened or whose fault it is or how the route could be better because I'm too broken up about the people. Ben Fulwiler on Saturday, dead. Kurt Lundeman on Friday, seriously injured (and this one was particularly gut wrenching for me because it happened very close to where my youngest son lives; I was panic-stricken until he answered his phone to let me know it wasn't him). Christopher Chavarria, hit and run pedestrian on 4/14, critical condition. And all of these happened on what is essentially the same street, just at different points. It is not a bike or pedestrian friendly route. Christopher was reportedly crossing the street to get to a C-Tran stop. Comments about this incident included "90% of pedestrians deserve to get hit" and "they should just walk their lazy asses to the crosswalk." That infuriates me because how many drivers do we see who can't manage to press their foot down a little harder on the brake pedal to make a full stop or lift their fingers up to use their blinker. It is nearly a half mile between cross walks where Christopher was hit. I checked Hwy 99 between 99th St and Ross, a little over 2 miles, a very busy street, lots of pedestrians and some cyclists, and there are 7 painted cross walks (I'm not including the ones at each end). So, nearly 1/3 of a mile between crosswalks on average (which is misleading, some are a couple blocks apart, others a 1/2 mile).

    This is all so disheartening. In the last two weeks other fatalities include motorcyclist Paul Austin, and Arnoux Benjamin, a passenger in a single car crash reportedly involving alcohol and other drugs.

    And this is just Clark County. Serial killers and rapists aren't the ones getting killed out here. No, it's our neighbors and friends and co-workers and children and uncles and fathers and moms and sisters and brothers.

    Please do YOUR part. Drive/bike/walk as safely, as reliably, as consciously as you can, understanding that you are someone's loved one and so is everyone else and we all deserve the best driving/walking/riding behaviors possible.

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    • oskarbaanks May 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Perhaps it is too soon to discuss, but if the conditions are so bad In Clark County, and specifically this area of Vancouver as K.Finnley-Dunn has pointed out, I call for the community to ask the City of Vancouver to arrange a memorial bike lane in honor of Benjamin Fulwiler.
      When and if improvements for a mutimodal transportation in this area are addressed, this would be (IMO) a far better tribute to a child than a ghost bike.

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  • LESTER May 1, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Oops, driver didn't get in turn lanes early. I keep expecting bus to be turning on 4th plain, not 27th.

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  • Alan 1.0 May 2, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Condolences to all involved, especially the Fulwiler family.

    I was wondering about side under-ride guards in collisions like this and ran across this quote on http://www.underridenetwork.org/ with some global stats:

    "Road traffic crashes kill 1.2 million people a year or an average of 3242 people every day. Road traffic crashes injure or disable between 20 million and 50 million people a year. Road traffic crashes rank as the 11th leading cause of death and account for 2.1% of all deaths globally. Most of the victims are young and classified as vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, and bicyclists). Current projections indicate fatalities will rise to 2 million per year by 2020. We are in the midst of a world crisis and vehicles designed to be crash compatible with vulnerable road users will be a critical part of the solution." - http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_traffic/en/

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    • oskarbaanks May 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      Alan, What shocks me most and what came to mind when I read your post, is the amazing amount of energy, regulation and implementation of technologies wasted by the Federal Government and the auto industry to keep motorist's safe IN their cars. My only automobile is from 1959. I have driven it for 26 years with no need for airbags. I also have never killed anyone with my old car, despite its lack of disc brakes. I believe that education and law enforcement in harmony with changes in infrastructure are the only answer to curtailing the ugly stat's of the numbers you have pointed out. your post should be toward's the top of the story!

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