19 January 2012

UPDATED: Attempted assault with a Circulator bus

UPDATE: A representative from WMATA called back to let me know that the driver had been identified and served with a two-day suspension (without pay). He will also have to undergo remedial training when he returns to active duty.

(The original post continues below.)

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
The "Assault of Bicyclist Prevention Act of 2011" is still bottled up in the D.C. Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which is chaired by Councilmember Phil Mendelson. Though the bill was introduced last September by nine sponsors (a supermajority of the council), it hasn't been moved to the committee of the whole in any form. Here's one example of the assaults that happen every day on our city's streets, necessitating action on the part of the D.C. Council to protect cyclists from harm.

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Wednesday night, I was biking home from the New York Avenue station, heading eastbound on Florida Avenue NE. When I got to West Virginia Avenue, I turned left (north) and headed into Trinidad. I took note of the fact that there were a couple cars and a Circulator bus heading north on West Virginia Avenue, waiting at the light. I always check traffic there, because I know that any vehicles will catch up to me on West Virginia Avenue within a few seconds after I make my turn.

I took the lane on West Virginia, as I always do, to avoid being doored by parked cars, and to avoid being squeezed into those cars by traffic overtaking me. By the time we reached Morse Street NE, one block up the road, both of the cars had been able to pass me, but oncoming (southbound) traffic kept the bus from being able to do the same. I knew he was still behind me, but wasn't sure quite how far back. Suddenly, the driver accelerated so that the bus was just a couple feet behind my rear wheel. He began honking. I turned back to look, and he was waving his arms and shouting. The driver was not in total control of the bus, or his emotions for that matter.

I realize I am outspoken about the right of cyclists to use the road just like anyone else, and I realize that there are a lot of cyclists in the city that break the law. Drivers of all stripes complain about this and say that they'll respect cyclists as soon as cyclists start following the rules.

Last night's incident was a perfect example of a cyclist following the law (taking the lane was my right—it's even a signed bicycle route—I had front and rear lights on the bike, and I was wearing a helmet and a reflective strip on my pants). This bus driver decided he would use his multi-ton vehicle to intimidate and harass me. No physical harm occurred, ultimately, but his reckless actions could have led to my death had he accidentally accelerated a little more. Putting the two of us in that position is nothing but negligent. I don't know what kind of reprimand can be given to the driver, but it should be easy to identify him.

Actions such as this are absolutely intolerable, and until people start realizing that there are consequences to childish behavior like that, I fear that this kind of thing will continue to happen until - oops - someone is maimed or killed.

Patience and respect are a two-way street. I gave, but did not receive it last night. That bus driver needs to be retrained on how to operate on DC's streets, or he should be removed from them permanently.

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I sent a version of the above in a letter to DDOT, and ultimately received a phone call from WMATA, as they manage the Circulator program. The WMATA representative was professional, kind, and understanding, and she promised me the bus driver would be identified and spoken with. She acknowledged that his actions not only could have hurt me, but any injury to a cyclist could have caused him to lose his job. I'm very grateful for the professional follow-up from DDOT and WMATA.

West Virginia Avenue NE is slated to get dedicated bicycle lanes this year on the entire stretch from Florida Avenue NE to Mount Olivet Road NE. Hopefully the additional markings will make it even more clear that bicyclists have just as much right to use the road as motorized traffic.

7 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear this happened. You'd think a driver with a bike rack on the front of his bus would at least be aware of how to drive properly around cyclists.

    I am glad you have a platform for advocacy, and that you're using it in such a constructive and meaningful way. Oh, and that you weren't hurt!

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  2. Glad you are ok. This is really unacceptable.

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  3. Terrifying. I am so glad you weren't injured. And glad that DDOT is taking action.

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  4. Florida Avenue cyclistJanuary 19, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    I'm a bike commuter too, so I understand that getting honked at is annoying, but it doesn't sound like "attempted assault."

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    1. Florida Avenue cyclist: I wholly agree with you that getting honked at wouldn't qualify as assault. I don't even know if the sum total of the bus drivers' actions would qualify as such either, honestly. But what he did was much more than honk. There was a deliberate, sudden acceleration that left him following me much closer that anyone would consider a safe distance, and there was exaggerated emoting on his part that clearly was more than just an "excuse me, I'd like to pass" motion.

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  5. Glad the WMATA rep told you that the driver would be given a talking-to.

    Because I didn't catch the ID # of the 70 bus that hit me last spring, WMATA was never able to identify the driver...for all I know s/he is still out there driving buses without giving cyclists enough clearance.

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  6. The Circulator routes are run by a WMATA contractor, First Transit. I'd cc their folks as well. There's a lot of opportunity for disconnect between WMATA and FT.

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You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?