[Really Breaking news: 3/18/2010 see new article on azbikelaw.org ]
[Breaking news; Thursday Feb 11, 2010 was media day, and this story is getting huge exposure. Today a short piece ran on channel 12 news out of Phoenix, and a longer detailed piece ran in the Arizona Daily Sun, Cyclist, city attorney in lane dispute. As of now the city attorney’s office is saying “Staff at the city attorney’s office has yet to make a final determination whether the state’s 3-foot statute applies when a cyclist is in a bike lane” (but see below, “the Last Word”) — hint, read the law (link below), it’s only like 3 sentences long. How long does a review take? the incident occurred almost two months ago. Also a story published in The Noise, it’s posted on the author’s blog: City Shenanigans Leave Bicyclists with No Options, covering both the Pryzby and Bus incident.]
The City of Flagstaff (Police Department, and/or the City Attorney’s Office) has a new spin on not enforcing §28-735. They claim it doesn’t apply when cyclists are riding in a bike lane. (but see below, “the Last Word”)
The incident involves a cyclist, Randy Mason, riding at the far left of the bike lane; much of the rest of the lane being blocked by snow, and a (speeding, by the way) city bus passing dangerously close.
The law is pretty simple; it has three parts, A, B and C. Part A says overtaking motorists must (without qualification) maintain a minimum of 3 feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist. Part B allows for enhanced penalties in the event of serious injury or death. And Part C says that these enhanced penalties in Part B don’t apply in certain situations if a bike lane is involved.
The part C business, one would suspect, is the fig leaf that the city attorney’s office is using to cover this bit of malfeasance (note that as of the Sun article, the city attorney’s office is claiming it didn’t say that, and they are currently reviewing the case). No word from the city attorney about if speeding laws don’t apply.
These stories often have an air of he-said-she-said to them but in this case the surveillance video from the bus company itself is pretty compelling. The original video (taken by the city bus) is here.
It would be one thing for police to claim they don’t have enough evidence to issue a citation (or it’s too fuzzy, or whatever) but there is no excuse for this pretending the law says something that it does not.
Some discussion here.
[as an aside, I’ve always felt that we would be better off if Parts B and C were just gone entirely; leaving unsafe passing as a normal traffic infraction. If enhanced penalties were desired, the right way to do it would be to get 28-735 added as one of the enumerated items that triggers 28-672 / 675 / 676 ]
Another distasteful chapter of this story is that the cyclist was charged with a crime (these ridiculous charges were later dropped). I’m not sure who to blame for this; the main suspects are the bus driver, and Flagstaff PD. The video shows a quite civilized discourse; but I’m guessing the police could not have seen the video at the time. Statements made to the police should be verified against the video record — did someone make false statements to the police?
“Jeff Meilbeck and Randy Biles, of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, were on hand to address the recent incident between a bike and a Mountain Line bus. Mr. Meilbeck said there is a close tie between buses and bikes. Mountain Line provides racks for two or three bikes on all its buses, and parking is provided at many stops. He said that NAIPTA wants to be responsive to the community. Mr. Ince said that it is important for the bicycle community to know that NAIPTA is responsive and has a process for addressing problems and issues. Ms. Blackman suggested that Mountain Line host an open house for bicyclists and pedestrians.”
So it remains to be seen what, if any, response to the “process” will yield. Is NAIPTA investigating?
The Bus Company
The entity that oversees public transit in Flagstaff is NAIPTA, Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority. It is not clear to me if they contract out operations, or directly operate the buses; There is an entity referred to as “Mountain Line”, and the general manager is Jeff Meilbeck.
What sort of company (or entity?) hires this sort of driver? What sort of training is done? Is there oversight by the city?
Bus operators are normally and understandably concerned with risk management, and best safety practices because of the huge liability exposure — say if one of your buses is speeding along and wipes out a cyclist or pedestrian.
Bus / Bike Safety Materials
Chicago Transit Authority has some nice materials specifically aimed at transit bus operators and cyclists, in particular a video. Here is the part about passing (speaking to bus operators): “Passing… this is a time when EXTRA care is needed… Remember, you must allow safe clearance between your bus and a bike. That’s a MININIUM of 3 feet, if traffic allows, leave more space. If there isn’t enough room for you to pass, you MUST slow down and wait for clearance”. There are also pamphlets and posters that someone was nice enough to email me but I don’t see them online.
Things the Flagstaff Police said
(Cyclist): We can operate on the shoulder, we can operate on the sidewalk, …
(Officer): You cannot operate on the sidewalk.
(Cyclist): I can’t operate my bicycle on the sidewalk?
(Officer): No you can’t.
(Cyclist): You guys don’t understand the laws in this town at all, if you’re gonna believe that
(Officer): Alright, unfortunately it appears that, .. unfortunately it appears you don’t.
(Cyclist): … I can’t quote the number but I’m pretty sure that I have three feet in the bike lane, so if it needs to go to the …
(Officer): I don’t know where you get the three feet. You have to, …If you’re in the lane, he needs to give you as much room as he can, but he has, he also has the right not, he has the law that says you can’t take up two …
So, 1) The sidewalk thing is wrong, it would only be illegal if it were posted, and from what I understand it isn’t posted. See Flagstaff Code of Ordinances. Title 9, section 9-05. Also see here for general sidewalk riding info. And 2) he seem wholly unaware of §28-735 a law that has been on the books now for almost 10 years. His last statement reveals his anti-cycling biases more fully.
These guys are paid to know the law, the three foot law, §28-735, has been on the books for going on 10 years now. And why does he think it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk?
Flagstaff PD was sufficiently rattled by this to issue a training bulletin “requiring all officers to review all bicycle laws, [Deputy Chief] Treadway said”, per that Feb 11, 2010 AZ Daily Sun article linked above. This sounds good, but I’m not sure exactly what this bulletin said (I’d like to know). UPDATE — given that only one (other?) 28-735 was ever issued by Flag PD for a nearly 2 year period after this “review” of all bicycle laws; i would say the training was probably unsuccessful, see this comment.
NAIPTA Speaks [added March 7]
It has been brought to my attention that NAIPTA issued a response to the incident, apparently back in late February. The description and summary of the incident seems reasonable. The response itself consisted of 4 points — one of which is encouraging (citing more driver training, and specifically mentioning the Chicago video cited above), one was neutral discussing confrontation training, but the last two were disappointing.
In one they claim the evidence clearly shows that at least three feet was maintained. This isn’t what I’m seeing from their video. I see a wide vehicle approximately centered in a narrow lane (103″, NOT counting protruding mirrors, in a 138″ lane, according to the cyclist’s measurements), and the left edge of the cyclist appears directly above the bike-lane stripe. That would leave well under TWO FEET of clearance, not even counting the bus’ mirrors.
And in the last point they claim that their speed readout is unreliable. This hasn’t been my experience with GPS navigation equipment.
I want to reiterate on these last two points, that this evidence may well not be enough to bring legal charges, or make them stick — but that doesn’t mean that what the driver did was right, either.
The Last Word? [Added 3/17/2010]
The news article, linked above, make a couple of references to the issue of 28-735 and bike lanes; “Additionally, [Flagstaff PD Deputy Chief] Treadway said that the video of the bus passing the cyclist does not clearly show whether the bus was within 3 feet of the cyclist, even if the law did apply“. Which I read to mean someone (either the PD, or the city attorney) harbored doubt about this issue. And directly in the clarification: “Staff at the city attorney’s office has yet to make a final determination whether the state’s 3-foot statute applies when a cyclist is in a bike lane.”
In what will probably be the last word on this affair; Martin Ince, Flagstaff’s bike/ped coordinator told me by email 3/16/2010:
“Unfortunately the newspaper did not get it right, either in the original story or the clarification. The City Attorney’s office is not going to, nor ever intended to, make a determination regarding the applicability of 28-735 when a cyclist is in the bike lane. Their involvement was only to review the present case to determine if a citable offense was committed; the case is working its way through the legal process”
I say last word because I consider it highly unlikely that the city attorney will bring any citations (for reasons both mentioned above by me, and for reasons mentioned in the news article).
The Continuing Story [added 3/18/2010]
please see an-historic-citation