The City of Flagstaff Hates Bicyclists

Speeding Flagstaff City bus skims by cyclist

[Really Breaking news: 3/18/2010 see new article on ]

[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 ]

Disorderly Conduct

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?


The City of Flagstaff has a BAC. The incident apparently was on the agenda at the Jan 7, 2010 meeting, the only notations from the minutes about that item are

“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

9 thoughts on “The City of Flagstaff Hates Bicyclists”

  1. Cyclists are very often safer when they take the lane and force motorists to either stay behind them or move to another lane for passing.

    However, we have A.R.S. 28-815(A) that requires cyclists to move to a practicable position to the right to allow motorists to pass. There are exceptions to the rule such as snow and debris that are on the right.

    There is no mandatory requirement to use bike lanes, in fact, under A.R.S. 28-812, cyclists are required to use the roadway just like the driver of a vehicle, ie, lane changes and left turn bays, etc.

    So, if the cyclist is going to ride in a more dangerous position of right sided travel near the edge of the roadway, that same cyclist must depend on drivers of vehicles making safe passes.

    The “ride right” and “3-foot / safe passing” combination is a symbiotic relationship in the law. One cannot be enforced without the other and one cannot be ignored without the other. To break up this combination and only enforce one side of it will invariably lead to the injury or death of a cyclist.

    A.R.S. 28-735(A) applies all the time, everywhere, in the lateral boundaries of the State of Arizona on any road. There is no exception. There is no magic wand that makes it safe to put a mirror over the shoulder of a cyclist when there is a stripe on the roadway. 735(B) enhances the fine from a regular civil traffic fine (about $150.00?) to something more substantial if, in the course of buzzing a cyclist, that cyclist is injured or killed. 735(c) merely sets the fine back to the original civil traffic fine amount if the cyclist has a clear and open and useable bike lane and chooses not to use it.

    735(c) is prejudicial because, under 28-812 and 28-751(2), a cyclist making a left turn MUST negotiate across the through lanes and into the left turn bay to make a left turn. If at the same time, the bike lane on the right is open and passable, then 735(c) says the enhanced penalty doesn’t apply. This is an oversight on the part of our legislators and should be corrected. If a cyclist is required to vacate the bike lane and use a left turn lane, then the protections should continue to apply throughout the maneuver.

    I am concerned that if the city prosecutors and law enforcement continue to erode the safety of human beings who ride bicycles by coming up with crazy interpretations of our safety laws, then someone is going to get killed.

    Every road user has an expectation of safety on the road and law enforcement Constitutionally is charged with the responsibility of maintaining safety.

    Every vehicle driver and motor vehicle operator MUST be instructed to pass safely and under no circumstances, pass with less than 3-feet.

    The prosecutor is sworn as an attorney and officer of the court to uphold the laws of the State of Arizona. A prejudicial view that ignores our safety laws and puts human beings in harm’s way (by telling motorists it is OK to buzz cyclists if there is a white line on the road) is unconscionable.

  2. City of Flagstaff does not operate NAIPTA. NAIPTA is a government agency funded by City of Flagstaff, Coconino County, Sedona, Cottonwood, etc. City of Flagstaff is corrupt. City attorney and risk management often interpret laws to their own liking. Not surprisiong given that they have a garbage truck bicycle death claim to defend. Attitude is don’t bring a bicycle to a motor vehicle accident.

  3. Phil,
    “Not surprising given that they have a garbage truck bicycle death claim to defend”. I haven’t heard any outcome of the investigation of the Nov 2009 fatality. I don’t even know who is conducting the investigation — it would seem to me that the normal protocol would be to bring in an outside agency run the investigation (e.g. DPS? or sheriff, but *not* city PD).
    If anybody knows, please post back.

  4. Nope. They investigate themselves whenever they can get away with it. The only time another agency investigates is if it falls in their jurisdiction. The local paper did do a follow up on the accident that stated that the driver passed a drug/alcohol screen, was not on a cell phone and never saw the cyclist. Other than that, the city has pretty much shut down all other information.

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