Out for a Saturday morning group ride on Hardy Drive in Tempe July 2, 2016, cyclists had some sort of negative encounter with a motorist. Traffic would be light at 9AM on a Saturday morning in the dead of summer, except for the group of estimated 50 bicyclists (dispersed, not one group) and that motorist. The street here is very narrow, is traffic-calmed with ped islands and speed tables installed in a 2014/15 streetscape project, and has a speed limit of 30mph.
Horn-blowing ensued, shouting and well you know how this goes… these situations almost always devolve into a he-said-she-said sort of affair. Except when there’s the un-blinking, un-biased eye of video surveillance. The driver in this instance is a professional driver driving a Valley Metro Bus; whose buses are routinely outfitted with multiple-view surveillance equipment.
Both Valley Metro and the Tempe Police Department are public agencies that have a duty to act to protect public safety, and to investigate any credible report of dangerous behavior by drivers.
A bicyclist contacted Valley Metro by phone shortly after the incident. I don’t have any way to know much about what was said, except that the representative told the bicyclist to call the police; from the police report “[the bicyclist] additionally relayed that s/he had filed a complaint with Valley Metro and was advised to make a police report”.
This info below is
struck-through because Tempe Transit was aware and did respond (see below), I’m leaving it here for now because it is true/correct that there must be some disconnect between VM and Tempe Transit… Valley Metro’s official position (public info request, 2/19/2017) is pretty simple:
Request: Please advise how to obtain all records you may have regarding the incident described below and reported to you promptly after occurrence; The incident occurred 07/02/16 at approximately 0905 hours, bus #6639 route 62 northbound. Hardy Drive in the area of Broadway or University Dr. Response: Our records from July 2, 2016 do not indicate any type of incident report as described in this public records request. So that’s that. Just for completeness, in a follow up request, VM confirmed that no video of the subject bus on the date time of the incident is available. This being consistent with their policy of video being normally purged every 72 hours.
As a side note, I would think/urge VM to be extra-transparent in light of the scandals at the top of their organization. Charging $400 an hour seems like they may be intentionally trying to prevent the public from seeing how their vehicles are operated; their driver should be models of safety, responsibility, and accountability:
requestor will be required to pay for the reallocation of staff time to download the video at a cost of $100 minimum and $100 for every quarter-hour expended beyond the first quarter-hour
[interesting update, the most-recent public records request, retrieved 4/10/2020, now states “…requestor may be required to pay…”. Either way, $400/hr is onerous; staff time for non-video requests is only $45/quarter-hour AFTER the first 30 minutes; this seems reasonable]
- What happened behind-the-scenes at VM? Why no record? Did somebody watch the video and say “oh sh-t”? Impossible to say.
- VM should conduct an internal investigation of the incident
- It’s very convenient for VM that no video of the incident survived.
- VM should (I mean should cause to happen, I assume they only hire companies to operate their buses) require specific bus/bicycle traffic safety training; with particular emphasis on overtaking bicyclists. Many/most valley streets are not designed to allow large vehicles to pass bicyclists even when there is a bike lane. Drivers unable to change lanes are required to wait (patiently) behind until the opportunity to change lanes occurs. If a bus driver, or anybody, has a problem with that they should contact the streets department. (I’ve been passed a number of times too-closely by VM buses on the new Broadway, the narrowed lanes on this 2016 lane-diet project don’t provide adequate clearance unless the bus driver changes lanes, at least partially)
- VM (local) bus routes travel very slowly (around 15mph), this is to allow for traffic (bicyclists are traffic), boarding and unboarding, signals, etc. Some drivers prefer to drive at top speed between time points so as to give themselves a longer break.
There is NO valid reason for bus drivers to insist on pushing and shoving through a small space. On this particular route, in this particular area, the constrained-width segment with Bike Lane of Hardy is only 1/3rd mile long. Just wait.
- Does VM, or its subcontractors, have policies that penalize drivers who are behind schedule?
- VM should review customer service policies as to how they deal with what are obviously complaints.
Response from Tempe Transit
May 10, 2017 We have reviewed your report of the July 2, 2016 encounter between a Valley Metro bus and several bicyclists on northbound Hardy Drive. First and foremost, I would like to apologize for the behavior displayed by the Valley Metro bus operator and I can assure you that the lack of professionalism and disregard for safety described in your report falls short of our expectations for transit bus operators within the City of Tempe. I appreciate the questions and concerns raised within your May 4, 2017 report and I would like to clarify processes, policies and procedures as they relate to the reported incident. All correspondence made to the Valley Metro customer service team is documented in the regional Customer Assistance System and these reports remain in the system for several years. This applies to the complaint recorded on July 2, 2016 regarding the Route 62 bus operator’s lack of professionalism. I can confirm that one (1) complaint corresponding to this incident is documented in the Customer Assistance System. I can also confirm that, according to the response documented within the complaint report, the complaint was deemed to be valid and the operator has been counseled on the topics of professionalism and bicycle safety as a result of the incident. Unfortunately, you are correct in that video footage of the event no longer exists. The complaint response verifies that the vehicle in question was bus 6639. This camera system is an older design and not equipped with external cameras. Valley Metro/First Transit have implemented a bicycle awareness training as a required session as part of the operator’s annually-required refresher training class. The session covers the Arizona Revised Statutes governing the operation of bicycles and right of way and describes several safety techniques that encourage safe interactions between buses and bicycle traffic. All bus operators employed under the Valley Metro/First Transit East Valley contract are required to undergo this training session on an annual basis. Although there is no policy in place to penalize operators for simply being behind schedule, disciplinary action may result if the schedule is intentionally delayed. Delays do occur regularly and valid documented delays do not result in discipline. All operators are aware that safety should never be compromised for schedule adherence. Again, I would like to apologize on behalf of First Transit, Valley Metro, and the City of Tempe for the poor judgement displayed by the bus operator on July 2, 2016. I am confident that the recent bicycle-focused additions to the operator training curriculum will increase awareness and is a proactive, preventative measure in support of bicycle safety. Sincerely, Mike Nevarez City of Tempe Transit Manager email@example.com 480-858-2209 And then in a follow up email the next day, Mr. Nevarez added After Tempe staff looked into your matter, we were surprised to find that there was indeed a complaint submitted to Valley Metro concerning the incident. As a matter of fact, there were other similar complaints but at different times of the day, which lead me to believe that this bus operator was not having a good day. No excuse though, this type of incident should never occur. I am not sure why “headquarters” was not aware of the reported incident. Depending on whom you spoke with, they may have thought that a complaint was registered directly with First Transit and not with Valley Metro Customer Service. We are working with Valley Metro to be more responsive to these types of incidents and to investigate further when they are made aware of such situations. As was mentioned, Valley Metro and First Transit are taking steps to better train bus operators on safe driving especially when it comes to bicyclists. Tempe does so much to make the city a good and safe place to ride a bike. We want to make sure that pedestrians, cyclists, motorist and buses all coexist safely in our community. Thanks again for bring this to our attention.
The Tempe Police Report
A bicyclist (as I learned later, at least two) contacted Tempe Police shortly after the incident, apparently shortly after contacting VM. They were initially told something to the effect of there’s nothing the Tempe Police can do; or were simply discouraged from filing a report, or were flat out told they could not file a report. Whatever the case, Tempe PD should review their procedures; the PD should not be in the business of discouraging citizens from filing reports.
In any event, a bicyclist re-contacted Tempe Police sometime just a bit later that same day, and spoke with a Tempe officer by telephone that evening. The bicyclist said “It seems with some reluctance, they have opened case #16-77082 and accepted my complaint against the bus driver after a series of many questions”
Upon trying to obtain a copy of the report, I was told by Records it was “pending” and as such would have to wait… so I did for several months; the case was still pending when finally in February 2017 I was informed I could request whatever was ready; I paid the $5 and obtained the full written report, reproduced below in its entirety. (we’ll see later that the case was “closed” by TPD a week after I requested the report).
It doesn’t take a law enforcement professional to know how to proceed with this sort of investigation, it would include: 1) contacting VM and getting the name of the driver, 2) contacting the driver to get his version of the story. Every story has two sides, 3) contacting VM and getting the video, 4) contacting other witnesses, the bicyclist said there ~ 50, contacting two or three would be a reasonable start.
So how did the investigation proceed? According to the written report, it did not. The report simply recites what the bicyclist told the detective. Period. The detective did not do 1, or 2, or 3, or 4. Nothing.
The report should have been investigated for serious criminal charges possibilities include, endangerment, Threatening & intimidation, assault or aggravated assault (refer to §13-1201 – 1204 linked here), these claims are indicia of criminality on the part of a driver; quotes from the police report:
(the bus driver) repeatedly activated his horn attempting to get past
the bus driver began to pass them and at one point went into the bike lane almost hitting another bicyclist. [the bicyclist] relayed the bus had traveled into the bike lane, estimated at approximately 1 foot
“(the bicyclist) stated he (the bus driver) had made a deliberate movement into the bike lane”
But, as previously mentioned, it was not investigated. At all. Tempe Police allowed the only impartial evidence, the video, to be destroyed.
Was there collusion? Within the department? Between VM and the department? Who can say?
- Tempe Police should finish the investigation; or more accurately stated, should begin and conduct an investigation. Despite their allowing the video evidence to be destroyed, they can still easily still get the driver’s story, and witness’ stories.
- Tempe Police should conduct an internal investigation into why there was no investigation (phew) as of at least 8 months after the report was opened. And why in the world is it still pending?
Response from Tempe PD , my emphasis added, as well as added some info in  brackets:
May 10, 2017 A Tempe Police Patrol Officer did respond to call for service #2016-077082, which was reported several hours after the incident occurred. No injuries or threats were reported to have occurred by the complainant. A further review was conducted by Tempe Police Criminal Investigations, and insufficient information exists to support the legal elements that constitute a crime. The case was closed as of 2/14/2017 [coincidentally, 1 week after I requested a copy, and more than SEVEN MONTHS after the incident] – if there is any new information, Tempe Police non-emergency can be contacted at 480-350-8311. Tempe Police thoroughly pursue investigations as the facts and circumstances of each case permit, and in this case no crime was found to have occurred. Please do not hesitate to contact me at 480-858-6148 if you have additional questions or concerns. Respectfully, Molly Enright Tempe Police Department Community Affairs/Constituent Issues
My thoughts on the response? I’m not buying “no crime was found to have occurred”, how can they tell without any investigation? The complainant, as mentioned above, stated the driver deliberately endangered people.
I found, after the response, from my own investigations that there was a second complainant; she spoke by phone with the the same officer, and was given a complaint number (#16-77082. Not that she could have known that at the time it was the same number). There is no mention of this second complainant in the report.
In short — very disappointed with the Tempe PD. They obviously did not treat this matter seriously; as evidenced by the fact that no investigation was conducted, yet somehow they just knew that no crime could have occurred. They seem to think for a crime to have been committed, a crash or injury must be reported, that is NOT the case. They did not bother to respond to — and possibly did not even read my questions — about Endangerment, Threatening & intimidation, Assault or Aggravated Assault; none of these crimes require an injury. It is police’s job to investigate, and a prosecutor’s job to bring (or not bring) charges.
The troubling thing is why Tempe PD didn’t feel that deliberately swerving a bus towards a bicyclist can’t possibly be a crime. One can’t dismiss bias, perhaps the police believe that bicyclists were just “getting what they deserved”, that they were silently cheering a heroic bus driver for dishing out some street justice.
Going forward, I would recommend Tempe PD put in place policies to ensure all road rage incidents get investigated. Road rage is nothing but vigilante behavior, and it can never be tolerated.
This is not just a bike thing; it’s road rage plain and simple. If the answer is there aren’t enough resources to do that, well then that’s a political issue. Tempe PD should also not be discouraging people from making reports, they tried strenuously to dissuade the complainant from making a report; actually, both complainants, as I found out later.
Here’s the full report, except I’ve substituted [the bicyclist] to protect the identity of the person making the complaint:
Tempe Police case #16-77082 Approved by:17023 - COPPERSMITH, CHRIS Document : ORIGINAL OFFICER NARRATIVE Author: 22672 - MCSHEA, SEAN Related DatelTime: Jul-02-2016 (Sat.) 2215 Subject: DISORDERLY CONDUCT On 07/02/16 at approximately 0905 hours, unknown bus driver of #6639 route 62N allegedly committed disorderly conduct after he drove a city bus into the bike lane almost colliding with bicyclists after he repeatedly activated his horn attempting to get past. Complainant [the bicyclist] is requesting to aid in prosecution. The bus driver has not been identified at the time of this report. - - PENDING- On 07/ 02/ 16 at approximately 1850 hours I was dispatched to a threats report and made contact with the complainant, [the bicyclist], via telephone . When I asked [the bicyclist] what had occurred, s/he relayed the following information. [the bicyclist] was with a group of bicyclists riding through the City of Tempe on 07/02/16 around 0900 hours. During that time , they were northbound on Hardy Dr from Broadway Rd when they noticed a City bus behind them activating the horn. [the bicyclist] stated the road was very narrow and they were attempting to keep in the bike lane during this time but were unable to go anywhere else. It was relayed that there were approximately 50 bike riders that were not in a single file but scattered throughout the bicycle lane. [the bicyclist] then relayed the bus driver began to pass them and at one point went into the bike lane almost hitting another bicyclist. [the bicyclist] relayed the bus ha d traveled into the bike lane, estimated at approximately 1 foot. Shortly thereafter, as they were in the area of Hardy Dr and University Dr, the bus pulled over in a bus pull-out to make a stop, and a bicyclist rode by and hit the sideview mirror on the bus. As [the bicyclist] and the bicyclists pulled over in a parking lot to regroup in the northeast corner of Hardy Dr and University Dr, the driver exited the vehicle and began yelling at the bicyclists who were gathered in the parking lot telling them the rules of the road. It should be noted, no threats were made during this incident. [the bicyclist] stated no one was injured but is requesting to aid in prosecution due to the driver's movements into the bicycle lane . I asked [the bicyclist] if s/he had thought the bus driver was just attempting to get past them, and s/he stated he had made a deliberate movement into the bike lane. [the bicyclist] stated the bus company was Valley Metro and was bearing the number 6639 with a route number of 62 N. [the bicyclist] additionally relayed that s/he had filed a complaint with Valley Metro and was advised to make a police report . At the time of this investigation, I was unable to identify who the driver of the vehicle was. For more detailed information, refer to my audio recording impounded as evidence . There is no further information at this time. - - PENDING-