Flickr photo by drpritch.

In 2007, a Los Angeles bus driver passed a cyclist at a very unsafe distance. When the cyclist confronted the driver, she screamed at the cyclist. He calls the police, who, without interviewing anyone, handcuff the cyclist and his wife, and refuse to charge either the driver or a passenger who jumped out and spit on the cyclist.

This happened shortly after a community meeting for police and bicyclists to discuss respect for and enforcement of laws for bicycles. Does DC need some community meetings of its own to clear the air between bus drivers, police and bicyclists? This morning, bicycle advocate Jeff Peel had experience eerily similar to LA’s:

The incident [with a southbound 53 bus] happened at approximately 8:45am at the southbound intersection of 14th & R NW.

My first encounter with the bus was between U and T streets. Due to snow and ice on the roadway I was riding along the line dividing the bike lane and the right most travel lane at approximately 20-25mph. The operator passed me in the right hand travel lane at a high rate of speed (the speed limit is 25mph through here if I’m not mistaken) within less than 3 feet. I know this because it was close enough to touch. Scared, frustrated and angry I spit at the driver’s rear view mirror when passing him at his next stop near the intersection with S street. He was also had not fully pulled into the stop and was blocking the bike lane and a portion of the right travel lane.

Once I stopped at the light at R street at the edge of the back of the crosswalk and on top of the stop bar, the operator pulled past his stop within inches of me stopped on my bike. Had I not noticed him out of my periphery and ducked, the mirror of his bus would have struck me in the back of the head. The operator then proceed to grab at me (he had pulled up close enough to reach me) while screaming at me through his window. He refused to tell me his name, and I had to briefly block the path of the bus to get the bus number in order to record it.

I know my actions may have escalated the situation, and I should not do this out of my own safety. However this does not negate the fact that the operator failed to pass me within a safe legal distance, and then attempt to use his bus as a weapon to strike me with.

Due to my previous negative interactions with Metro police in similar incidents and how difficult the complaint system is, I called for MPD instead. While on the phone with dispatch I was able to flag down an officer who upon hearing what happened refused to file a report and drove off. Dispatch then had Officer

with 3rd District respond. Because the operator didn’t actually hit me she refused to file any sort of “accident” report. I stated that I did not want to file an accident report, that I wanted to report the driver passing to closely and an attempted assault, of which she refused to do either. Seeing the conversation going nowhere I took her name, but she failed to give her badge number.

The S routes and 50 routes encounter a LOT of cyclists once they reach Columbia Heights and south into downtown. I do hope these routes and operators are called out for special training in how to better interact with pedestrians and cyclists. Additionally, I regularly observe them running red lights and speeding. While many suburban customers have stopped using the system due to parking rates and frequent train malfunctions, I know more and more DC residents who are shying away from your transit system due to such poor performance of many of your bus system and the behavior of your bus operators.

It is entirely legal for cyclists to ride in the regular travel lane, especially if conditions like snow and ice make the bicycle lane unsafe. Cyclists can do it for any reason, though. Unfortunately, some drivers don’t know this, and try to drive extra close to cyclists to “teach them a lesson”. That’s dangerous, and illegal. Our officers, charged with protecting the public, need to protect our vulnerable bicycle riders as well. It’s also unconscionable for an officers to refuse to disclose their badge numbers, regardless of whether they are in the right or wrong about the underlying incident.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.