Photo by Elly Blue on Flickr.

Metrobus drivers get a lot of training before they’re sent out on the streets of DC. To avoid crashes, WMATA needs to make sure this training includes how to interact with cyclists. And when collisions do happen, WMATA needs to take them seriously.

Reader Karen was involved in a bicycle crash when a bus driver trapped her against parked cars. She isn’t at all happy with WMATA’s response. She emailed in with this account:

I was traveling south on Georgia Ave. on the right side of the right lane around 10:15-10:20 pm on May 5th.  I had a red flashing light on my backpack and a white flashing light on the front of my bike and was wearing a helmet. As I approached the 2700 block, I heard four horn beeps directly behind me.

 

Before I had time to react, a number 70 Metrobus was passing me in the right lane.  As the bus passed, it moved further to the right, trapping me between the bus and a line of parked cars. I tried to maintain control of my bike and began braking immediately, but was unable to avoid colliding with the moving bus.

I skidded alongside the bus a few times before flipping over my handlebars and landing beneath a parked car.  The bus did not stop.  Fortunately, one of my friends was cycling directly behind me, and the incident took place in front of a bar with a patio area, so I had plenty of witnesses who called 911 and chased the bus down the street to try to get it to stop.



DC Metro and Metro Transit Police responded and took statements. I refused the ambulance, but traveled to the ER on my own after the incident to get my right knee checked out.  I now have about $500 in medical bills and bike repairs, but WMATA claims no responsibility for the accident and has told DC Metro police that the striking vehicle is “unknown.”  As such, I have no way of claiming damages, even though I did nothing wrong.

As I see it, the bus driver was poorly trained in the rules of the road, or chose to disregard them (aka didn’t care).  He honked, so he clearly saw me, which while not illegal, is at best classified as harassment or road rage.

 

DC law then says that any overtaking vehicle must leave at least 3 feet of space between the vehicle and the cyclist.  Since the bus moved into my lane of travel, he did not yield me the right of way.  Had I been a car, or had I exercised my right to take the entire right lane when a dedicated bike lane is not available, he would not have been able to pass in the same lane.

Finally, he struck me and continued down the road, which is at best a hit and run, or assault with a vehicle.  Despite attempts to chase the bus down the street, which as a driver would be hard to be unaware of (the guys were pretty freaking loud as they chased it, and it had stopped at a red light a few blocks down), the bus never stopped.

WMATA police asked us lots of questions about the bus, what type it was (older model, solid white body, the one that has the steps up, back number ID burnt out, 70 route, at that place at that time) and if any more buses had passed in the mean time (none had). Based on this information, they should have been able to identify the bus in question.  I would like to see the proof that they don’t have any idea what bus it was, and that an actual investigation was done.


If this was a bus in revenue service, WMATA should be able to use their NextBus data to determine the bus in question. The Georgia Avenue line only runs at 20 minute headways on Saturdays, so it’s very unlikely there would be confusion about which bus this was.

WMATA should take complaints like this seriously, and make every effort to find the driver in question so that they can be properly trained on how to interact with cyclists. Bicycling is becoming more commonplace every day in DC and the surrounding jurisdictions, and in fact, the transit agency itself is encouraging more people to cycle.

However, the evidence seems to indicate that many drivers don’t know or don’t care how to properly and safely interact with bicyclists on city streets. And this response seems to indicate that the agency is not interested in tracking down the errant driver. Even if WMATA can’t determine who the driver was in this case, they could speak with all the drivers on the 70 Line that were on duty that night about proper passing of cyclists.

Although, it might be good for WMATA to review their training procedures for cyclist interaction systemwide.

Three times over the last 2 weeks, I have been honked at by MetroBus and MetroAccess drivers passing me while I was in the bike lane or in the right lane of a two-lane street. Most cars, and certainly buses, are loud enough that I can hear them coming as they pass.

We’ve talked about this recently. Honking at a cyclist is not a sign of politeness; it’s aggressive and, at least to the cyclist, feels like an assault.

Imagine you’re walking down the sidewalk, minding your own business. Suddenly another pedestrian approaches from behind and blasts an air horn right in your ear. How would you feel? Even if the other pedestrian meant the air horn to be helpful (“hey, I just wanted to let you know I was passing”), most people would find it startling, aggressive, and completely unnecessary.

That’s how it is for those of us on two wheels when a multi-ton vehicle sounds a very loud horn right behind us.

If you’re a driver, remember, the most important thing you can do when passing a cyclist is to be courteous. If there is room to pass safely, do so without using your horn. You should leave at least three feet of space between your car and the cyclist, and if it’s possible, move all the way over into the adjacent lane.

If there is not enough room to pass, wait until there is room. Cyclists have every legal right to travel on roadways in this region. They’re not traveling slowly to antagonize you. In most cases, they’re traveling somewhere, just like you are.

Many drivers in this region need better training on how to interact with cyclists. Metro’s pool of bus drivers is no exception. WMATA needs to make sure their training on this issue is up to best practice standards and that drivers receive frequent updates.

When there is a complaint about driver behavior, or when there has been an accident, Metro needs truly investigate the incident and retrain the driver when neccessary.

Because most bike lanes are sandwiched between the car travel lane and the parking lane where bus stops are, buses and bikes interact on the road frequently.  It’s all the more important for WMATA to thoroughly train its drivers how to handle these interactions.  And when a crash does inevitably happen, Metro needs to take responsibility for the actions of its employees.

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Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.