One of the most ridiculous things that happened to me in '09, maybe the number one most ridiculous thing in fact, was an RTD bus driver's attempt to run me into some parked cars one fine November afternoon on Lincoln in front of the Chancery Building. It was one of the scariest and most unnecessary things that I have ever experienced while riding a bicycle.

Every once in a while, very rarely in my case, a bicyclist will have a run-in with a driver who is so genuinely hostile and malicious that when passing the bicyclist the driver takes the opportunity (which is always there) to swerve toward the bicyclist in an obvious attempt to scare them or even cause them to wreck. I'm not talking about drivers who ineptly, absent-mindedly or uncaringly pass dangerously close, or even those who pass too-close with some more studied negligence. That happens occasionally, and you get used to it. Not a big deal. No, I'm talking about a blatant criminal act, sort of like waving a gun in somebody's face, then firing a bullet past their ear. Or chasing somebody with a baseball bat and trying to bash them on the head with it. Something real memorable like that. When you encounter one of these people wielding their vehicle like a weapon to intimidate or injure, their intentions are obvious. That sort of malicious driving is instantly recognized and easily distinguishable from the garden-variety absent-mindedness that bicyclists have to deal with on a regular basis.

Lucky for me -- maybe it's the way I ride, I don't know, I tend to err on the cooperative side with my fellow road users -- I have only had to contend with four of these obviously malicious passes in my entire life as a cyclist. That may seem like plenty to some of you, and I certainly remember each of these incidents clear as a bell, but it works out to something like one per sixty thousand miles or something ridiculous. At that rate the typical bicycling enthusiast would ride for several decades without ever experiencing such a thing. For me these hostile encounters with motorists are so rare that it's usually not something I worry about in the slightest. Compared to the relatively common problem of being overlooked by motorists, deliberate hostility isn't even on the radar screen.

My four incidents, however, were quite interesting for another reason. Three of the four involved Denver's RTD buses.

That is mathematically highly unlikely. Astounding, really. It is virtually impossible that this would be some kind of random flukey coincidence. I believe what we have detected here is a pattern of malicious behavior toward bicyclists from RTD drivers, and I'll show you why.

Wait a second Hurst, you might be saying, buses are always diving over to the curb and competing with cyclists for space on that part of the street, so getting passed frequently and awkwardly by buses is part of the deal with urban cycling, isn't it? We should expect it right? Well, each of the three bus drivers who attempted to run me off into parked cars over the years did so at least a block before their next stop, so that won't work as an excuse. Furthermore, the Reality of the alleged frequency of passes by buses may surprise you as it did me. The Reality, which I know because I have done the counts, is this: For every bus that passes me in the right lane, I am passed by many dozens if not hundreds of other vehicles in the right lane. Taking special notice of this since the last incident, I have found that I can ride four or five hours per day on downtown streets -- streets that are lousy with buses mind you -- and go days, even weeks, before getting passed by a single bus. For every bus that passes me on my left, I pass about twenty or thirty or fifty buses on my right. Not bragging, that's just the way it works out. (For instance see the cover photo of my book The Art of Urban Cycling, which happened to feature a random bike commuter toodling past an RTD bus on 18th street in downtown Denver.)

Given that my being passed by a bus is a surprisingly rare occurrence, let's do some simple math. If RTD bus drivers were about as likely as any other driver to make a hostile pass on this particular bicyclist, I would expect hostile passes by RTD buses to occur far, far less frequently than hostile passes involving all other vehicles, simply because RTD buses make up such a tiny portion of the vehicles that pass me. In fact we would expect hostile passes involving RTD bus drivers to occur at something like a 1-in-100 ratio to hostile passes involving all drivers. Mathematically speaking then we should be quite surprised to experience any hostile passes whatsoever by RTD drivers.

The fact that RTD has been responsible for three out of my four hostile passing incidents amounts to something of a statistical freakshow. To me this is real evidence suggesting that RTD drivers are much more likely to make a deliberately dangerous pass of a bicyclist than are the rest of the drivers out there.

It gets worse though. After I inquired of the drivers in the last two incidents why they had apparently tried to kill me with their buses, each driver blurted out basically the same thing -- that they tried to run me off the road to teach me a lesson, because I had no right to be on the road in the first place. This is a far cry from "Sorry, didn't see you there buddy." More like "Hey, I tried to kill you back there -- what are you doing still alive?" So not only is RTD putting hostile weapon-wavers behind the wheels of their buses, they are putting drivers out there who are completely ignorant of the basic rules of the road regarding bicyclists. Drivers who apparently feel they will be justified and let off the hook should they happen to (quite by accident of course) run over any idiot bicyclists on their streets. My story here should be putting a chill down the spine of anybody who rides a bike in Denver.

This begins (or doesn't, as the case may be) with training (or lack of it, as the case may be). Whatever RTD is doing there, it is not getting the job done. A quick glance at the RTD website reveals that roughly 40% of their buses are operated by contractors, not RTD employees. That could certainly be part of the problem. These are mercenary companies hired by RTD to supply the drivers, lowest bidder. I found out that the driver who attempted to injure me with a bus last November worked for a contractor called Veolia Transportation. What kind of instruction do these contractors receive concerning the rights of bicyclists on the streets, before they are handed the keys to a 60-foot articulated bus? Anything whatsoever?

Obviously RTD employs some of the most experienced and careful professional drivers on the street. But, for whatever reason these days, RTD also seems to feature the worst drivers in Denver, from a bicyclist's perspective. Worse than taxi drivers, worse than soccer moms, worse than teenagers, worse even than the notorious Super Shuttle drivers, the heinous driving of which will go down in the annals of heinous driving history. I'm sure if you're the RTD Manager of Safety, or head lawyer or something, this is an untenable situation. It should keep you up nights. As alleged professionals, RTD bus drivers piloting giant machines filled with people around swarms of pedestrians must be held to a higher standard than drivers of other vehicles. Everybody understands that. Juries understand that. Bus drivers should be especially careful when passing bicyclists, not 300 times more malicious than other drivers. Certainly they should be aware of the basic rules of the road. And eventually somebody is going to get their asses sued hard and they're going to deserve it. Negligence. Liability. All that. RTD is swimming in it.

I probably should have gone to the police after the November incident -- there are explicit state laws against that sort of driving now -- but instead I made a formal complaint to RTD. After mulling it over for about a month they seemed far more concerned about the drivers' dropping the F-bomb and yelling at me while hauling a bus-load of slackjawed passengers than they were about his deliberate attempt to injure someone while hauling a bus-load of slackjawed passengers. Since they have treated this as more of a customer service faux pas than the attempted assault that it was, I have decided to bring the issue to the internet, for what it's worth. The important thing is to make it known that an apparent pattern exists, for the benefit of others who may have experienced or will experience the same sort of malicious driving, but with more tragic results. I shudder to think what might be going on out there when RTD drivers use their buses to attack bicyclists who are far less experienced and skilled on two wheels than a veteran messenger. For all I know there is some family dealing with the injury or death of a loved one at the hands of a murderous RTD driver, maybe one of the same guys who tried to get me, and they've been told that he or she just swerved mysteriously in front of that bus and there was nothing the driver could do ... These drivers are professionals after all ...

Or maybe I will be the one to end up under the bus, with nothing to make my case but this entry on my website. If an RTD driver takes my life some day, I hope you nice folks don't let them get away with it.

Be careful out there, people. Be careful out there, RTD.

 

FROM THE INTERWEBZ: Fritz rants about RTD mall shuttle drivers maliciously maneuvering (CYCLELICOUS, Sept. 7 2007).

TANGENTIALLY RELATED I.C. POSTS: 5/02/08 THE BIKE LANE DID IT , 6/05/08 COMMUTER ADVICE FROM THE P-I C PART 2 , 3/25/09 CYCLE TRAPS , 6/16/06 BIGGER THAN BIKE LANES , EDUCATING DRIVERS