Deliberately Hit While Biking, by a Bloomington Bus Driver

Indiana University – Bloomington is famous for its town vs. gown issues. Ever since the movie Breaking Away (1979), it has been public knowledge that too many of that little city’s residents entertain hostile attitudes toward the university and its denizens, particularly those who ride bikes. That notoriety was reinforced on May 31, 2000, when IU freshman Jill Behrman was murdered by a Bloomington area local: she took off on a bike ride and never came back.

That hostility was evident even within the university’s administration. For example, unlike any other campus I have ever attended — and I have attended quite a few — the university’s parking administrator seemed eager to cut bicyclists’ sometimes expensive bike locks and impound their bikes. This may have been part of the university’s inclination to extract funds from students whenever possible, imposing high fees even for trivial violations of unnecessary rules.

The general idea was that bikes would be impounded when they were not tied to a bike rack — even if there were not enough racks to accommodate students. So of course my turn came: I had an irreplaceable bike cable cut. (It was thick, it sprang into a coil in a way that I found perfect for my purposes, and I was not able to replace it.) In my case, however, the rules were on my side. The man with the bolt cutter had made a mistake. I presented the evidence demonstrating that fact to the parking administrator. He refused nevertheless to reimburse me for the purchase price of a replacement cable. So you see why I think it was more about grabbing the money, and less about enforcing the rules fairly.

It is not that every Bloomington resident or university staffer had sour or surly attitudes. It is just that there seemed to be a remarkable amount of such behavior. And it did comport with the attitudes of faculty themselves, as demonstrated in other posts in this blog.

I will offer one more example before proceeding to the main story. One time I was biking through a dorm area. The speed limit was 25 MPH. I was approaching an intersection. A university maintenance truck was approaching on the cross-street. Both of us had stop signs. I was already practically at the intersection, but the truck was approaching faster, and would arrive shortly after I did. It seemed obvious enough that, if I stopped, the truck driver would have to wait while I got started again and proceeded through the intersection. It was also common, among students and faculty members driving around the university area, to wave bicyclists to go ahead. Drivers would often do this even if they arrived at a four-way stop slightly before the bicyclist did. So I thought I had probably better just go on through and get out of this driver’s way. This, however, was not what the driver wanted. He wanted me to stop, and he got his wish. He did that by continuing to charge right at the intersection, without any sign of slowing. I don’t know if he would have actually hit me, or would have just continued in his threatening and possibly manner until the last instant, if I had entered the intersection without stopping. In any case, he made his point: he was the enforcer of the law. Of course, he was likely to bridle his righteous and implicitly violent indignation when the bicyclists ignoring rules happened to be his own friends and family members.

Maybe hostility or surliness are not the right words for what transpired in such situations. Whatever it was, precisely, it was ugly, and there was a surplus of it. My worst experience of it occurred on January 31, 2006, when a Bloomington Transit driver deliberately hit me while I was biking down Tenth Street. Here is the driver who hit me:

2006-01-31 Bus Hit Me -- Photos at Scene_Page_4


And here is my bike on the pavement, next to his bus:

2006-01-31 Bus Hit Me -- Photos at Scene_Page_2


The bus driver was approaching  me from behind. He did not observe the traffic rules entitling me to continue in my lane. The point is not that I was hogging the lane. I wasn’t. I was off to the side. He could have passed me without incident. That was not what he wanted. Instead, he drove up right next to me and hit my handlebar, sending me to the ground.

I believe he did this because another bicyclist and I had passed him while he was sitting at a bus stop. That was not an improper act. But these Bloomington Transit drivers were aggressive. They would deliberately angle their buses into bus stops, blocking multiple lanes. They seemed to feel entitled to force drivers and bicyclists alike to wait until they had finished loading passengers. So when the other guy and I passed him, we transgressed his unwritten rule, and he was determined to exact revenge. As I was about to find out, this was yet another uneducated local with a surly attitude.

And consistent with the apparently prevalent attitude among IU staffers, this was fine with the Indiana University Police Department. The IUPD officer shown in the photo above wrote a distorted and absurd account of what had happened, directly contradicting the bus driver’s own statements. The officer, who had not been present, actually invented the theory that I had simply fallen off my bicycle. I don’t know whether the officer’s fiction saved the driver from being fired — he seemed to disappear after this — but it did protect the driver from the serious legal consequences to which a truthful police report would have exposed him.

Fortunately, I was not injured. But I was 50 years old when this happened. I had experienced severe injuries in other bike accidents. I could have broken a knee or a shoulder; I could have been injured for the rest of my life. With the wrong kind of fall, I could have been killed.

It seemed bizarre that Bloomington Transit and the Indiana University Police Department would have supported the driver’s behavior. It did appear that the people in power accepted this sort of attitude toward students. As noted above, it was unfortunately consistent with the abominable behavior of too many IU professors and administrators.

This attack occurred right outside the IU student health center. I went immediately there. As one might predict, unfortunately, the clinician who attended to me did not take X-rays or otherwise specifically investigate potential injuries arising from the incident. Note that this is the same IU student health center that would charge students a steep fee for leaving without obtaining a receipt.


3 thoughts on “Deliberately Hit While Biking, by a Bloomington Bus Driver

  1. [This person submitted two comments. I am presenting both of them together here. I have edited excess verbiage (e.g., personal insults) out of the second comment, reducing it to the remarks that do focus on the issue.]

    First comment (submitted on 2/27/16):

    I’m a Bloomington Transit driver on duty the day of this accident, and I remember it well. Witness reports and video show you clearly in the wrong, which is recognized by the police accident report. It’s up to all bicyclists in Bloomington to recognize that the precepts of ‘sharing the road’ also apply to them, and aren’t just a slogan to shout at vehicular traffic as you break traffic laws. Disregarding vehicular right-of-way and traffic signs/signals can and does have fatal consequences for those on bicycles who feel entitled to use of the road without feeling the need to obey any of the laws which govern that use. My advice to you is to not pass stopped traffic on the right and pay more attention to your surroundings rather than relying on others to make the extra effort to not end your life through your careless actions.

    Second comment (submitted on 2/28/16):

    There are two buses in your picture alone. There were six C Route buses on the road that day, four Route 3, two each Route 4 and Route 7 and one Route 5. Quite a few of us were in a position to witness this event, and that’s just the buses which pass down 3rd. … As I said before: Please try and be more cautious on the roads of Bloomington when bicycling. You do not have the right, nor is it safe for you or our passengers, to pass buses that are at the curb boarding and alighting passengers.

    • My reply (on 2/27/16) to the first comment:

      Unless you’re just making up a story, it sounds like you were the guy who hit me. Care to confirm by identifying yourself, instead of hiding behind an alias? And, no, witness reports supported my account, but the witnesses were students who were ultimately afraid to get involved. I disregarded no traffic signs, but it does sound like you felt otherwise, and were determined to hit me — which is exactly what this post states.

      My reply (on 2/29/16) to the second comment:

      Your comment refers to “the buses which pass down 3rd.” This incident occurred on 10th Street. I see that my blog post incorrectly referred to Seventh Street. I have now corrected that. Either way, 3rd Street is not in the picture. It appears you may be thinking of a different incident.

      I see that, in the second comment, you still decline to identify yourself. You might be less inclined to insult people, and more inclined to make sure the facts support you, if you were to take responsibility for your statements.

      I am not sure why you refer to “a slogan to shout at vehicular traffic as you break traffic laws.” There were no slogans or shouting at vehicular traffic in this case. I was simply riding my bike to school, when a BT driver came from behind and hit me. But this remark does suggest that at least some BT drivers maintain a sense of grievance toward Indiana University bicyclists. It seems you think bicyclists should not shout at vehicular traffic.

      So let’s clarify that. Drivers do sometimes make mistakes, drive aggressively, and violate traffic laws. Listen to the horns in traffic, in any moderately sized city, and you will hear the testimony of many other drivers who agree. Bicylists don’t have loud horns, so sometimes they yell. Sometimes what they are yelling is correct.

      Perhaps we should be clear about one other thing. Even if a bicyclist were to yell and scream at a driver, mouthing obscenities and being completely vulgar, wrong, and unfair regarding the facts, the driver would still not be entitled to use his/her vehicle to hit that bicyclist. That would be aggravated assault at the least; it could qualify as attempted vehicular homicide.

      Your first comment referred to “vehicular right-of-way and traffic signs/signals.” It also advised me “to not pass stopped traffic on the right.” As indicated in my first reply, those did not apply to this case. Again, it did not sound like you were familiar with this incident. But, as above, it does sound like you come to the present situation pre-loaded with complaints about other bicyclists.

      In your second comment, you change the accusation. This time, you say, “You do not have the right, nor is it safe for you or our passengers, to pass buses that are at the curb boarding and alighting passengers.” That remark is more on-target. My post does say, “I believe [the driver hit me] because another bicyclist and I had passed him while he was sitting at a bus stop. That was not an improper act. But these Bloomington Transit drivers were aggressive.”

      There are several things to say about this. For one thing, your two comments contradict each other. A bicyclist is physically unable to “pass stopped traffic on the right” when the traffic in question is a bus that is “at the curb boarding and alighting passengers.” This contradiction underscores the impression that you are motivated by your observations of other, unrelated incidents.

      Regarding the bicyclist who passes a stopped bus, perhaps you can direct me to the law you are referring to. I briefly tried a couple of searches, but did not find anything supporting your view. Cars and bicyclists do often pass stopped buses, in Bloomington and elsewhere. And that seems appropriate: bus drivers sometimes sit for several minutes at a stop, if they have arrived there ahead of schedule. It would not make sense to block the street for all that time, until the bus driver is ready to go.

      Not to belabor the obvious, but a public transit bus is not the same as a schoolbus. The passengers are not little children who might wander out into traffic. Public transit buses do not have flashing lights and little wings that flip out to remind drivers not to pass.

      In short, the situation seems to be as I described it: BT Transit drivers aggressively claim a false right to stop traffic and, in my case, to retaliate against bicyclists who ride on by.

      Your second comment claims that numerous BT drivers “were in a position to witness this event.” That claim is nonsensical. The event in question involves a bus driver who hit a bicyclist. Are you suggesting that all of these other BT drivers were lined up at precisely the point of impact? It seems your concept of a witness is someone who happened to come along at some point. On 3rd Street, no less.

      Your first comment refers to the police accident report. But your remarks suggest that, in reality, you are not familiar with any such report. Prove me wrong: go ahead and quote specific words, from the police report, that support your view. Otherwise, I conclude that you have no idea what you are talking about.

      Your remarks certainly are consistent with the impression I got of BT drivers, on that day when one of them deliberately hit me. As my post observes, Bloomington has a long-term town-vs.-gown problem. Regardless of who you are, attitudes like those expressed in your comments are unfortunately a part of it.

      Epilogue (later on 2/29/16):

      The writer replied again. Taken together, his/her remarks sound relatively intelligent. So I don’t think s/he is the driver who hit me. I don’t mean that as an insult, exactly; he just wasn’t an especially sharp individual. But this commenter declined to address any of the foregoing factual issues. Given his/her self-contradictions and obvious lack of familiarity with the incident, the best guess seems to be that s/he is just a troll. It appears that, by declining to publish his/her insults, I took the fun out of the game; s/he said s/he is “never speaking to [me] again.”

      And I guess that’s for the best: it seems I wasted my time in taking him/her seriously. Blame it on a wish that IU and Bloomington were better places than they actually are. When I posted this story, I probably did hope that someone there — someone in the university or in Bloomington Transit — would care enough to look into this matter and try to set it right. But as demonstrated elsewhere in this blog, that is simply not what those places are all about.

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