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