SEPTA bus bike
Courtesy of Matt Kay

The story behind the cyclist who blocked a SEPTA bus for an hour

You might have seen this making the rounds on Facebook. The guy who took the photo tells Billy Penn “He was basically shouting, ‘I am a vehicle, too, and I have a right to be here. I have right to this road.’”

Update: Friday, 2:20 p.m.

A cyclist who was apparently angry at the actions of a bus driver stood in front of a SEPTA bus for an hour Wednesday afternoon near 13th and Locust, stopping traffic until a police officer arrived. (On a Segway.)

Matthew Kay witnessed the scene from Nomad Pizza. He was there for an early happy hour. He’d eaten and was getting ready to pay his bill when he heard a scream from outside on Locust Street. He took the picture that’s been blowing up your Facebook feed all day today.

This dude is screaming at the SEPTA bus,” Kay said. “I was just assuming he cut off the SEPTA bus while driving and didn’t like how close it was to him. He was basically shouting, ‘I am a vehicle, too, and I have a right to be here. I have right to this road.’”

The bus driver, Kay said, tried to wave the cyclist off as if to apologize. The cyclist proceeded to dismount from his bike, cross his arms and stand.

And he stood for a very long time.

“I’m a teacher, and I know when kids are committed to having a super bad day,” Kay said. “They’ve committed to a conflict, and they’re going to hang in there. That’s what he looked like.”

SEPTA spokesperson Carla Showell-Lee told Billy Penn Friday SEPTA officials watched tape of the incident and concluded the bus driver did nothing wrong. She described the scene before the standoff like this:

The cyclist was ahead of the bus going east on Locust Street, and a truck that was in the parking lane obstructed their way. The cyclist moved slightly to avoid the truck. The bus moved over as well and passed the cyclist at the same time as the cyclist was passing the truck. Showell-Lee said the driver left “plenty of room for everybody.” Pennsylvania law requires drivers to allow four feet of space when passing bicycles.

The cyclist then pedaled quickly to get back ahead of the bus. He stopped in front of it and continued standing there, halting the bus.

“The driver acted professionally,” Showell-Lee said. “From the operator’s standpoint we can’t see he had done anything wrong.”

SEPTA was not able to get the name of the cyclist. Showell-Lee said he could have faced a charge of “interfering with public transit,” a summary offense.

The video was not made available to Billy Penn but Showell-Lee offered the opportunity to view it on Tuesday.

Though Kay had finished eating, he stuck around to watch. So did other patrons at Nomad. The bus driver, Kay said, shrugged and parked the bus. As the standoff continued, passengers started getting off the bus and others started getting on, unaware of what was happening. When the bus driver tried to back up and move around the cyclist, he moved back into the way, an action confirmed by Showell-Lee.

At one point, the cyclist pulled out his phone and held it up to the driver as if to indicate he was calling police. That may have been the case because the police eventually arrived. Well, one police officer. On a Segway.

Police SEPTA Bike
Courtesy Matt Kay

Kay said the officer spoke with the cyclist and then with the bus driver. Finally the cyclist relented.

Showell-Lee said SEPTA was not made aware of the incident Wednesday and received no report of service being disrupted. She said it came to their attention after a Facebook post.

 

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department said a 911 call came in for the incident at 5:03 yesterday afternoon. She said by the time officers arrived on the scene — about 30 minutes later — the incident had ended.

On Facebook, the story garnered mixed comments from a group that generally supports biking and alternative forms of transit.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 11.26.28 AM
Facebook screenshot

Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said she didn’t know enough about the situation but added “What’s most important when riding a bicycle or driving on the road is to get to your destination safely. If this bike rider felt he was legitimately in danger and waiting for police to be called he was correct in waiting for the police to show up.”

Kay said he was shocked at the cyclist’s actions.

You don’t know if people are on the way to a job interview on that bus or are diabetic and need medicine,” Kay said. “He didn’t care about anyone.

For the rest of my life, I’ll have a go to image for what selfishness and privilege looks like.”

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