On May 26, a man with a bicycle stood in front of a SEPTA bus with passengers aboard. He stood there, in the middle of Locust Street near 13th, for approximately an hour until police arrived.
Why did he feel threatened?
I assume that he felt his life was threatened. If you have never been on a bicycle and had a bus or large truck pass you within 10 feet of your body — it is scary! It feels similar to standing close a regional rail train passing through a station without stopping. Except it is scarier because you are also moving and trying to control a bicycle at the same time. I assume that the rider was flustered and scared by the bus not yielding to him, particularly in a place where there was an entire lane to move into and the upcoming obstacles were visible from a long way away.
Why did he feel the need to hold up the bus and traffic?
I assume that he has had this type of threatening experience before on the road and knows from past encounters that stopping and calling the police or SEPTA results in no action. Every single bike rider I know that has been on a bike in Philly for longer than a month has had this experience. Not only do the police take an hour (at best!) to show up to the scene, their reports are often biased and do not reflect the laws (for example, in Pennsylvania you must provide four full feet of passing room). If no one has suffered serious bodily harm or been taken away in an ambulance, they will likely not file a crash report. That means that the city does not receive the crash data, the victim has a much harder time pressing charges, and the victim has a much harder time seeking money for medical costs or legal fees. This leaves bike riders and pedestrians, our most vulnerable road users, even more vulnerable to harassment and physical danger.
He was acting out of privilege!
Many have commented on this man’s skin color and privilege, and the alleged privilege of all bike riders in Philadelphia. However, a Census Bureau study from 2008 to 2012 shows that cycling is most popular among low income Latinos. People choose to ride a bike for many reasons: financial, practical, physical, environmental and otherwise. While this man was privileged to be able to stand there for an hour, he is not the only person to ever encounter this behavior.
Why didn’t he just file a police report?
Our police department does not prioritize traffic violations and enforcements. This data is reflected by the the low number of moving violations. But even casually, one can sit on any corner in the city and watch car drivers ignore red lights and stops signs, sometimes in front of a police officer. Many will continue to argue that bike riders do the same and are the real problem. Data proves that bikes do not cause injury or death to pedestrians at any recordable rate. Automobiles, however, are the third leading cause of injury to pedestrians (after poor sidewalk conditions and trip and falls):
Seventy-four pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes with autos in Pennsylvania in 2014, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Zero were killed by cyclists.
Nine cyclists were killed by car drivers in 2015. Zero were killed by other bike riders.
While many argue that cyclists break all the rules of the road, data from the U.K. show that not only is this not dangerous behavior, but that car drivers are more at fault for this and are the true source of injury and death as a result.
Even if he was successful in filing a report, car drivers that cause injury and death to pedestrians and cyclists are not charged to the full extent of the law. As one example, the driver that killed 4-year-old Latif (Abdul) Wilson had the charges of homicide by vehicle charges dropped as part of her plea deal. Another example is the driver that killed Gordon Vanderburg as he rode his bike in Kensington in 2015 has been released and no charges have been filed. (Editor’s note: The driver’s name was not released to the media the time of the crash, and the District Attorney’s office was unable to provide us with an update on this case without the defendant’s name). Case after case shows that our police force and District Attorney do not prioritize the safety of vulnerable road users.
Why is this spot of the road unsafe for bike riders?
Locust Street in this section has a shared bus and bike lane. Buses should not be sharing a lane with bikes: “…the stop-start nature of bus journeys isn’t compatible with the constant speed of cycling, which results in a ‘leap-frog’ situation, where the person cycling overtakes the bus at stops, meaning the bus has to try and overtake between the stops. In other words, buses hold up cycling, and vice versa.”
Our city currently lacks protected and separated bike lanes.
But I hate bike riders and don’t want them in my way!
Many people do not want bike riders on the road. They are quick to point out the bike riders that run through stop signs and lights, the ones too scared to ride on the street who use the sidewalks, or the ones who intelligently and legally take the whole lane. If this is you, please support protected and separated bike lanes!
They are proven to provide a safer experience for all road users, yes, including pedestrians! They improve retail sales. And they decrease travel times for drivers on many streets.
Why is this important to me?
Because I am a parent who wants to get home to my children just as safely and conveniently as you. Sometimes that is by foot, others by bike, car, or public transit. I assure you that the parents of the bike rider who stopped the SEPTA bus just wanted their son to get home safely too. If only Jamal Morris’ parents had the same.