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Cyclist Dispute
Cyclist Randy Mason has been at odds with NAIPTA after a bus driver allegedly encroached into his lawful space while riding his bike. A city attorney review has recommended that the bus driver be ticketed for the alleged violation. (Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun)

A Flagstaff cyclist who is in a dispute with Mountain Line over whether he was given 3 feet of space required by law when a bus passed him appears to have won the battle.

Attorneys at the Flagstaff City Attorney's office have determined that a bus driver for the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority was speeding and did not allow for the 3-foot law, according to a March 4 decision. The city attorney's office is also recommending to Flagstaff police to ticket the driver of the bus.

"I think definitely it's a good step in the right direction," said cyclist Randy Mason.

Mason added that he was happy to know that police will acknowledge cyclist rights, and he appreciates the application of the 3-foot law for the safety of cyclists statewide.

On Dec. 19, 2009, Mason was traveling on Butler Avenue when he was passed by a NAIPTA bus. Video footage shows that Mason was riding in the bicycle lane and the bicycle lane was partially covered in snow.

Mason contends that when the bus driver passed, the bus was within 3 feet, which is in violation of the state's 3-foot law.

Mason confronted the driver a short time after the incident, and NAIPTA video footage of the encounter showed that neither the bus driver, nor the responding Flagstaff Police Department officer was familiar with certain bicycle laws. The footage also appeared to show that the bus was traveling 44 mph in a 35 mph zone.

After the incident, Mason posted the video on a blog, and when people reading the blog began to contact city officials, police officials initiated a formal complaint on Mason's behalf. Once the investigation was complete, police submitted the case to the city attorney for review.

During the investigation, police and city attorney staff were unclear whether the 3-foot rule applied in Mason's case based upon a preliminary reading of the law.

Lisa Stankovich, a criminal deputy city attorney, stated in an e-mail that she and fellow city prosecutor Robert Brown recommended the bus driver be ticketed for speeding and violating the 3-foot law after looking at the submitted evidence.

"Since the bicyclist in this case was in a bike lane at the time of the alleged violation, and it is our opinion that a violation occurred, it is thus clear that we think the 3-foot rule applies in all situations when a vehicle overtakes a bicycle traveling in the same direction, whether in a bike lane or not," Stankovich said.

BUS DRIVER NOT YET CITED

Jeff Meilbeck, NAIPTA general manager, said that the bus driver has not been ticketed yet.

Deputy Chief Josh Copley of the police department said that the driver will be issued his citations by the end of the week.

Meilbeck said he cannot respond appropriately until he has spoken with the city attorney's office and the police department.

But in a statement on the NAIPTA Web site called "Bikes, Buses and Blogs," Meilbeck contends that the security video from the bus clearly shows a 3-foot distance between the bus, and Mason and has provided the raw footage on the Web site for viewing.

Meilbeck also stated that the driver confronted by Mason believed Mason was being confrontational and aggressive during the incident, which prompted the police response.

Lastly, Meilbeck stated that the video speed indicator is inconclusive and is also unreliable.

In the wake of the incident with Mason, police officers and NAIPTA staff were given more in-depth training on bicycle laws.

Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or lhendricks@azdailysun.com.

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