Brush between school bus driver, bicyclist rekindles road-sharing debate

(BDN file photo)

(BDN file photo)

On Wednesday morning around 7 a.m., a South Portland school bus driver passed by a bicyclist on Deering Avenue in Portland, not far from King Middle School.

On that point, the bus driver and bicyclist agree, but that’s about where the agreements end.

The bicyclist, who captured the incident on a helmet camera, felt that the school bus came way too close, and reportedly let the bus driver know, yelling his dissatisfaction. (Click here to watch the helmet cam video.)

“He had no regard for my safety when he passed me like that,” bicyclist Ryan Stover told Portland’s ABC affiliate, WMTW. “And he obviously didn’t care about those children either. I mean what if he had hit me or run me over? Those kids would’ve witnessed a man being run over by their school bus.”

Stover took his complaint to the Portland police, who watched his video and announced Thursday they’d issued bus driver Leon Spear a summons on a charge of “failing to use due care passing a bicycle.”

South Portland Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin then told our media partners at WGME, CBS 13, that Spear’s employers are launching an internal investigation of their own.

“We expect all South Portland bus drivers to follow the rules of the road and expect all employees to interact appropriately with the community,” she said.

But Spear maintains the bicyclist put him in a bad situation. The bus driver told Portland radio station WGAN the cyclist “was flying” down the roadway and “was right in the middle of the road.”

“My aide, who I had on the bus, said, ‘Wow — he’s going to get hit or something,’” Spear told the radio hosts.

The bus driver said Stover could have used the designated bike lane along the far right side of the road, but instead forced the bus to go “way out over the yellow line to get around him.”

He said he stopped the bus when he heard Stover yelling at him, but decided he wanted no part of the confrontation, and shut the bus door on the bicyclist’s hand (although just temporarily).

“He started to get very aggressive with his comments or everything else,” Spear told WGAN. “I didn’t know if he was going to come onto the bus or what.”

Spear said he and his wife are recreational bicyclists — and that his wife bikes to work every day — so he knows what proper biking etiquette is.

Maine law requires motorists to give bicyclists three feet of space, but doesn’t force bicyclists to take advantage of dedicated bike lanes where available, only saying that they must be “on the right as far as is ‘practicable.’”

Portland police determined that, by the letter of the law, they believed Spear was in the wrong.

“The bike lane is in the ‘door zone.’ So if doors were opening from those parked cars on the right, that would put the cyclists in a lot of danger,” Brian Allenby of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine told WMTW.

But debate has been fierce about it on social media, where stories about the dust-up have been posted and shared. Bicyclists say motorists are ignoring the wide berth laws and — either by ignorance or malevolence — turning their cars and trucks into potentially deadly weapons. Motorists argue that many bicyclists ride with impunity, disregarding common roadway etiquette and putting themselves in harm’s way.

The Wednesday morning incident draws to mind a June 2013 confrontation in Portland between a local charter boat captain and bicyclist. Like in the Wednesday case, the cyclist in 2013 captured the argument on video, and like in the Wednesday case, each party in 2013 accused the other of not sharing the road.

In 2013, the charter boat captain lost sponsorships from local businesses as video of the confrontation went viral. On Wednesday, the bus driver found himself facing legal charges.

But while motorists in those particular incidents have faced the brunt of the consequences from the altercations, those individual financial penalties aren’t as severe as the prices paid by cyclists in cases where the cars get just a little closer.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2012, 726 cyclists were killed and another 49,000 or so were injured as a result of motor vehicle crashes, and the National Safety Council estimates the total cost of bicyclist injuries and deaths to be $4 billion per year.

Allenby suggested to WGME that motorists and cyclists have to work together to drive those numbers down.

“We are using these roads together,” Allenby told CBS 13. “The roads are for all users — Maine state law is very clear about that.”

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.