Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What I Learned In Texas

Years ago the notion of committing one's entire law practice to representing people who ride bicycles perhaps seemed a little nutty.  Or worse, like a some sort of marketing gimmick.  My, how times have changed.

Earlier this month I attended the First Annual Bike Law Summit in Austin, Texas.  "Summit" sounds a bit pompous.  A Summit is something held to end a war, or eradicate some worldwide nastiness.  In this case, it was a formal gathering of bicycle lawyers from around the country who got together to examine how best to represent people who ride.  Present were bicycle lawyers from every region of the country; each bringing experience and commitment to the cause, protecting cyclist's rights and making it safer to ride.  Our bicycle law firm was the proud and only representative from Illinois.

Peter Wilborn leads the
discussion in Austin. Also
Seen (from right: Ann, Bob,
Peter,Timmy and Ben
The range of experience was fascinating to listen to.  Generally, lawyers focus their practices on one or two states.  We all tend to practice in a bubble.  It is often eye opening to listen to attorneys from other parts of the country.  Ann Groninger, for example, practices bicycle law in North Carolina.  That state's laws make it difficult for injured people to receive just compensation.  North Carolina is one of only a few states which adheres to the doctrine of strict contributory negligence. This means that if the injured person's own negligence contributed in any way to cause their injury, even if the defendant was more negligent, then the plaintiff receives nothing for their harms and losses.  In contrast, in states like Illinois, a plaintiff's comparative fault only serves to reduce the amount of compensation their may receive, so long as the defendant is shown to be more at fault.  North Carolina's somewhat draconian law means that Ann has a lot less leverage with insurance companies to negotiate resolution of a claim.  She therefore ends up trying cases in front of a jury fairly often.  As a result she had a great deal to offer group in terms of trial tips and techniques.  She seems to be very good at what she does.

Bryan Waldman racing at
the CX National
Championships happening
in Austin during the Summit
Charlie Thomas is a bicycle lawyer from New Orleans, Louisiana and former president of the Texas A & M Cycling Team.  He explained that his city and state are relatively new when it comes to bicycle advocacy.  His efforts in teaming up with local bicycle shops to increase the visibility of bicycle advocacy served as a useful primer on connecting with people at a grass roots level.  Bob Mionske was the superstar of our group.  A bicycle lawyer in Portland, Oregon, he is a former USA Olympic cyclist and author of THE  book on bike law, Bicycling And The Law.  He was the first lawyer of note in the United States to identify as a "bicycle lawyer."  His considerable experience representing bicyclists makes him a fountain of knowledge and wisdom.  Peter Wilborn, a bike lawyer in South Carolina, was the leader of our group.  Himself a veteran in the battle to better bicycling, his primary and invaluable role was bringing us all together.  As a coordinated group of like minded attorneys we bring greater resources, energy, experience to each individual fight on behalf of the injured cyclist.  As issues, problems and challenges arise for any of us there is a network of people an email or phone call away with advice and guidance.  Also present at the Summit were the following bicycle lawyers:  Jim Reed, New York; Amy Benner, Tennessee; Bryan Waldman, Michigan; Vance Preman, Missouri; Randy Knutson, Minnesota; Timmy Finch, South Carolina; and Ben Dodge, Arizona.

Also present to offer his insights on bicycle advocacy was Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists.  He has committed his esteemed organization to working hand in hand with Bike Law toward better bicycle advocacy.  With the League behind us we are that much stronger in our ability to represent cyclists and biking

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Safe and Legal Riding In Snowy Urban Conditions

I found myself riding home last night in some pretty crappy weather.  I hadn't set out to ride in snowy, slippery conditions, but it happened.  My ride home from Andersonville to Logan Square was, thankfully, uneventful.  This being the first real snow of the season, I was reminded of some basic but important winter riding techniques to keep the rubber side down.

I was riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker with 26" x 1.75" Schwalbe Marathon tires.  Usually I keep them inflated to around 80 psi, but during my ride I found myself slipping on the fresh snow.  I pulled to the side of the road and let some air out of them.  I don't know how much air pressure I released, but it was enough to allow the tires to compress more against the road but not so much so as to run the risk of getting a pinch flat or having the tires come off of the rims.  This roadside fix provided a lot more grip.  I was also riding, as I always do, with a bright white light on the front of my bike (as is required by Illinois law) and a good deal of red reflective tape on the rear of my bike (also required by law).  Additionally, I had a bright red blinking tail light on the rear.  This is not required by law but is a damn good idea.  My tires also had reflective sidewalls which increased my visibility from the side.  Remember, the key to safe riding in dark and inclement weather is to increase your visibility.  A driver that can see you will avoid you.

The other thing that helped me make it home safely last night was lane positioning.  I rode further left than I usually do in order to avoid the deeper, slicker snow and ice along the curb side of the lane.  I generally tried to ride in the right tire tracks left by motor vehicles.  This gave me more contact with the pavement and helped me see and avoid dangerous road defects like potholes.  Here is a short video of how I positioned myself in the lane:


This is very easy to do on side streets with little or no traffic.  Admittedly, on streets with greater traffic flow it takes some getting used to.  There is a natural inclination to want to move to the right, to just get out of the way of the motor vehicles, but this is an urge to which the cyclist should not give in.  Moving right in slippery conditions will increase your chances of wiping out as you move from shallow to deeper snow.  If your rear is well illuminated (the importance of which cannot be overstated), drivers will afford you a wide berth while passing to your left.  Check it out:


Taking more of the lane, moving farther to the left in snowy conditions, is permitted by law.  While both Illinois law and Chicago ordinance generally require cyclists to ride to the right, they are only required to ride as far to the right as is safe and practicable.  Cyclists may move as far into the lane as is necessary to avoid unsafe conditions, including snow and ice.  As more drivers pass you your confidence and comfort riding in the motor vehicle lane will increase.  I also find that I generally get more comfortable riding in snow as the winter progresses.  Riding in the first snow of the year always feels a bit scary to me.  But I know from experience that it gets better.

Of course there are assholes out there who will buzz you, pass a bit too closely. . .


. . . But, you know, he or she missed me.  It is important not to freak out if this happens and swerve right. Doing so increases your chances of slipping and crashing.  Even if the driver of the SUV in the video had sideswiped me or nailed me with their mirror I likely would have been thrown to the right where there was plenty of landing space.  That of course would have been less than ideal, but still better than slipping and landing in the main traffic lane and in front of a motor vehicle.

It should be said that had I paid attention to the weather forecast I might have avoided riding last night.  But when caught by the weather it is important to remember safe techniques and practices for an uneventful ride.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chicago Bicyclist, Father Of Two, Killed On January 1 By Hit-And-RunDriver

Aimer Robledo
Courtesy of CBS Local
The new year has started tragically for the family of Aimer Robledo, 30, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as he rode his bicycle in West Humboldt Park early this morning, according to The Chicago Tribune.  He leaves behind two daughters aged 8 and 9.

The crash occurred in the 4700 block of West Division Street, according to The Trib, about a mile and half from Mr. Robledo's home.  The driver was operating a dark colored minivan and struck him at around 3:00 a.m., according to CBS Local.

There are private security cameras located on the block where Mr. Robledo was struck.  Investigators should be able to acquire footage of the crash or the van fleeing the scene if the camera owners are contacted right away.

Eight Chicago cyclists were killed while riding on city streets in all of 2014.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chicago's Top Cycling Stories Of 2014

In 2014 the City of Chicago continued its commitment to making our streets better for cyclists. More bike lanes were installed around the city, and old facilities were updated.  Despite those encouraging signs Chicago has a ways to go toward becoming a truly great biking city.  The League of American Bicyclists still only ranks Chicago as a Silver city for cycling, significantly behind Gold cities like Seattle and San Francisco and a Platinum city like Portland.  This lag was seemingly highlighted by the poor condition of our roads and bike lanes after a particularly difficult winter. Also, the number of deaths was up substantially from 2013.  So with a mix of good and bad here are the top five Chicago cycling stories of 2014:

5.  Showing that one person really can make a difference, one fiesty cyclist fought the law and won. June saw the resolution of "Lilly's case," a high profile lawsuit which arose when a pregnant Chicago bicyclist was doored on Halloween, 2012.  Rebecca Resman, aka "Lilly", was threatened with a traffic citation by a Chicago police officer after she was doored by the passenger of a motor vehicle as she passed on the right in a bicycle lane.  The responding officer apparently felt that the cyclist violated a statute prohibiting two wheeled vehicles from passing stopped or slowed motor vehicles on the right unless they were afforded 8 feet of space, a rarity in Chicago.  The law was only meant to apply to motorcycles, scooters and the like.  Our firm, which represented Rebecca, and her employer, The Active Transportation Alliance, worked with legislators in Springfield and with the City of Chicago have the law clarified to permit passing on the right so long as  there was "reasonable" space in which to do so.  With that important change in place and following Rebecca's poised deposition testimony, the case resolved to her benefit.

4.  Our state's appellate court did Illinois bicyclists a solid with its holding in Pattullo-Banks v. City of Park Ridge.  Illinois municipalities may now be held liable for injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists forced into the street by snow piled onto sidewalks and bike lanes by city plows, according to the Court.  The ruling was issued on September 4th and overturned an order entered by Cook County Judge Lynn Egan dismissing the plaintiff's lawsuit against the city.

3.  First, it was in Detroit.  Then it was a television commercial.  In 2014 Slow Roll made a home in Chicago as a new kind of urban advocacy.  Slow Roll Chicago was founded by Jamal Julien and Olatunji Oboi Reed as a means of getting people of all types, young, old, in shape and out on their bikes and into the communities  The idea is to have fun but also to, you know, see stuff and, more to the point, become aware of what is happening throughout Chicago.  The hope is that awareness will encourage action where ever and whenever it is needed.  Slow Roll uses the bicycle as a tool to create neighborhood awareness, not merely as a means of recreating.  In September Julien explained to The Chicago Tribune, "We want to promote the communities that we're riding through.  We'll be  looking at coffee shops, mom-and-pop restaurants and small retailers.  And if there is a historical venue, we can stop and talk about it."  Reed added, "We ride because we believe the more people that ride in our community, the better we stand an opportunity of our communities being improved."

2.  The first half of the year was a rough one for Chicago cycles with an exceptionally brutal winter, and an unprepared or unresponsive administration combining to make getting around by bike very difficult.  Pot holes (more like craters in some spots) and snowy, icy bike lanes were the big story of early 2014.  Back in 2013, the city did a pretty good job of clearing bike lanes when winter weather hit.  But by February of this year, as my partner Jim Freeman noted on this blog, "Now we're seeing how the City handles snow removal during a real winter.  The old folks I talk to admit that the beating Chicago has taken this winter has been the worst since 1979, and it shows in the bike lanes.  Some bike lanes have been maintained, while others are a mess."  By early March, the winter still in full effect, it seemed that the City had thrown in the towel.  Even in the touted Dearborn Bike Lane, snow and ice remained long after storm clouds had cleared making pedaling to work treacherous.  When the weather finally did break, potholes, many of considerable enormity, remained, and the City was spread thin in its efforts to fix them.  

If Chicago is truly committed to seeing the bicycle become a viable means of transportation for its citizens and visitors then it simply must be as committed to clearing the streets for cyclists as it is for drivers.  Let's hope that last winter was a learning experience, merely a blip in the march towards our city becoming more bike friendly year 'round.

1.  Twice as many people died riding their bikes in Chicago in 2014 as did the year before.  Through today, 8 people died in bicycle related crashes this year, compared to 4 in 2013.*  Adding to this sad statistic was a report released in October by the Governors Highway Safety Association which listed Illinois as having the 5th most bicycle fatalities in the nation between 2010 and 2012.  Certainly this is sobering stuff highlighting in the starkest possible terms how far we still must travel to make our state and our city safer for cycling.  

It seems fair to note that cycling in Chicago and statewide has increased in popularity.  Given all of the earnest work done by planners statewide it would be hard to argue that cycling now is more dangerous than it was 10 years ago.  More people on bikes may be expected to lead to more injury and more fatalities. Still, the goal is zero bicycling fatalities and here's hoping that 2015 sees us closer to reaching that crucial milestone.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

CTA And City Must Do A Better Job Of Protecting Chicago Bicyclists

Riding with buses is no fun.  Until Chicago does a better job of segregating bicycle and bus traffic, like some other North American cities have, cyclists will just have to deal with it. Even experienced city bikers grit their teeth when a Chicago Transit Authority bus zips passed only to swerve right in front of them to pick up/drop off passengers.  More novice cyclists I've spoken with cite the presence of CTA buses as a major factor that keeps them from riding more.  

But there are rules that bus drivers must follow.  When they are disobeyed and a cyclist is injured as a result, the CTA may be held responsible.  Consider the video below shot earlier this week on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park:


The three buses presented a dangerous situation for bicyclists in the area, as well as for the people seeking to board the second bus.  The first bus driver did nothing wrong.  The driver activated his or her turn signal, passed the cyclists at a sufficient distance then pulled fully into the bus stop well ahead of the cyclists.  However, that bus's presence at the stop, plus the second bus driver's conduct created a dangerous situation.  The second driver boxed the cyclists in then opened the bus door inviting riders into the path of the bikers.

Let's look at the CTA's own rules regarding how drivers are to deal with bicyclists upon approaching a stop.

CTA Poster from 2004

Close up of section on Service Stops

Close up of section on Curbing
The above poster was published by the CTA in 2004 and was meant as a guide for drivers regarding safe interaction with bicyclists on the road.  Comparing the sections on Service Stops and Curbing to the conduct of bus #2 in the video we see a couple of violations.  Firstly, the driver should have let the two cyclists to the right of the bus pass the bus stop before bringing the vehicle to a halt. Secondly, he or she should not have opened the bus doors before allowing the cyclists to pass. Thirdly, after allowing the cyclists to pass, the driver should have pulled to the curb to discourage cyclists from passing on the right while picking up/dropping off passengers.  Thankfully, the bicyclists were traveling slow enough so as not to cause injury to themselves or the people attempting to board the bus.

The video shows a third bus adding additional danger to the mix.  With two buses at the bus stop and now a third bicyclist passing them on the left, the third driver decided to pass the buses and all three cyclists on the left rather than wait for the bus and bicycle congestion to clear.  Very foolish.  Yet this sort of mess is all too common in my experience as a daily cyclist.  Buses passing too close and too fast, zipping into and out of bike lanes without concern for the presence of cyclists is consistently frustrating and down right frightening.  City bus drivers are required to obey the same rules of the road as are other drivers.  When they fail to do so, and/or violate the procedures put in place by their employers, i.e. CTA, and their conduct causes harm, they may be held liable for so doing.  It should go without saying that bicyclists also have a duty to follow the rules of the road, the same rules applicable to drivers, and should appreciate that buses make frequent stops.  Extra caution should be taken around buses.  

While there are some lousy bus drivers out there, I do not mean to disparage them all.  Bus drivers are doing a job and generally try to and want to do so safely then go home to their families.  Much blame for dangerous interactions between Chicago cyclists and bus drivers must go to the state of our current infrastructure which too often requires them to share the road with each other.  That, plus the fact that the drivers are trying to maintain a strict time schedule sometimes leads to calamity.  Earlier this year I had the opportunity to use bike share in San Francisco.  I was impressed with that city's efforts to segregate bus and bicycle traffic by creating bus stop islands to the left of bike lanes.  With these buses need never enter bike lanes to pick up and drop off passengers.  Chicago would be wise to take note.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Postal Driver Nearly Delivers Right Hook To Chicago Bicyclist

An aggressive U.S. postal driver nearly delivered a right hook as I rode home in the Kinzie bike lane last night.


Illinois law generally requires bicyclists riding slower than motor vehicle traffic to travel along the right side of the roadway.  Right turning drivers who fail to look for bicyclists on their right are among the most common causes of bike crashes in urban areas.  These collisions are common enough in Chicago that the city's municipal code addresses them.  Section 9-16-020(f)  states:
When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.
The situation represented in the video above was particularly frustrating.  The driver must have seen me.  Firstly, I was riding in a clearly marked bicycle lane.  Secondly, I must have been very visible to any driver.  I had a red flashing light on the rear of my bike, panniers with reflective strips, tires with reflective sidewalls (Schwalbe Marathon), and a bright flashing white light on the front of my bike.  Thirdly, there is a sign located at the intersection (Kinzie and Jefferson) that instructs turning drivers to stop for bicyclists and pedestrians.  (Bicyclists are only required to stop at that intersection when pedestrians are present.)

I was able to avoid colliding with the mail truck because I was not riding very fast.  Also, the driver did use his/her turn signal.  Thankfully, I noticed it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chicago Cycling Club Loses Long Time Ride Leader

Joe Dickstein (in Blackhawks sweater) with
other members of the Chicago Cycling Club

by Anne Alt
Our local bike community lost someone special this week. Longtime Chicago Cycling Club member and ride leader, Joe Dickstein, died suddenly and unexpectedly on Tuesday.
Many of you may know him from his sports nostalgia rides and treks to restaurants serving excellent burgers and craft beers.  Joe was the ultimate sports fan with a great sense of fun.  His last trip was a hockey pilgrimage to Canada.
He has contributed so much to the club over the years.  We will miss him.

The memorial service will be at Chicago Jewish Funerals, 8851 Skokie Blvd. at 12:00 NOON on Friday, December 5.  Shivah services will be at the Dickstein residence, 7447 N. Hoyne #1S, Chicago immediately following the service on Friday; Saturday night 6-9 p.m., Sunday 2-9 p.m., and Monday 6-9 p.m.  If you were friends with Joe and his wife Phyllis, she would welcome your support in this difficult time.

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