Friday, February 20, 2015

California's Proposed Bicycle Helmet Mandate Is A Bad Idea

Last week a state senator in California introduced a bill that would require all adults to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.  While some jurisdictions in the United States require minors to wear bicycle helmets, if the proposed bill were to become law, California would be the first state in the country to mandate helmet use for adults.  

Mandatory bicycle helmet laws are a terrible idea.  Just in case an Illinois legislator gets an idea about introducing a similar bill here, let's revisit why.  Cycling as a form of recreation and transportation offers a myriad of benefits to the individual and the community as a whole.  An adult or child riding a bike to work or school takes one motor vehicle off the road thereby reducing traffic congestion and pollution.  It also reduces the strain on mass transit.  Buses and trains are less crowded and more pleasant to ride.  Also, motor vehicles place a physical strain on infrastructure that a much lighter bicycle does not.  Bicycle trips save the community money but taking heavy cars and trucks off the road.  In this age of rampant obesity, cycling helps promote good health.  This too saves the community money by reducing expenditure for health benefits such as Medicaid, particularly with regard to treatment for ailments closely associated with obesity like diabetes and heart disease.

These benefits are placed at substantial risk by helmet laws, because such mandates discourage higher rates of biking.  This very concern recently prompted the City of Dallas, Texas to repeal its adult bicycle helmet ordinance.  That city wanted to see more cyclists on its roads through a bike share system.  However, civic leaders recognized that such a program would likely be doomed to failure if casual bikers were required to fetch a helmet in order to rent a bike.  Australia is one country that requires all adults to wear helmets when cycling.  The impact has been unfortunate. According to the Institute for Public Affairs, an Australian think tank, "When the laws were introduced in the early 1990s, cycling trips declined by 30-40 per cent overall, and up to 80 per cent in some demographic groups, such as secondary school-aged females."

If the goal is to reduce the likelihood of serious injury for the individual bicyclist, then helmet mandates are the wrong way to go.  Yes, wearing a helmet while biking is safer than not doing so.  But the factor most likely to reduce the likelihood of bicycle versus motor vehicle collision is to increase the number of riders on the road.  More people on bikes means motorists are more likely to anticipate a bicyclist when turning or opening a car door.  More bicyclists also encourages municipalities to invest in bicycle specific infrastructure like protected bike lanes, and to keep them in good repair.  Understandably, city officials are less likely to push for such measures if they do not think people will use them in substantial numbers.

Laws that require helmet use can also have a devastating impact on a cyclist's ability to receive just compensation should they be injured due to someone else's negligence.  The way some laws are written, failure to obey a helmet requirement could be used against a bicyclist in personal injury litigation as evidence of their own negligence, even if failure to wear a helmet had nothing to do with how or why the crash happened.  (But see Deerfield, Illinois municipal code Sec. 22-121A(c) which states, "A violation of this Section shall not constitute negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation of any bicycle.")

We are not anti-bicycle helmet.  Daily we see the clients with injuries that are worse than they might have been for failure to wear one.  But legislation requiring helmets are a bad idea.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Smartphone App Promises To Alert Drivers To People On Bikes

A new smartphone app may help alert drivers to the presence of bicyclists.  The Bike Shield App, free for iPhone and Android users, sounds an alarm to drivers also using the app when a cyclist is nearby.  The app works if both cyclist and driver have it running in the background.  

I recently downloaded Bike Shield onto my iPhone.  It is pretty cool.  The interface and appearance is very simple.  It is a set-it-and-forget-it sort of thing that one day could prove quite helpful.  Of course, that day is in the future.  For it to be effective lots and lots of drivers and cyclists would have to download the app to their phones.  A map on the application shows drivers and cyclists using the app worldwide.  Thus far, U.S. users amount to a handful of people in California, and, now, one guy in Chicago.  But with a price that can't be beat, hopefully it will catch on.  The developer of the app is apparently trying to establish partnerships with bike share companies and municipalities to get them to install the app on public bikes and buses.

To learn more about Bike Shield click here and here.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What You Need To Know About Winter Biking In Chicago

The following post by Brendan Kevenides appears on the Time Out Chicago blog:

"You're nuts."
I get that a lot when people learn that I ride my bicycle daily during the winter, to and from work. I certainly don't see it that way. As I rode from my Logan Square home to my office in the Loop on February 2, the day after the big Super Bowl Blizzard, I easily cruised past numerous drivers spinning their wheels to extract vehicles from huge snow drifts and miserable people shuffling their frozen feet while waiting for late CTA buses. I felt sorry for them. If only they knew what I and other winter bike commuters know. Dealing with the weather is not as hard as you think. Seriously, you will arrive at your destination warm, dry and clean if you abide by a few simple tips.
Dress smartly. You need to dress warmly without overdoing it. No expensive, techy clothing is necessary. One mistake newbies make when first riding in cold weather is to wear too much bulky clothing. Multiple, thin layers of clothing is the way to go. Each layer traps a bit of warm air while letting moisture escape, creating nice, dry insulation. If you become too warm, it is easy to modulate your temperature by removing a layer. A heavy parka is not a good bet. Once you start pedaling, ...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chicago Protected Bike Lanes Barely Passable After Big Overnight Snow Storm

Of course the big news of the day is that it snowed last night.  A lot.  Word is that this was the fifth single largest accumulation in Chicago history, depositing over 19" of the chilly white stuff.  So yeah, I rode my bike into the office this morning.

I had to walk the bike along side streets near my home in Logan Square.  But once I got to the main roads it was smooth sailing.  Armitage was clear as was Milwaukee Avenue.  In fact, with so few other vehicles on the road it was actually more pleasant than usual.  That is, until I got to the protected bike lanes.

The Kinzie and Dearborn bike lanes were passable, but just.  It seemed that Streets and Sanitation attempted to clear them, but there was a lot of deep, mushy snow in numerous spots.  With 26" x 2" Schwalbe Winter Marathon tires inflated to 40 psi (about 10 psi below the manufacturer's recommendation) I was able to blast through most of it.  I got struck a couple of times but managed to stay upright.  I am concerned, however, that if/when the snow freezes the bike lanes will become very treacherous.  Hopefully the City will go over them again before the evening rush.  Here's also hoping that businesses along the lanes will refrain from dumping their own unwanted snow deposits into the  bike lanes.

I have posted some brief video clips from my commute this morning so you can check out the conditions for yourself.  The video starts in the Kinzie bike lane, then (abruptly) transitions to Dearborn.

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.

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