Monday, August 31, 2009

No Helmet Obama, No Worries

A lot of people went berserk that President Obama did not wear a helmet while out bicycling with his children on Martha's Vineyard. Anyone reading this blog will recognize that I am a strong advocate of bicycling safety. I personally always wear a helmet while out riding in the city or mountain bicycling or anywhere else where it's reasonably foreseeable that I could crash and bonk my coconut. However, the conditions under which President Obama was riding last week could not have been safer if he were peddle-powering a cloud being escorted through the heavens by Saint Peter himself. He was peddling his hybrid, cruiser kind-a-bike along a smooth cycling path that I am guessing was closed to other bike traffic. There were no motor vehicles. He was surrounded by secret service agents who were not going to let anyone, whether pedestrian, cyclist or motorist come within 500 yards of the president. His chances of getting into a bicycling accident were probably as great as getting hit in the head by a plummeting asteroid. I feel comfortable saying that if you find yourself riding your bike under similar conditions, you have my blessing to leave your helmet at home.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Better Approach For Illinois Bicyclists: Our Own Private Idaho

Stop sign used in various countries. The shape...Image via Wikipedia

In Illinois, bicyclists are required to stop at all traffic control devices such as stop signs and. . . Oh, why am I bothering? You're not going to do it, are you? As sure as the sun will rise in the east, bicyclists will not come to a complete halt at stop signs and motorists will hate them for it. This tension between bicyclists and motorists is dangerous, especially for those who bike in heavily trafficked urban areas. A pissed-off person behind the wheel of a 2,000 lb rolling chunk of metal is liable to hurt someone. Perhaps if the law changed in Illinois to reflect the way real people actually ride their bicycles, some of the tension between these two groups can be lessened. If the motorist knows that the law permits a bicyclist to merely "slow and go" at stop signs and lights, maybe some of that anger will dissolve. People, after all, tend to resent seeing someone get away with something.

Presently, Illinois law states that, "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Code. . ." 625 ILCS 5/11-1502. Not surprisingly, the Illinois Vehicle Code requires all vehicles to stop at all traffic control devices directing him or her to do so. 625 ILCS 5/11-305. I submit, however, that this law is impractical. Bicyclists are not going to halt at stop signs for two reasons: (1) As anyone who has ridden a bike will attest, momentum is vital. A bicycle is fun because of the freedom of movement it encourages. Gliding along the pavement without doors or walls or a roof, under one's own power is what makes it so enjoyable. Constantly, starting and stopping at every sign and light in the city is just a drag. Why even bother to ride then? (2) Though Illinois law treats bicycles as "vehicles" like cars, buses and garbage trucks, bicyclists do not see themselves that way. Bicyclists see themselves as something between a pedestrian and a "vehicle". Bicycles operating in the city can at times travel nearly as fast as a car. At the same time, bikes are not nearly as heavy as other vehicles. They have a light maneuverability like a pedestrian. What sense does it make for a bike to be required to lumber about like a CTA bus?

For those of you nodding your heads in agreement I have one word for you: Idaho. Since 1982, Idaho law has been unique in what it requires of bicyclists. When approaching a stop sign bicyclists in Idaho may merely slow before proceeding through an intersection if it is safe to do so. Upon approaching a red light a bicyclist must stop, but after doing so may proceed through the intersection once it is safe to do so even if the light remains red. If the cyclist's intent is to turn right at a light controlled intersection, he or she may simply slow and go like at a stop sign. The full statute states as follows:

(1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

(2) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.

(3) A person riding a bicycle shall comply with the provisions of section 49-643, Idaho Code.

(4) A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given during not less than the last one hundred (100) feet traveled by the bicycle before turning, provided that a signal by hand and arm need not be given if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.


This statute makes good sense. It does not allow bicyclists to simply ignore traffic control devices. They must look for traffic and yield the right-of-way to vehicles in or close to the intersection. It recognizes the reality that bicyclists are hybrid travelers, not quite vehicles and not quite pedestrians. It also codifies what cyclists do anyway. By making this practice legal, everyone on the road can proceed happier. Bikers can proceed with the confidence that by exercising this slow and go approach they are complying with the law. Motorists will be put on notice that bikes may not stop at controlled intersections. Maybe bicyclists will be no longer be viewed by motorists as outlaws on city streets, thumbing their noses at laws they themselves are required to obey. Maybe changing the law will help foster mutual respect between cyclists and drivers. Fingers crossed.


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Monday, August 24, 2009

Bike Recalled Due To Faulty Stem

Nirve Sports of California is recalling its Cannibal bicycle due to complaints about the bike's stem which can crack and fail. The stem attaches the handlebars to the rest of the bike. Click here for more information from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Amendment To Law Protects Illinois Bicyclists And Pedestrians

On August 11th, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law an amendment to the Crime Victims Compensation Act providing compensation for bicyclists and pedestrians injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident. The Act allows for a victim, or anyone dependent upon the victim, to receive compensation for for pecuniary loss or support caused by a "crime of violence." Violations of portions of the Illinois Motor Vehicle code are now considered crimes of violence under the amendment where they cause injury or death to a pedestrian or bicyclist. Compensation under the Act is permitted only after other sources of compensation, i.e. insurance or governmental benefits, if any, have been exhausted. There are also certain reporting requirements in the Act that need to be followed. The Amendment to the Act is effective immediately. To read the Act click here.

This is an important and welcome recognition that vehicular crimes against bicyclists and pedestrians are a very serious matter. Such incidents are all too common on Illinois roads and they often impart significant financial, as well as physical and emotional, consequences to victims.

For more information about the crime victims compensation program visit the Illinois Attorney General's website by clicking here.
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Felt Bicycle Recall

The United States Product Safety Commission announced today the recall of the 2007/08 Felt F1X Cyclocross Bicycle. The company has received six reports of the bike's fork steerer tube breaking. The forks are made of carbon fiber with aluminum steerer tubes. Sheldon Brown describes the steerer tube as, "the upper part of a front fork, to which the handlebar stem and the turning parts of the headset attach. The steerer is not visible on an assembled bicycle, being entirely concealed inside the head tube." This is a potentially very dangerous condition. If it breaks during a ride you could loose control of the bike. Click here for more details and what to do if you own one of these ($1,500) bikes.
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Bicyclists Are Invisible To Drivers

You are invisible. Sorry to break it to you, but it is the truth. It does not matter what you ride, whether it is a decked out Cervelo, a fluorescent fixie or something that looks like a parade float. You are invisible to motorists. Not long ago, I represented the family of a man who was hit and killed by a motorist in Mattoon, Illinois. At the time of the collision, the man was riding his bicycle slowly and carefully across an intersection with the light in his favor. The bike was of the cruiser variety, was bright orange in color and had a big orange basket on the front. He was legally riding within a crosswalk in the middle of the day. (Doing so may not be legal every where, but it was in Mattoon.) The driver that struck him was making a left turn and did not see him until, tragically, the man's head shattered her windshield. He died a few hours later.

This unlucky bicyclist could not have made himself much more visible to drivers had he worn antlers on his head and a flashing sign that said, "Don't Hit Me!" The driver, whom we sued, testified in her deposition that she felt that her minivan's internal roof support beam obscured her vision of the cyclist. This was an awfully lame excuse. If she could not see adequately in the direction of her turn she should have slowed down, stopped, craned her neck or have done whatever else it took to proceed with full view of what was in her vehicle's path. The point, however, is that motorists often just do not see people on bikes. You should always ride as if you are invisible. Assume that motorists will not see you and try not to let accident avoidance be dependent upon your being noticed by drivers. Here is how:
  • Ride with front and rear lights at night. This is a no-brainer. Lights at night (red in the back and white or yellow in the front) will announce your presence in the clearest possible manner. In Illinois, riding with a light also happens to be the law.
  • Pick a route with wide streets and less traffic. Bike riding in the city is about fun, physical fitness and reducing your carbon footprint. It is not so much about getting somewhere fast. Take the longer, safer route where there are fewer cars and more room to ride outside the flow of traffic.
  • Don't do weird stuff. Motorists will anticipate your presence more in some places than in others. They will anticipate your presence less, and will be slow to notice you, if you are riding against the flow of traffic, zipping through a parking lot, riding in the middle of the road following a sharp curve, or coming off of a side walk. Be predictable, and be safe.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Recall Of SRAM Chain Connector Links

SRAM 10-Speed PowerLock chain connector links are being recalled by the company. The recall pertains to 10-speed PowerLocks, not chains. PowerLocks stamped with "M" and "N" dated codes are targets of the recall. If your are using these links stop doing so immediately, as a failure could cause a dislodging of your bike chain. If for some reason you have modified a chain using one of these links on a fixed gear bike (a chain made for a 10 speed will ordinarily be too long for use on a fixie unless links are removed) the danger may be especially great. A dislodged chain on a fixed gear bike can be catastophic since the chain plays a pivotal role in stopping the bike.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Troubled Bike Trail On Chicago's South Side

Think inattentive drivers and pot holes are a problem while riding in the city? How about poor lighting, broken glass, garbage and gangsters? An interesting article appeared in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times about a troubled bicycle trail, named after former world champion bike racer, Major Taylor, on the city's South Side.

New Anti-Texting Law Will Do Little To Keep Illinois Cyclists And Pedestrians Safe

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed a new law that bans texting while operating a motor vehicle. The complete statute can be read here. The law will take effect on January 1, 2010. It is a good thing, I suppose. It helps create awareness of this dangerous activity. At the risk of seeming cynical, however, I do not expect this law to change much. Illinois motorists were always exposing themselves to potential liability for causing an accident because they were operating a mini-typewriter while driving rather than watching the road. With the new law, the police can start issuing tickets. But it is going to be awfully difficult for officers to catch people texting and driving. Just keep the phone in your lap and you'll never get caught. Also, the new law has some significant gaps. First, it does not prohibit the use of "a global positioning system or navigation system or a device that is physically or electronically integrated into the motor vehicle" while driving. So motorists can still screw around with the little computer monitors built into their cars to find directions, locate the nearest Thai restaurant or search their 300 or so XM satellite radio stations without violating the Act. Secondly, the law allows a driver to use "an electronic communication device in hands-free or voice-activated mode" to send messages or access the internet. If you access the internet with your voice -- which anyone with the Google App on their iPhone can do-- will you not then look at it, diverting your attention from the road. Is it merely the use of the motorist's thumb for a non-driving purpose that the statute seeks to prohibit? If so, here is a simple way around the Act for those who do not have voice activation capability on their phones:



Thirdly, the law does not apply to police officers and operators of emergency vehicles. Unless they have received Jedi training, police officers and ambulance drivers are no better at driving while not watching the road than anyone else.

The new law does no harm, I guess. But I'm disinclined to get terribly exciting about it. It seems like a bone -- one without any meat -- thrown to bicyclists and pedestrians who are at most risk from texting, emailing, sports score checking, XM surfing, navigation fiddling drivers. What I would like to see is a public ad campaign with billboards, radio and television spots that addresses the danger posed by texting and driving. Make people aware of the horrible consequences that can be caused by not paying attention to the roadway. Also, let's not mess with the civil justice system. In my view, making sure drivers understand that they will be held liable for any injury or damage caused by their conduct offers a better disincentive to negligent driving than does the remote possibility that a cop will issue a ticket.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two Chicago Wards Will See Increased Enforcement Of Bike Rules

Beginning this Friday, August 7th, Chicago Police and Mayor Daley's "Bicycling Ambassadors" will be hitting the streets of the city's 25th and 44th wards searching for "teachable moments" for cyclists and motorists. These areas include Pilsen and Lake View. Warnings will be issued to cyclists who run red lights and tickets will be issued to motorists who stop or park in bike only lanes. Read the full story in the Chicago Sun Times.
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Website Gives Bicyclists A Way To Report Offending Motorists, But It Needs To Go Further

You've got a powerful weapon in your pocket. Use it to help make the streets safer for bicyclists. I'm talking about your mobile phone camera or video recorder. If some jerk cuts you off or is parked in a bike lane, take a picture of the driver's license plate (provided that you can do so safely). There are a couple of things you can do with the photo or video afterwards. You can ride over to the nearest police station and fill out a report providing a detailed description of the offending vehicle based on your photo. However, there are two problems with this approach as I see it. First, it's not clear that the police would actually issue a ticket to the driver, though they probably should. Secondly, it's a huge hassle to take the time out of your day to go do this. So what then. . .

You could post the photo or video online. There is at least one website that invites people to upload photos of vehicles behaving badly, mybikelane.com. On this simple, straightforward site cyclists can upload photos of vehicles operating illegally in bicycle only lanes. The idea is that the media and city officials will see the photos and either issue a ticket or at least be made more aware of the problem. Mybikelane.com catalogs offenders by city. It is a great idea, but does not go far enough in my opinion. Bikers should be able to post photos and video of vehicles engaged in all kinds of illegal behavior dangerous to bicyclists, not just bike lane violations. You should be able to upload your photos directly from your mobile phone also, rather than from your computer. A mobile version of mybikelane.com would be very helpful so that the violator's photo can be uploaded right from the scene. Also, the website needs to make more noise. According to the site itself, here in Chicago only 105 posts have been made, with none since June 11, 2009. There are only 52 Chicago members of the site. It seems unlikely that this site is getting anyone's attention in Chicago, which is a shame.

What I would like to see is a web based system like that recently developed by the NAACP for the reporting of police and civil rights abuses. Its system allows immediate uploading of photos and video of racial incidents. Powerful stuff. We need a similar system that can be used by bicyclists. Mybikelane.com is a great start. Let's take it further.


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