Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Illinois State's Attorney Blames Judge For Light Sentences To Two Men Who Hunted For And Struck Bicyclists

State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has tonight responded to pressure from Chicago's bicycling community to explain why two men who intentionally hunted for and struck bicyclists with their car were given seemingly light sentences.  According to the Active Transportation Alliance, which initiated a letter writing campaign to compel Ms. Alvarez's office to justify the sentences, the state's attorney's office has revealed that "the prosecutor had requested that the two men have harsher penalties, but ultimately it was Judge Carol Kipperman’s decision to give Reza 10 days in jail with two years of probation and Fabian two years of probation."  Apparently, Ms. Alvarez has agreed to discuss the matter further with representatives of the Alliance.

New iPhone Application Helps Bicyclists Plot A Safe Route Through Chicago and Elsewhere

Finally, there is an iPhone application that helps bicyclists map a safe route between two locations in Chicago and other North American cities.  Ride The City's new multi-city app launched today and expands upon the RTC website, started in 2008, allowing cyclists to map bike appropriate routes while out and about.  Much like Google Map's "go by bike" feature (not yet available on the Google Maps iPhone app), Ride The City plots a cycling route that steers bicyclists toward bike lanes, bike paths, greenways and other bike-friendly streets, and away from highways and busy arterial streets.

I downloaded the app to my iPhone and played with it a bit this morning.  It seems pretty good, providing the user with the option of choosing the most direct route, a "safe" route or a "safer" route.  I tapped in my home and office addresses and let the app do its thing.  When I requested the "safer" route, the application offered a fairly goofy, round-about path between my home and office.  However, requesting the "safe" route the app provided the path I would consider the best and safest way to get from home to work.  The application is still learning Chicago though.  For example, the application fails to note that all of Milwaukee Avenue between Chicago Avenue and Armitage has a dedicated bike lane.  In fairness to the developers, however, the app encourages and easily accomodates users' ability to point out errors and offer corrections.  Over time, one would hope that Ride The City will improve.

The application is available in the iTunes app store for $2.99. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Federal Jury Provides Oklahoma Man with $1.1 M For Injuries Sustained From Bicycle Failure

A Oklahoma man has been provided with $1.1 million by a federal jury in Oklahoma for injuries he sustained in a crash caused when the bracket holding his bicycle's front fender broke.  The product liability lawsuit against Pacific Cycle alleged that the bicycle was inherently dangerous and defective.  The failure of the bracket caused the fender to suddenly come into contact with the bike's front wheel which caused the bike to stop suddenly, propelling the man over the handlebars and onto the pavement.  This story was reported in Tulsa World.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This Time It's Zero Jail Time For Intentionally Hunting Down and Striking Bicyclists - Letter Writing Campaign Underway Seeking Justification

The second man charged with intentionally hunting down and striking a bicyclist in Brookfield on May 31, 2009 has been sentenced to zero jail time.  The driver, 20 year old Erik Fabian, plead guilty to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and leaving the scene of an accident.  He was sentenced to two years probation.  Fabian's buddy, Armando Reza, was sentenced last week to 10 days in jail for the same incident, a seemingly light sentence that has outraged a good many Chicago bicyclists.  According to the Chicago Breaking News Center, the two were drinking before deciding to drive around looking for bicyclists to hit.  Both men were sentenced by Cook County Judge Carol Kipperman.

The Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago bicycle advocacy group, has expressed outrage at the "insufficient sentences" given to the men.  This morning the group started a letter writing campaign directed at Cook County State's Attorney, Anita Alvarez, and assistant state's attorney, Mike Pattarozzi, to justify these negotiated sentences.  According to the Alliance the crimes with which the men were charged were eligible for penalties of up to 2-5 years in jail.

Here is the letter the Alliance is urging people to send to the state's attorney's office:

Ms. Anita Alvarez
Cook County State's Attorney's Office
First Municipal District
555 W. Harrison, Chicago, IL 60607

stateattorney@cookcountygov.com
 

Dear Ms. Alvarez,

I am deeply disappointed and outraged at the insufficient sentences given to Armando Reza and Erik Fabian, who were both recently convicted of intentionally running down cyclists with a car in Brookfield, Ill., in 2009. Reza pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and driving under the influence of alcohol, yet his plea agreement amounted to a mere 10 days in jail, two years of probation and counseling. Fabian also pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to no jail time, and two years of probation.

As a member of the bicycling community, I call upon the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney to justify the negotiation of these lenient sentences, particularly in light of the violent and deliberate nature of Reza and Fabian’s actions. These crimes were eligible for penalties of up to 2-5 years in jail.

I ride my bike in Cook County and need to trust that our justice system will protect my rights if I am injured due to a motorist’s hostile and unlawful actions. I respectfully urge your office to prosecute future acts of traffic violence to the fullest extent possible, especially those involving bicyclists and pedestrians, to help make roadways in Cook County safe for all users.

Thank you for taking my request seriously.

Sincerely,

[your name]


Monday, June 21, 2010

Bicycle Crash Support Group To Meet This Wednesday

Being in a bicycling accident can steal something very real from you.  Aside from physical injury, a crash can afterward take away that carefree feeling you get while riding.  Feel and anger may replace joy.  Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance has created a bicycle crash support group for people to come together to share their stories with the goal of healing those mental wounds.  You can enjoy riding your bike again.

The group's next meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 23rd from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 9 West Hubbard, Suite 402, Chicago, Illinois 60657.  For more information call 312.427.3325 x293.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ten Days in Jail for Intentionally Striking a Bicyclist

Yesterday, a Chicago man was sentenced to 10 days in jail, followed by probation, for intentionally striking an unlucky bicyclist with his car in Brookfield.  The sentence was handed down by Cook County Judge Carol Kipperman.  The driver and his buddy were intoxicated at the time of the incident and allegedly took turns behind the wheel hunting down cyclists.  The other driver is scheduled to be in court Monday and is also charged with striking a bicyclist.  Neither of the two bicyclists struck in the attacks on May 31, 2009 sustained life-threatening injuries.  This story was reported by chicagobreakingnews.com.

This matter is hard to swallow.  To say that this is a light sentence for what sounds like attempted murder is putting it mildly.  I hope there is more to the story than is being reported.  Otherwise, this is the sort of outcome that may chip away at the public's faith in our courts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Tale of the Alleycat

Traditionally, alleycat bicycle racing was meant to replicate what bike messengers do on a daily basis: Quickly and efficiently ride through crowded urban landscapes to deliver parcels. In its purest form, during an alleycat riders are informed of a number of checkpoints they must reach. At each, they receive instructions regarding what to do next, then it's forward to the next stop. Knowledge of city streets and back alleys, as well as strength on a bike are key components for success. The first racer to travel to all checkpoints and cross the finish wins. The spoils are modest: a smallish amount of cash, a new bicycle or component. The real prize, however, comes from knowing (and letting it be known) that you are the best at what you do. Collecting wins is better than employee of the month plaques, yet not as obnoxiously self-aggrandizing as collecting yachts and sports cars.

(Click here for a fun read about a Chicago bike messenger's race experience in Philadelphia. Rated PG-13.)

Here's the thing though: Alleycat races are dangerous and illegal. Under Illinois law bike races must be approved by state or local authorities before they may take place on public streets. Generally, approval will not be granted unless accommodations are made so that the event does not interfere with traffic. 625 ILCS 5/11-1514. The point of alleycat racing is to test one's ability to travel by bike in the city under the kinds of conditions faced daily by bike messengers, in traffic. Obviously, no governmental authority would sanction a race in moving traffic. One significant downside to these races operating outside the law is that they are uninsurable. If a racer is hurt due to a poorly designed or designated course, or some other negligent act or omission by the race organizer, he or she will likely be out of luck with regard to receiving compensation.

Bad things can and do sometimes happen in alleycat racing. In March, 2008 a racer was killed during what used to be the biggest and most important such race in the city, the Tour Da Chicago. During the race, several racers ahead of the main pack approached the six-way intersection of Lincoln-Damen-and Irving Park. As they did, the pace, which had been high, slowed because the light was red. However, one of the racers, Matt Lynch, apparently tried to take advantage of everyone else slowing and shot into the intersection. When he did he was struck and killed by an SUV traveling at full speed. Matt made a mistake and it cost him his life. When deciding whether to enter an alleycat race, the prospective participate should consider the stakes and carefully take stock of his or her ability and experience. Recently, there has been a trend of alleycat races being organized and participated in by bicyclists who are not messengers, riders who may not have the kind of ability and smarts that someone who rides for hours every day on crowded city streets does. Several weeks ago I asked Ben Fietz of the Chicago Couriers Union to offer his insight about alleycat races. He graciously did so. Here is what he wrote to me:
Alleycat races are pretty much always illegal, and can be very dangerous. That said, they can also be a very important part of the messenger community and the biking community in general. It sounds crazy, but I probably wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't participated in alleycat races. In their purest form, alleycat races are a way for messengers to compete against each other and find out who is actually the fastest and who knows the city the best. I have the top spot at one of the best messenger companies in Chicago, and the truth of it is that I got into the company that I work for by racing in alley cats and proving myself about four years ago.
That used to be the main purpose of alleycats. They were races put on by messengers for messengers. But a few years ago, alleycats started to get really popular with city cyclists, and they started entering alleycats, and eventually throwing their own. It got to the point in Chicago where there were more non-messenger thrown races than messenger ones. Of course companies with hip marketing departments became aware of this scene, and sponsorship for the races grew. The early alleycat races usually didn't have any sponsors at all, they would just be a cash race, winner takes all. It has gotten to the point where people are having alleycat races in cities which don't even have any messengers in them. I heard about a race in St. Augustine Florida, which seems kind of silly. A couple of years ago, Velocity wheels sponsored and threw an alleycat in the city in Michigan which their headquarters are located. Once again, there were no messengers in the city, but they had an alleycat with a huge prize list, and people came from all over to race.
There aren't as many alleycat races in Chicago as there used to be. The Sadie Hawkins race in the fall is a yearly race, which has very little involvement by messengers, but it's a fun race and usually has a huge turnout. A messenger has been throwing a race about once a month downtown. These races are short and fast, and are set up to favor messengers. There are usually a couple of stops in each race that are very hard to find unless you are a messenger. The biggest race used to be the Tour Da Chicago, until Matt's death.

* * * * *
As far as the safety of alleycats, it is pretty much up to the individual racer to race within your limits. There isn't really any way to make a completely safe alleycat race. The whole point is that you are racing on city streets with traffic. The difference between a good alleycat race and a bad one is the level of organization and how well the race flows. But how well the race is organized really doesn't have any bearing on how safe that race will be to enter, just how much fun it will be.
Alleycat racing, if it is to be done at all, should be left to folks who know what they are doing. A group of riders racing through city streets pretending to be something they are not, professional bicycle couriers, is a recipe for disaster. Before deciding to participate in an alleycat understand what you are getting into.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bicycle Commuter Injured By Taxi At Kingsbury and Chicago

A Chicago bicyclist was injured on June 3, 2010 when he was struck by a taxi on North Kingsbury Street, just south of its intersection with West Chicago Avenue. The incident occurred shortly after 8:00 a.m. as the cyclist was riding to his Loop office at a design firm where he works as an engineer. Our firm has been retained to represent him in a claim against the negligent driver and the cab company.

Our client was riding south along the right side of Kingsbury when the cab driver suddenly gunned his engine and burst into the south bound lane from the curb where he had stopped just as the cyclist was peddling past. The taxi struck the bicyclist throwing him from his bike. Our client struck the pavement violently, sustaining a fractured clavicle as well as injuries to his knee and back. Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet and avoided serious head injury. He was transported from the scene via ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He remains in treatment, his right arm in an immobilizing sling to facilitate healing of the fractured clavicle. We intend to pursue this matter aggressively to ensure that the driver and cab company are held accountable.

Friday, June 4, 2010

New Bicycle Helmet Smart/Stinky

Bicycle helmets do not last forever. Today's high tech helmets are meant to break in a crash. The idea is, better the foam plastic helmet than the rider's coconut. If you are involved in a crash while wearing a helmet you should replace the helmet immediately. Do not reuse it, even if it shows no obvious exterior signs of damage. The foam underneath the plastic shell may be damaged enough to reduce it's effectiveness in a subsequent crash.

How hard does a helmet have to hit something to render it useless? German scientists have come up with an innovative way of helping cyclists make that determination. They've created a helmet that smells like stinky cheese when it is cracked to alert you -- and everyone around you -- that it is time for a new one. Smart; but we all knew Germans make good stuff. Check out this innovative Limburger lid by clicking here.

Click here to learn more about when to replace your bike helmet.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Settlement In Case Arising From Bicyclist Struck By Drunk Motorist

We have successfully resolved a case arising from incident that occurred in September, 2009 when our client, a former Marine, was struck from behind by a drunk driver as he rode his bicycle near the 4900 block of South California Avenue in Chicago. The violent collision threw the bicyclist from his bike, rendering him unconscious. He suffered a fractured shoulder and numerous deep scars to his head, face and arm. Thankfully, he has since healed reasonably well from his injuries. The matter resolved for the full amount of available insurance from the at fault driver, and the maximum amount from the bicyclist's own underinsured motorist coverage.

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