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Monday, December 23, 2013

2013: The Year's Biggest Bicycle Stories

There were some major ups and downs for bicycling in Chicago in 2013.  It was a year that saw a major uptick in the popularity of transportation cycling in our city.  It was also a year of losses which the bicycling community will never forget.  Here are the top five Chicago cycling stories of 2013:

5.  The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) placed a moratorium on the installation of protected bike lanes in Chicago.  In February, our friends at Streetsblog Chicago reported that IDOT -- which has jurisdiction over many streets in Chicago -- refused to allow the installation of protected bike lanes until at least three years of crash data could be collected.  Steetsblog pointed out that the moratorium was in places inconsistent with the plans and recommendations of the Chicago Department of Transportation.  IDOT's stance was frustrating to some in light of the availability of crash data from other cities which had significant experience with protected bike lanes.  In May, following the death of cyclist, Bobby Cann, who was killed on Clybourn Avenue, a road under IDOT's jursidiction and which lacked a protected bike lane, concern over the moratorium increased.  Many wondered if the existence of a protected lane where Cann was killed might have prevented the tragedy.  In October, at a memorial service for Cann it was announced that IDOT had backed off somewhat and would allow a protected bicycle lane to be installed on Clybourn.

4.  The City of Chicago and the State of Illinois clarified laws allowing people on bicycles to pass drivers on the right.  In June, Chicago's City Council passed the 2013 Bicycle Safety Ordinance which, among other things, stated that 
Any bicyclist upon a roadway is permitted to pass on the right side of a slower-moving or standing vehicle or bicycle, but must exercise due care when doing so.
9-52-040(d)

In August, the State followed suit passing a fix to the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code stating that human powered two wheeled vehicles are not barred from passing motor vehicles on the right.

The amendments were necessary to aid police departments confused over whether cyclists may pass on the right.  Unnecessary traffic citations to bicyclists were sometimes the result of this confusion.  With the changes in place"Illinoisans riding bicycles may confidently pass slow-moving cars on the right side of the road and know that they are on solid ground legally," said Max Muller, Director of Government Relations for the Active Transportation Alliance.

Our law firm worked with Active Trans, CDOT and State Representative Laura Fine to draft the changes.

3.  In November, Gabe Klein, impassioned new wave infrastructure crusader, stepped away from his post as CDOT commissioner.  Early this month, his lieutenant, deputy commissioner Scott Kubly also called it quites.  Commissioner Klein was the driving force behind Chicago's push in recent years to install bicycle friendly infrastructure.  Under his watch, Chicago saw hundreds of miles of new protected and buffered bicycle lanes put in place and the implementation of a world class bike share system.  When he announced that he would be returning to the private sector many in bicycle advocacy assumed that Kubly would fill his shoes, allowing for a smooth transition and continuation of bike friendly changes.  With both gone, and with no successors yet to be named, the future of cycling in Chicago is perhaps less clear.

2.  The death of Bobby Cann shook Chicago's bicycling community to its core.  On a May 29th at around 6:35 p.m., Cann was struck and killed by Ryne San Hamel who was allegedly driving his Mercedes sedan 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.  San Hamel was charged with driving under the influence, having an alleged blood alcohol content of .127, well over the legal limit.  There was immediate wide spread outrage at the driver, heartfelt empathy for Cann's family and many friends, and fear among regular city cyclists.  A temporary memorial popped up at the site of the crash, which occurred outside of iconic Chicago bike shop Yojimbo's Garage.  In October, Clybourn Avenue was named Honorary Bobby Cann Way.  That same month The Reader featured Cann on its front page with the headline, "Death of a Cyclist."

Others died riding their bicycles in Chicago in 2013.  None of those lives were less important than Cann's.  But there was something about his death that shook the broader community deeper.  Perhaps it was because it happened while he was riding home from work in the early evening, on a sunny late spring day.  Maybe the fact that Cann was known to be a experienced safe city cyclist freaked a lot of people out. He was not the sort to run lights.  If it could happen to him, it could happen to any of us.  Perhaps much of it had to do with the driver, a young man himself, he was a partner with a business venture called allyoucandrink.com.  Pictures of San Hamel partying and appearing to drink substantial amounts of alcohol circulated over the internet.  The fact that San Hamel has been criminally charged, a relative rarity where a driver hurts or kills a cyclist, has increased its broad impact.   San Hamel seemed like the poster child of the world's worst driver and an uncaring, self-absorbed asshole.

1.  But the biggest story of 2013 was an undeniably positive one, the launch of Chicago's bike share program, Divvy.  Launched in June, Divvy has taken off with koisks popping up all over the city, a gazillion miles racked up by riders and an impressive safety record.  The idea of grabbing a public bike from one street corner and leaving it at a station near one's destination as proven to be a big hit.  At $75 for unlimited use for a year, or $7 per each half hour on a pay-as-you-go plan, it is an extremely cost effective and enjoyable way to get around town.  So popular has bike share been in Chicago that even during one of the coldest Decembers in recent memory Divvy bikes are routinely seen being pedaled all around town.

The best thing about Divvy is that it is for everybody, old and young, brave and less-so.  The bikes are heavy, slow, convenient and comfortable.  With step through frames and chain guards you can ride them in a suit or in a dress.  The program and its increasing popularity encourages everyone to ride the city, threatening to breakdown the us versus them mentality.  In the future aided by Divvy we are all people who ride bikes.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hysteria Over Bicycle Helmets Could Subvert Justice

Somewhere along the way, well-intentioned people ended up doing harm to the people they wanted to protect.  I do not know exactly when it happened, but sometime between the 1970s, when no one wore helmets to ride their bikes, to now, when those who do not are viewed as reckless fools, good intentions went off the tracks.  The desire of health care professionals to see fewer children with head injuries by wearing helmets was and is a good thing.  But that desire has morphed into into something harmful.

Riding with a helmet is no longer merely a safety issue, it is a credibility issue as well.  Ride without one and risk being viewed as lacking good sense, as reckless.  When the news media reports on a bicycle crash there is often mention of whether the cyclist wore a helmet or not that often seems like a non sequitur. Sometimes it is sounds like a down right accusation.  Oh, she wasn't wearing a helmet.  They she deserved to get hit by that bus.  Just last month, The Chicago Sun Times published a snarky piece* critical of Chicago's new bike share program, Divvy, for not offering helmets to riders.  "Waiting To Happen:  Clueless riders.  No helmets.  Divvys everywhere.  What could go wrong?" screeched the sarcastic headline.  

The media's focus on helmet wearing is both is misinformed and threatens to undermine a cyclist's ability to receive justice in the event of a crash.

Wearing a helmet may reduce the risk of sustaining certain kinds of injuries, primarily skull fractures.  Also, certain types of higher risk forms of cycling -- road racing, dirt jumping -- should be done with a protected dome.  However, risks of head injury from slow bike riding and "transportation cycling" seem to be pretty darn low.  In the very same snarky Sun Times article which insisted that bike share was a tragedy just waiting to happen was an important statistic:  Of the 679,925 trips taken on Divvy bikes up to that point, only 7 accidents had been reported to Divvy.  Seven, or, .001% of the trips taken resulted in an accident being reported to Divvy.  A look at safety figures from other bike share systems around longer suggest that serious injuries to Divvy riders will remain low.  The current issue of Momentum Magazine offers some impressive statistics regarding bike share.
After 4.5 million trips, no user in London, UK, has been seriously injured or killed in a traffic crash.  Minneapolis, MN, can boast the same impressive record after 1 million trips; New York City, NY, after 3.1 million trips; Washington, DC, after 4 million trips; and Mexico City, Mexico, after 1.6 million trips.
These numbers suggest that the decision not to wear a helmet while riding a slow bike for transportation is a perfectly reasonable choice to make.

The reasonableness of that decision is important in the context of an injury claim.  In a personal injury case no single factor is more important toward a successful outcome than the credibility of the person bringing the claim or lawsuit.  The plaintiff's credibility is important every step of the way.  The police who arrive at the scene of a crash will immediately assess the victim's credibility.  Very often police reports note whether the bicyclist was wearing a helmet, even though helmet use is not required by law.  A driver's insurance company will consider the credibility of the injured cyclist and will be more likely to resolve the case early if it seems that, along with the driver's negligence, the cyclist was doing everything right.  Ultimately, a jury will be asked to consider the conduct of the defendant.  But the plaintiff's conduct -- the actions of the person bringing the lawsuit -- is always considered as well.  If the plaintiff makes a poor impression, either in the courtroom or with their past conduct, a jury will be disinclined to render a favorable verdict even in the face of evidence of the defendant's negligence.  There is no question, that at trial, at least in an urban setting, jurors will wonder whether the bicyclist had been wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.  They will wonder this even though Illinois laws forbids them to do so.  Two Illinois cases, Clarkson v. Wright and Moore v. Swoboda, created the general principal that in vehicular negligence cases evidence of the plaintiff's failure to use protective devices "is inadmissible for the purpose of establishing contributory negligence." Moore v. Swoboda, 571 N.E.2d 1056, 1071 (4th Dist. 1991).

All of this constant attention on bicycle helmets may poison potential jurors' attitudes toward cyclists who choose to ride without one.  The impact such attitudes may have on any particular case may be hard to gauge.  The attorney trying a bicycle case in front of jury must question potential jurors in voir dire about their attitudes regarding people who ride their bikes in the city.  Attitudes about helmet use should be questioned in order to determine whether your client will get a fair shake.

But long term, the hyperventilating about helmet use must stop.  

* I was interviewed for the article and said that under certain circumstances a company that rented bikes could be held liable for failing to provide a helmet.  I expressed that I thought it unlikely that liability could arise in the bike share context but that sentiment did not quite come out in the article.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Marine, Aspiring Chef, Bicyclist Killed By Alleged Drunk Driver

Hector Avalos
Courtesy DNAinfo.com
Hector Avalos was a Marine, a good son, a hard working chef, and a guy who rode his bicycle everywhere. On Friday night an allegedly drunk driver took his life as the 28 year old pedaled home from work.

Bail was set yesterday in what the judge called "a tragedy of epic proportions".  The driver, "Robert Vais, 54, of Riverside, has been charged with a felony count of aggravated driving under the influence," according to mySuburbanLife.com.  Vais' blood alcohol content was .118 at the time of the crash, according to The Chicago Tribune.  The legal limit is .08.  The Tribune quoted police as describing that, "Vais' eyes were bloodshot and he smelled of alcohol" at the scene.

The deadly crash occurred at about 11:50 p.m. near 2500 West Ogden Avenue in Chicago.  Vais was driving a 2002 Ford Winstar westbound on Ogden when he struck Avalos who was riding home from his shift at El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria.  An experienced cyclist and lover of the outdoors, Jesus Vargas, head chef at El Hefe, told DNAinfo.com that, "Avalos was an avid cyclist who 'loved riding his bike'."

"He'd always ride the bike no matter what."

Avalos served five years in the Marine Corp and was studying to be a chef.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Oak Park Wrong To Mandate That Children Wear Bike Helmets

Sofia Kevenides learning to ride.
Oak Park has chosen the stick rather than the carrot when it comes to encouraging safe cycling for children. A new village ordinance will punish the parents of children under 17 where they are caught riding without a helmet.  This is the wrong approach.

Few sensible people would dispute the benefits of encouraging children to ride their bikes.  Bikes promote independence and good health for kids (and adults).  They also happen to be really fun. Injuries sometimes occur, so kids should be taught safe riding practices and should be encouraged to wear a helmet. When kids wear bike helmets the chance of injury is very significantly reduced. According to Children's Hospital of Illinois, "Wearing a proper fitting helmet can reduce the chances of serious head injuries by 85%." It is hard to argue with statistics like that.

However, as a parent the first trick is to get a child riding in the first place.  My six year old daughter rides a two wheeler now.  She loves it.  She wears a helmet.  But, such was not always the case.  At first, when she was about four, she did not love getting on her bike.  My wife and I had to nudge her a bit.  Once we got her pedaling, we took up the helmet battle.  Often she just would not wear one.  Against my better judgement at the time, I let her ride in the driveway and in front of our Logan Square home with her curls flying free in the breeze, helmetless.  I was just glad that she was riding and liking it.  Sometimes she fell and suffered minor scraps, mostly on her knees and hands.  She never hit her head.  She rode so slowly that it never seemed like she was at risk of a significant head injury even if she crashed.  Eventually, she came to enjoy riding and got good at it.  The helmet came next and it was no big deal.  She always saw her dad wearing one so it seemed like the natural thing to do.  At this point I am glad it did not sweat the helmet thing too much.  I just did not want to fight with her about it.  I wanted her to see all things bicycle in a positive way. Fighting over wearing a helmet did not seem worth it.  I feared it would turn her off riding and would discourage her from getting on her bike.  Once she started enjoying her bike, we more forcefully encouraged her to wear a helmet.

Parents learn quickly to pick their battles with their children as the grow from babies to toddlers to full on knee-skinning, dirt pile jumping kids.  Yeah, children should be encouraged to bike with a helmet, but first they should be encouraged to just ride.  Parents need some leeway with regard to how to accomplish that. The new Oak Park ordinance is fairly harsh.  "Parents of children under 17 will be required to pay a $25 fine or perform up to four hours of community service if their child is caught three times riding a bicycle without a helmet," according to The Chicago Tribune.  Many parents will feel it necessary to force their children to wear a helmet in the face of this potential punishment.  Some may even receive the misleading message that if the law requires helmet use perhaps biking is just too dangerous an activity for their kids.  In my opinion, helmet use for kids and adults alike should be encouraged, not mandated.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Video Captures Bicycle, Taxi Crash; Lawsuit Filed

A lawsuit has been filed against a taxi cab company and its driver for causing a crash that seriously injured a Chicago man as he rode his bicycle in Bucktown.  Our law firm represents the cyclist.

The 34 year old man sustained a skull fracture and bleeding into his brain from the crash.  He spent six days in Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center before being released into his family's care.  He continues to undergo treatment for a brain injury.  He was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

The incident occurred at the intersection of North Damen Avenue and West Fullerton Avenue at 11:47 p.m. on November 8th.  The cyclist was riding from his parent's home to his apartment traveling north on Damen in a bicycle lane.  He was riding with operating front and rear lights on his bike.  At Damen's intersection with Fullerton the driver of a white 2011 Ford Escape taxi, also northbound on Damen, turned right without signaling onto Fullerton directly into the bicyclist's path.  The driver's sudden maneuver caused the cyclist to strike the passenger side of the vehicle.  The cyclist hit his head and was rendered unconscious at the scene. The driver immediately pulled over and three passengers rushed from the taxi to the downed man's aid and called 911.

The Illinois Traffic Crash Report pertaining to the incident reflects a very different version of events.  It states that the bicyclist, "was NB [northbound] on Damen and disregarded traffic signal and collided with [taxi] which was EB [eastbound] on Fullerton."  See below.  (The report confuses Unit 1 and Unit 2.  But it seems to communicate the reporting officer's understanding that the bicyclist caused the crash by running a red light.)

Narrative portion of Illinois Traffic Crash Report
Concerned, I spoke with the people who were riding in the cab at the time of the crash.  They told me that the crash occurred just as the driver was making a right turn.  They told me that the Crash Report did not accurately reflect what they told the police at the scene.

Hoping to uncover more solid evidence regarding how the crash occurred, we sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Chicago Department of Transportation requesting video from the red light cameras in the intersection.  One of the cameras recorded the crash.  The video, taken by a camera looking south on Damen, shows the white taxi (a small SUV) proceeding north on Damen.  The light at Fullerton is green and when it reaches the intersection, it turns right.  Just as it does the blinking white light on the front of the bicycle is seen going down to the street.  The taxi driver immediately pulls over to the curb on Fullerton. See below.

video

We do not know who the source was for the narrative contained in the Crash Report.  However, the red light camera video contradicts it.  Also, the taxi passengers told me that on the night of the crash they were traveling from Big Star, a Wicker Park restaurant located at 1531 North Damen, to Wrigleyville.  It would certainly make sense for them to have traveled north on Damen to Fullerton, then east.

What the video shows is a classic "right hook" crash, one of the most common types of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles in an urban setting.  We have alleged that by turning right in front of a person riding a bike, that the cab driver violated several portions of the Illinois Vehicle Code, including the section that requires drivers to give cyclists three feet of space when passing.  We have also alleged that the driver violated numerous sections of the Municipal Code of Chicago, including 9-16-020(d), which explicitly prohibits drivers from turning right in front of a bicyclist when it is not safe to do so.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Ticket, No Compensation?

The following originally appeared in Urban Velo as part of my regular column, Cycling Legalese:
If you’re involved in an automobile/bicycle collision it is in your best interest to call the police and get a report, but how will it impact a potential claim for injury or damage compensation if the police officer doesn’t issue a ticket to the driver on the spot?
Q:After I was hit by a car, the police did not give the driver a ticket. How will that affect my ability to receive compensation from the driver for my injuries?
A traffic ticket issued to a driver for causing a crash may aid a bicyclist’s personal injury case. But, failure of the police to ticket a driver will generally have no impact at all on the cyclist’s case.
Most police officers try hard to do the right thing. But strip away the badge and the uniform and what you are left with is a fallible human being. After a crash, you may know with cosmic certainty that the driver that hit you was in the wrong. Police officers arriving after the fact will not have a clue about what happened. They may have a pissed-off, injured bicyclists telling them one thing, a frustrated, nervous driver telling them another, and a mess of backed-up city traffic. Figuring out what happened and who was at fault may not be knowable, and/or may be the least of their concerns. Sometimes the responding officer will take his or her best guess as to what happened and issue a ticket. Let the judge sort it out. Other times a cop will throw his or her hands up and keep the ticket book tucked away.
To be sure, I sometimes shake my head when the police fail to ticket a driver. It is astonishing when a driver is not ticketed, for example, after dooring a cyclist in broad daylight. Other times I suspect that a police officer holds an anti-bike prejudice. Just the other day, I was in court in a suburb of Chicago defending a bicyclist who was hit from behind by a vehicle whose driver crossed a double yellow line and hit him as the cyclist began a left turn. The officer ticketed the cyclist for failing to signal his intent to turn, even though the officer documented that witnesses reported that the cyclist had indeed signaled. The judge ultimately threw out the ticket, but, sheesh!
When a driver is ticketed after a crash, he or she will generally be given a date to appear in court and enter a plea, guilty/not guilty. It is very important that the bicyclist appear at that court date. The cyclist will be the complaining witness, without whom the prosecution will not be able to prove a traffic violation (assuming the issuing police officer did not actually witness the incident). The officer that wrote the ticket will generally not be permitted to testify as to what someone else said happened. Such testimony is considered hearsay and cannot serve as a basis for a conviction. It is a good idea to arrive at the hearing early so you or your lawyer can seek out the prosecutor and let them know that you are present and ready to testify against the driver. In city traffic court the prosecutor will have about a zillion cases he or she is dealing with at once and will likely appreciate the presence of a complaining witness willing to cooperate and explain what the case is about. Depending on what the presiding judge generally allows, the prosecutor may then seek out the driver in the courtroom and explain their options. Sometimes an agreement to plead guilty will result in a lesser punishment for the driver then a finding of guilt by the judge after a time consuming trial. In my experience, many drivers take that deal. This is important. A plea of guilty in the criminal/traffic case is admissible in evidence as an admission in the subsequent civil/personal injury case. The driver will have a very difficult time wiggling free from a claim of negligence after pleading guilty. However, a finding of guilt (or not) at trial is not admissible in the personal injury case. In most jurisdictions a jury considering the personal injury case would never learn of the earlier verdict arising from the traffic citation.

So, if the driver is ticketed after a crash, great. Go to the traffic citation hearing. If the driver does not get a ticket, do not sweat it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Does Cycling In Chicago Have A Future?

I am worried about the future of cycling in Chicago.

CDOT commissioner, and avid daily cyclist, Gable Klein is stepping down.  Long time Chicago Bicycle Program leader, Ben Gomberg, is gone and has not been replaced.  The city's bicycle infrastructure - while better than what we had before (nothing) - seems stuck in beta.  Far from world inspiring, ours is not even the best cycle-specific infrastructure in the Midwest. Chicago bicyclists continue to face considerable hostility on our streets.  I for one am growing impatient at the speed of the change that so many bicycle advocates, including this one, have praised.  

These are not popular sentiments, I know.  We are told to be thankful for what we have now and just wait; it will get better the City promises.  More bike lanes are being built.  More people are biking in the city than perhaps ever before, increasing awareness among drivers.  Both of those things are plainly true.  But it is not enough.  I am staring at shelves full of carnage, bicyclists hit by cars, injured, often very seriously. "Between 2005 and 2010, there were nearly 9,000 crashes involving bicyclists, with 32 bicyclist fatalities,"  according to the City of Chicago 2012 Bicycle Crash Analysis.

The architects of how far we have come as a cycling city are Gabe Klein and Ben Gomberg.  Commissioner Klein has accomplished a lot in the short time he has been here.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel's choice of an innovative outsider to become CDOT commissioner is to be applauded.  There were no protected bicycle lanes, really no focus on making Chicago bicycle friendly, until Klein got here.  And make no mistake, Klein is someone who gets it.  He is a daily cyclist.  I know because I have seen him on his Masi commuter numerous times around the city.  I have also had the chance to speak with him about biking in the city.  I remember one conversation in particular at a fundraising event at SRAM headquarters last summer.  I was needling him a bit about how the law should be changed to allow cyclists to treat stop as yield, when he admitted that that might make sense and that even he sometimes took that approach at intersections when riding the city.  Now Klein is leaving for the private sector, and I am worried about whether growth of our cycling infrastructure will continue.  It is unclear who his replacement will be.  Whoever it is will they demonstrate the same commitment to cycling that Klein did?  

Also gone from CDOT is Ben Gomberg, another real deal bike guy who worked for decades with the City to advance safe cycling.  Often I saw Gomberg riding Milwaukee Avenue in his bright yellow safety vest on my ride into the Loop.  His small framed, red Giant mountain bike was locked to a street sign outside of 30 North LaSalle Street nearly every day.  (I always wondered why he did not lock up to a bike rack.  I never asked him.  Perhaps he did not want to take rack space away from a civilian.) Gomberg was head of the Chicago Bicycle Program, an initiative within CDOT charged with implementing and directing bicycle infrastructure changes, bicycle parking and rider safety and education.  Earlier this year, Gomberg was also put in charge of launching Chicago's very successful bike sharing program, Divvy.  Now, he too is gone.  The new head of the Bike Program is Janet Attarian.  She is a long time City employee and architect by trade. She also rides her bike to work.  However, she is not just Bicycle Program director.   Actually, the Program itself has been transformed.  At the beginning of the year, the City combined several programs into what is now the Complete Streets Program.  Those programs include the Pedestrian Program, the Streets Keeping Sustainable Design Program, the Green Alley Program, the Green Streets Program and the Bicycle Program. Attarian now oversees all of that.  No longer is there someone whose focus is exclusively on The Bicycle Program.  That is troubling.

I commute by bike to my office on State Street from my home in Logan Square every day.  Generally, I take Milwaukee Avenue.  As I share that well bike traveled road while being passed by CTA buses, cement mixers and other vehicles that may squash me if I make a mistake, I am reminded that Chicago has a long way to go.  The City is well aware that Milwaukee Avenue is one of the busiest and most dangerous bicycle corridors in Chicago.  The City of Chicago 2012 Bicycle Crash Analysis states, "The largest concentration of bicycle injury crashes were located within and north of downtown Chicago.  There were also large pockets of crashes on primary diagonal streets that serve the Loop area, including Milwaukee Avenue."  The study went on to note that Milwaukee Avenue (along with Lincoln and Clark) has the highest rates of dooring incidents in the City.  Mayor Emanuel himself recently witnessed first hand the dangers cyclists face on Milwaukee Avenue, coming to the rescue of a woman run down by a large truck at the intersection of Milwaukee and Ogden.  Despite this knowledge, the City is not doing nearly enough.  Milwaukee Avenue, between North Avenue and Division does not even have a dedicated bike lane, only faded sharrows lamely direct motorists and cyclists to "Share The Road."  Presently, Milwaukee, between Ogden and the expressway overpass, is torn up due to roadway construction.  Extensive road work sometimes needs to be done.  Okay, but the City and/or its contractors have made no accommodations for bicyclists using Milwaukee Avenue during construction.  Cyclists, cars, buses and large trucks are fighting for space on that bumpy, treacherous stretch of Milwaukee.  This is unacceptable.  A temporary bike lane should be created for use during the construction project so that the cyclists, mostly commuters to and from the Loop, can pass safely on this street that they have come to rely upon.  

Mayor Emanuel has said that, "One of my top priorities as mayor is to create a bike network that allows every Chicagoan - from kids on their first ride to senior citizens on their way to the grocery store - to feel safe on our streets."  Ride Milwaukee and see that we are nowhere close to that.

Can we please stop saying that Chicago is a great cycling city?  It is not.  Yeah, yeah, we have come a long way.  But there was really only one way to go.  Going from nothing to something is technically progress, but I wish the City would stop patting itself on the back.  We are not even the best city for cycling in the Midwest. Minneapolis is generally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, cycling city in the United States.  In terms of innovation, Indianapolis is kicking our ass.  Recently that city completed an eight mile biking and walking path through the heart of the city that is just gorgeous.  Called the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, it separates bicycles and pedestrians from motor vehicle traffic with pleasant looking, sustainable planters.  In most places, cyclists and pedestrians are separated from each other as well.  This is not some recreational path either, a la the Chicago Lakefront Trail.  It connects people to places they actually want and need to go. There simply is nothing like it in Chicago.  The Dearborn bike lane comes closest, but really is not on the same scale.

Aside from the crashes and the injuries, the general hostility cyclists face riding on Chicago's streets is bad.  It could always be worse, but that is no excuse.  Consider, for example a video that emerged this week of a young woman who accidentally found herself riding a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive.  The video, displayed with unseemly glee by the media, shows one driver and his passenger, and many others who do not seem to care, mocking a cyclist in serious danger.  It is not pretty.  As one person noted on The Chainlink, a stray dog loose on LSD would have received more kindly attention and help.  This attitude is not surprising and the media likes to fan it.  On Monday, Crain's Chicago Business tried to stoke anger between cyclists and drivers with an article titled, Why everyone hates bicyclists -- and why they hate everyone back. Cyclists do not hate drivers.  We just want to ride with a little space and be left alone.  Stop telling us we need to grow up and stop running stop signs.  Anecdotes about the occasional scofflaw aside, bicyclists obey traffic laws where they make sense.  Where they do not we do what has to be done to stay safe.

We are at a crossroads.  The low hanging fruit has already been plucked with regard to the creation of bike lanes.  The first few miles of protected bike lanes have been around for a while now.  Get over it.  Painting the street next to the gutter green and placing some collapsible plastic poles just will not cut it anymore.  City planners wanted people on bikes and now they have got them.  Chicago's efforts to create a truly viable cycling city must move on to the next level.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Evanston Cyclist Receives $300,000 Settlement From Driver Who Struck Him In Sheridan Road Bike Lane

A driver who seriously injured a 55 year old Evanston bicyclist last year has agreed to a $305,000 settlement. Our law firm represents the bicyclist.

The crash occurred in the bicycle lane at the uncontrolled intersection of Sheridan Road and Forest Avenue in Wilmette.  The cyclist was northbound on Sheridan in the bike lane when the 81 year old southbound driver turned her BMW into his path causing the collision.   The impact threw the man forward off of his bike causing his mouth to strike the roof edge of the car.  A police officer who responded to the scene noted that the cyclist's fragmented teeth were found on the roof of the vehicle.  He also suffered fractures to both bones of his right forearm, and a compression fracture in his lower back.    He underwent surgery to repair his broken arm and had extensive dental work.  His spinal fracture healed on its own.  His medical and dental bills totaled more than $70,000.

Our client is a cancer survivor who took up cycling in an effort to return his body to good health following a long period of therapy.  His bicycle, a 2011 Cervelo RS, was badly damaged in the crash.  We were able to help him get his bike replaced.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chicago Area Cyclist To Pedal To Mexico To Raise Money For Diabetes Cure

When Jorge Balderas asked us to help support his upcoming bicycle trip from Chicago to Mexico to raise money for the fight against diabetes we did not hesitate.  An epic bike trip to raise money for an important cause undertaken by a great guy (and client of ours) definitely gets our juices flowing.

Jorge leaves on Monday on his self-supported trip which he hopes with raise money for the Chicago Diabetes Project. The journey will take him from his home in Evanston to his home town near the city of Guanajuato, Mexico.  He hopes to reach his destination before the start of the new year.  On his way he will visit his sister in Denver who is stricken with a diabetes related illness.  From there he will pedal on to Tuscon, Arizona then cross the border into Mexico.  Jorge has set up a Facebook page for the trip he is calling the Tour de Diabetes Cure.

This is not the first time Jorge has epically pedaled southward.  Two years ago he rode from Vancouver, Canada to Mexico.  His preparation for that trip was featured on Univision (ESP):


Wanting to wander again by bike, Jorge had one problem:  He did not have a bike capable for making the long journey, having left his old bike in Mexico.  Enter our good friends at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square. They hooked him up, at our request, with a sweet Bianchi Volpe (festooned, of course, with mybikeadvocate.com stickers) more than capable of getting him and his gear south of the border:

Jorge with his new bike from
Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square

Yeah, we gave him stickers

Why is Jorge doing this?  "I want to be happy and try to help others," he said.  Any questions?

A private party will be held on Saturday evening at the Evanston Cimena for Jorge's friends and supporters to see him off.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

92 Year Old Oak Park Cyclist Who Lived On His Bike, Killed By Driver

Suleyman Cetin
Courtesy OakPark.com
Preparations are underway to commemorate the life a 92 year old Oak Park bicyclist who was killed by a driver on Thursday.  Suleyman Cetin, an avid cyclist despite his age, was hit by a Chevy Impala at the intersection of Madison Street and Scoville Avenue at approximately 8 p.m. on October 24th, according to OakPark.com.  The driver, 46 year old Rolando Ivory, was ticketed for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, according to The Chicago Tribune.  Members of the cycling community are planning to install a ghost bike near the crash scene.

Mr. Cetin was reportedly riding northbound on Scoville, crossing Madison, when he was struck, according to The Tribune, citing a Village of Oak Park press release.  He was pronounced dead about 2 hours later at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, according to OakPark.com.

Originally from Turkey, Mr. Cetin was well-known around Oak Park and continued to live an active life up to the moment of his death.  Those that knew him say that he was often seen around town on his bike or working odd jobs.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Study Looks At Effectiveness Of 3 Foot Passing Laws



A new study on the effectiveness of bicycle safety legislation in many states nationwide reveals that three foot passing laws are viewed by many as a "vital tool to increase bicycle safety."  However, the study also laments difficulties involved in enforcement.

The study, The 3 ft. Law:  Lessons Learned from a National Analysis of State Policies and Expert Interviews, was created by the Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.  It offers a survey of the experiences of 20 states that have 3 foot passing laws in place, and considers the pros and cons of the laws with regard to its contribution to an increase in cycling safety.  These laws mandate that drivers give cyclists on roadways at least 3 feet of space when passing.  In the end, the study is short on data demonstrating the effectiveness of the laws in increasing cycling safety.  It provides a lot of anecdotal "evidence" from bicycle advocates nationwide who tout the provisions as effective tools for educating the motoring public about the rights of cyclists.  It also notes that the laws are part of a growing fabric of policy adding legitimacy to the bicycle as a practical transportation tool.  On the other hand, the study gives a lot of space to the argument that the laws are unenforceable and of little real world consequence.  Here is a link to the full study.

The Rutgers team focuses on how the 3 foot passing statutes are used, and not used, by law enforcement nationwide.  It notes that one jurisdiction briefly set up a sting to catch motorists violating bicyclists' space, but mostly describes police officers as generally unable to consistently enforce the laws.  Sadly, the study completely neglects the role the 3 foot passing laws may pay in the civil justice context.  For our firm, and others focused on representing injured cyclists, the laws are strong, sharp arrows in our quivers to use to go after drivers who harm cyclists.  In negotiating with auto insurance carriers and their attorneys we routinely cite the 3 foot laws to demonstrate a driver's negligence.

Just law week, I represented a client at an arbitration hearing in which I cited Illinois's 3 foot law.  This particular arbitration hearing was, in essence, a mini-trial in which witnesses were called and interrogated and both sides' attorneys provided opening and closing statements.  The case involved a female bicyclist who was struck by the front quarter panel of a vehicle whose driver passed too closely on Wells Street in Chicago's Loop, a notoriously narrow street with menacing pillars on both sides which support elevated train ("El") tracks.  The defense argued that the cyclist was reckless for coming too close to the vehicle.  However, citing the 3 foot passing law, I was able to effectively demonstrate that it was the driver who failed to give the cyclist the space she was entitled too under the law.  The panel found the driver was principally negligent and provided an award in the cyclist's favor.  (They found that the cyclist was, to a small extent, contributorily negligent, but that finding served only to minimally reduce the award, rather than to preclude it altogether.) It was a fair result.

Bicycle advocates often focus only on the criminal side of law enforcement.  In my experience, the the ability of the civil justice system to provide both compensation for the individual cyclist's harms and losses, and advocacy for cycling in general is too often overlooked by bicycling supports.  I can only guess as to why.  I fear that decades of negative media coverage about personal injury lawsuits have cast our civil justice system as merely a crass money making enterprise for greedy lawyers with ruby pinky rings.  This caricature is unfair.  The work we do can, and I believe does, have a positive broad effect.  Suing someone for passing too closely to a cyclist and causing harm, or for dooring a cyclist, can have a wide social effect.  Not only is the driver being sued likely to be more careful in the future, to the extent that driver spreads the word about his or her experience with the civil justice system, the people they know are put on notice to act more carefully around cyclists.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Undamning Of People On Bikes

Damn bicyclists!

Too often motorists only seem to notice the bike, the helmet, the message bag, etc.  They do not see the person on the bike.  Perhaps this selective recognition is what gives the driver - in his or her mind - license to recklessly endanger the lives of people on bikes.  Despite the increasing betterment of Chicago's cycling infrastructure, it dawns on me that virtually everyday on my ride into the office I have a close call with a driver.  I do not think about that often.  If I did, I would probably take the "EL" to work.  

I do not know how to change the minds of drivers.  I am going to keep suing them when their conduct causes actual harm.  But my preference is that there be no more crashes.  (Do not worry about me.  I would find something else to do.)  I came across a new ad campaign in Pittsburgh this morning, highlighted over on the Urban Velo website.  I would love to see billboards all around Chicago like this.  That would be a nice start.

Courtesy of Bike Pittsburgh

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In Upholding $1.9 Million Verdict, IL Appeals Court Protects Bicyclists From City's Shoddy Roadwork

Yesterday, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld a $1.9 million jury verdict to a bicyclist injured due to shoddy roadwork performed by the City of Chicago.  With the decision the Court provided some important clarification regarding how a jury should be instructed in cases arising from injuries caused by an activity performed negligently by a local municipality.

The case, Smart v. The City of Chicago, 2013 IL App (1st) 120901, arose from an incident that occurred on July 1, 2007.  On that day, Todd Smart, an avid cyclist, was riding his triathlon road bike east in the bike lane on Cortland Street near the intersection with North Marcey Street in Chicago.  It was a route he knew well, having ridden his bike through the area countless times previously.  As he approached the intersection he saw that the "street's surface changed from a smooth to a rugged texture as a result of a resurfacing project" being done by the City.  He also saw that the utility covers in the road, "which are normally flush with the pavement, were protruding above the street surface."  Worried, the cyclist slowed his bike.  As he "approached one of the square [utility] covers, he steered left to go around it at which point the front tire of his bicycle lodged in the roadway."  His bike stopped abruptly, throwing him into the road where he sustained a serious shoulder injury.  Later, it was determined that the condition that caused the crash was a "gash or shallow trench" in the road created because a small grinder used during the road work was "left on and standing in one place."  The bicyclist's attorneys retained a expert familiar with industry standards for resurfacing roadways to investigate the matter.  He determined that the grinding and resurfacing work was not performed in compliance with industry standards, and that if the City had performed the work properly the trench would not have existed.  The jury found for the bicyclist at the end of trial.

The City appealed believing that the jury was not properly instructed regarding what the bicyclist was required to prove.  At the end of a trial in a personal injury case, after all of the evidence has been presented but before the jury begins its deliberations, the judge reads instructions to the jurors guiding them on exactly how they are to come to a decision.  Those instructions are printed in a book, Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions. Which of those instructions are to be read to jurors is always a matter of debate between the sides in litigation and the judge is compelled to make some important decisions in that regard.  To the non-lawyer such matters may sound like hyper-technical noise.  But deciding how a jury is to be instructed is vitally important to reaching a fair outcome.  In Smart, the City wanted the jury instructed in such a way that would have increased the plaintiff's/bicyclist's burden at trial, making it harder for the jury to find in his favor. At issue was whether the bicyclist's case was a premises liability action, or simply a negligence action.  If the plaintiff's injuries were the result of a condition of the property (the road), then it was a premises liability action.  If the crash was instead caused by the City's activity, then plaintiff's cause was a straight negligence action.  If you are a law dork like me you can read the decision to understand how the court analyzed the matter.  But the bottom line is that if the injuries were due to a condition then the plaintiff would have to prove that "the City had notice of the condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm."  Proving that a municipality had notice of a dangerous condition is notoriously difficult.  I imagine that the City in Smart claimed that it was unaware of the existence of the trench that caused Mr. Smart's crash.  It may have been very tough, perhaps even impossible, for the plaintiff to have proven that the City knew of the trench's existence before the crash occurred.  However, the appellate court determined that the cause of the crash was not a condition, but rather was the result of an ongoing activity being conduced by the City and, "Given that fact, Smart was not required to show that the City had notice of the hazard."  It was proper, therefore, that the trial judge provided Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction 120.02 which instructed the jury that,
It was the duty of [The City of Chicago], as an owner of the property in question, to exercise ordinary care to see that the property was reasonably safe for the use of those lawfully on the property.
The appellate court rejected the City's argument that the jury should have been instructed pursuant to Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction 120.08 which "requires a plaintiff pursuing a premises liability claim to prove that (1) there was a condition on the property that presented an unreasonable risk of harm, (2) defendant knew or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known of both the condition and the risk, (3) defendant could not reasonably expect that people on the property would not discover or realize the danger, (4) defendant was negligent in specific ways, (5) plaintiff was injured, and (6) defendant's negligence was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injury." 

Smart is an important decision for Illinois bicyclists because it puts municipalities throughout our state on notice that when you do roadwork in an area designated for bicycle traffic, they must consider the safety of bicyclists.  If they do not and a cyclist is hurt, then the municipality will be held responsible for the resulting harm.

It is unknown at this time whether the City intends to appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.  For the moment though, Smart is the law of our state.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

68 Year Old Bicyclist Killed In Niles When Dog Owners Let Animals Run Free

Wladyslaw "Walter" Bujak, courtesy
The Chicago Tribune
A 68 year old male bicyclist has died of injuries he sustained after being knocked from his bike by unleashed dogs while riding on the North Branch Trail in Niles on September 27th.  Wladyshlaw "Walter" Bujak, an avid cyclist, was riding on the trail near Old Orchard and Harms Roads when the animals, their leashes trialing behind them, jumped at him, knocking him over, according to CBS2 Chicago.  

He suffered critical injuries and was knocked unconscious at the scene.  The owners of the dogs allegedly ran over to the fallen man, untangled the dog leashes from his bicycle, then left the scene.  Mr. Bujak died five days after the crash at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, according to CBS2 Chicago.  Police are looking for the dog owners. 

Aside from lacking basic decency for leaving the critically injured man behind, the dog owners, if found, may be liable for allowing their dogs to run free.  Illinois' Animal Control Act requires dog owners to maintain control of their pets at all times and assigns liability if they do not and someone gets hurt.  The Act states:
If a dog or other animal, without provocation, attacks, attempts to attack, or injures any person who is peaceably conducting himself or herself in any place where he or she may lawfully be, the owner of such dog or other animal is liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.
510 ILCS 5/16

This section of the Act makes the dog owner strictly liable for injuries.  That means that the owner's conduct need not be intentional nor even negligent for liability to attach.  The bottom line is that if you let your dog run free and someone gets hurt as a result, you are responsible for compensating the victim. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Divided Illinois Appellate Court Expands Infamous "Boub" Decision

A divided Illinois appellate court has ruled that Illinois bicyclists are not intended users of alleys.  The important decision, handed down on September 27th, expands the Illinois Supreme Court's 1998 ruling in Boub v. Township of Wayne, 183 Ill.2d 520, 702 N.E.2d 535 (Ill. 1998) in which the Court held that bicyclists are permitted but not intended users of Illinois roadways, unless the road at issue is specifically designated for bike traffic, e.g. with signs, markings, etc. The notorious decision has meant that local governments cannot be held liable for cyclists' injuries on unsafe roads absent bike route markings


The recent decision in Berz v. The City of Evanston, 2013 IL App (1st) 123763, means that streets and roads are not the only areas where municipalities are free of responsibility for upkeep of areas where cyclists typically ride.  The case arose from an incident occurring in September, 2010 in which a bicyclist was injured when he struck a pothole in an Evanston alley running behind 1549 to 1555 Sherman Avenue, between Grove Street and Davis Street.  The pothole was 40 inches wide by 18 inches long by four to five inches deep.  The appellate court upheld the circuit court's dismissal of the cyclist's lawsuit against the City for failing to properly maintain the area because the alley was not specifically designated for bike traffic.  The Court noted that while bicyclists are permitted users of Evanston alleyways, the alleys are not intended for such users.  

Like the Boub decision itself, however, the ruling in Berz was not unanimous.  Presiding Justice Gordon dissented from the appellate court's holding, finding that alleys are intended for use by cyclists.  He stated,
In the Chicago area, it is common for garages to open onto alleys. It is also common, in the Chicago area as elsewhere, for people to store their bicycles, as well as their vehicles, in their garages. The obvious intended purpose of an alley that has garages opening onto it is to provide access to the things that people commonly store in those garages, such as bicycles.
Despite the fact that the paving of roads was initiated long ago thanks to bicyclists, Illinois remains an outlier when it comes to protecting cyclists from roads that are unsafe.  I am aware of no other state that has declared that paved roads -- and now alleys -- are not intended for use by bicyclists.  It is long past time for the Illinois legislature to step in and correct this judicial error.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Accident Reconstruction Wins The Day For Injured Chicago Cyclist

My client and I had a problem.  The young man who hired our firm had a separated shoulder after getting hit by a taxi.  That was his biggest worry.  My concern, however, was how to demonstrate the cab driver's negligence.  You see, the bicyclist was not completely without fault in the matter.

On January 6, 2013 at around 12:30 a.m. the male bicyclist was riding home from a friend's house in the shared bike lane north along the 3300 block of North Damen Avenue when the taxi, which had been stopped along the curb, suddenly pulled out in front of him.  The cyclist could not avoid striking the front wheel well of the cab.  The cyclist had had a few beers, though he was not drunk.  He was also riding without a front headlight on his bike, a clear violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code.  He was also wearing dark clothing.  Yeah, we had problems.  I was not worried about the beers.  I had no reason to believe that that contributed to cause the crash.  The folks at the hospital did not feel the need to draw his blood to run a toxicology screen.  The defense would have no admissible evidence regarding intoxication we needed to worry about.  But his lack of a headlight worried me a lot.  I wondered, had the taxi driver looked in his mirror before pulling from the curb, could he have seen the cyclist?  I decided to find out.

A few weeks after the crash the client and I, with the help of Aaron Bussey of LOOK! Chicago and Elizabeth Adamczyk of Ride of Silence who graciously offered up their time, went out to the scene of the crash to investigate.  The plan was to replicate the conditions of the crash as closely as possible.  We brought the client's bike, absent any lights.  Aaron would play the part of the cyclist and wore the same sort of dark clothing worn by the cyclist on the night of the crash.  I parked my car in the same spot the taxi had occupied.  Elizabeth sat in the driver's seat with a video camera pointed at the vehicle's side view mirror. Outside of the vehicle I yelled, "Action!" (I always wanted to do that) and Aaron tracked the same route the cyclist had on the night of the crash, riding in the bike lane.  The video below shows the results of our test:
video
The bicyclist would have been more visible if he had a light on his bike.  But, the video demonstrates that had the driver looked he certainly could have seen him.  The area was very well lit due to the presence of street lights and a gas station across the street.  I would argue that since the driver would be pulling from the curb into a portion of roadway marked for bicycle traffic that he should have carefully looked for cyclists in the area.

The taxi company's insurer was persuaded by our efforts.  This week, they agreed to a substantial settlement to compensate the cyclist.

I want be perfectly clear that if you are riding in pitch dark without a light on your bike and get tagged by a motor vehicle the mostly likely outcome is that you will not be compensated for any injuries you sustain.  We are good lawyers, but we are not miracle workers.  However, drivers and insurance companies should understand that a lack of lighting does not necessarily preclude liability for harming a cyclist.  In big cities like Chicago there is ample lighting on most main roads at night.  Drivers have a duty to look -- not just glance -- but look for cyclists at night.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Really Happened To Chicago Bicyclist "Rescued" By The Mayor

The Chicago bicyclist who was struck by a turning tanker truck on North Milwaukee Avenue last Tuesday is grateful to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his security staff and the numerous other nearby cyclists who immediately came to her aid.  Today, our law firm was retained by the injured woman to represent her against the driver.

Some media sources covering this story focused primarily on the Mayor's involvement, and were cavalier or dismissive about the bicyclist's injuries and the facts of the crash.  Prior to the collision, the 29 year old female cyclist was riding southeast on Milwaukee Avenue.  She stopped in the clearly marked, dedicated bicycle lane when she reached the red light at intersection with West Ogden.  At that location, there is a right turn lane next to the curb, a four foot wide bike lane and a through lane.  The cyclist waited at the light with the huge truck stopped to her left in the through lane.  There was one cyclist ahead of her at the light.  When the light turned green she proceeded.  The truck driver, apparently not noticing the cyclists next to him, swung his vehicle right onto Ogden.  When he did, the truck's front wheels slammed into the woman.  The rider was thrown to the ground and under the truck.  The driver apparently did not realize what had happened and continued forward.  Numerous nearby cyclists shouted and banged on the truck to get the driver to stop.  Luckily he did before the truck's rear wheels rolled over the downed rider.

The video below was recorded by the dash board camera of a witness traveling in the opposite direction, northwest on Milwaukee. The tanker truck is clearly seen turning right from the through-only lane, its front wheels striking the cyclist in light colored clothing.  The video captures well the enormous amount of bicycle traffic along Milwaukee Avenue at that time of day.

video


As has been reported, the Mayor was nearby in a coffee shop and came running when he heard the crash. He comforted the woman and brought her to his vehicle, giving her water and a chance to collect herself. Medical personnel arrived quickly to the scene and tended to deep, bloody cuts to her left leg.  Her right shoulder was painful and becoming hard to move.  The Mayor asked a member of his security detail to drive her to the hospital.  She was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital right away.  She was diagnosed with a separated right shoulder and a fracture.  The wounds to her left leg were stitched closed and dressed.

Despite media reports to the contrary, Chicago police made a report of the crash.

The injured cyclist is still receiving medical care.  Later this week she will have the stitches removed from her injured leg.  Her right arm is immobilized and painful.  She will follow up with an orthopedic physician.

Monday, September 9, 2013

IDOT Driver Strikes, Injures Pregnant Chicago Woman Riding Divvy Bike

Life was good when the 34 year old woman left her East Village home on the morning of September 3rd. It was warm and sunny as she checked out a Divvy bike from a station near her home.  She planned a leisurely ride to her office on Michigan Avenue where she worked as a financial planner.  She learned the day before that she was pregnant with her and her husband's second child.  She felt great.

A driver with the Illinois Department of Transportation spoiled her serenity when he slammed his truck into her.  The woman was hit as she pedaled east on West Augusta Boulevard in the intersection with North Ashland Avenue.  She had been riding in dedicated bicycle lane on Augusta.  Just after she crossed into the intersection, the traffic light controlling eastbound traffic turned from green to yellow. She entered the intersection legally.  She pedaled across Ashland's two southbound lanes.  In most Chicago intersections it takes three seconds for a traffic signal to go from yellow to red.  After she crossed the center line, the northbound driver, who had not stopped at the intersection, crashed into her right side, throwing her several feet.  

The bicyclist was knocked unconscious by the impact and suffered deep wounds to her face and other parts of her body.  Her right foot was fractured.  An ambulance arrived quickly and rushed her to Resurrection Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center nearby.  Numerous tests thankfully ruled out a major head injury. The helmet she was wearing probably had something to do with that. Also, her pregnancy, thus far, seems unaffected, though the fear and anxiety she is experiencing cannot be understated.

The Divvy bike was demolished.

Our law firm has been retained to represent the bicyclist.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Investigation Continues Into the Attack On Chicago Cyclist, Jana Kinsman

The media fury has died down, but the affects of being attacked by persons in an SUV while biking in the Logan Square neighborhood linger for Chicago cyclist, Jana Kinsman.  The 27 year old owner of Bike A Bee was the victim of what police are calling an aggravated battery as she rode her bike north, near the intersection of North Kimball Avenue and West Wrightwood Avenue , just after midnight on August 20th. 

The driver and passengers that attacked Jana are still being sought.  The vehicle involved was a maroon colored Chevy Tahoe, or similar vehicle.  A witness at the scene identified the vehicle as a Tahoe specifically. There are a lot a maroon Tahoes in Chicago (start looking for them and you'll notice).  However, the vehicle involved as some distinguishing characteristics.  It has thin, gold pin striping just under the side windows.  It does not have a roof rack.  It has four doors.  Its vintage is not known, but it appears to have rounded features, suggesting that it is not a very old vehicle.  Here are stills taken from two known videos of the SUV:

The maroon SUV at the intersection of Kimball, Diversey
and Milwaukee shortly after the attack.
The vehicle just north of Kimball and Wrightwood fleeing the
scene, courtesy DNAInfo
The bottom photograph is from video taken by a security camera attached to the outside of a pre-school at the intersection where the attack occurred.  Jana was pulled to the ground by a passenger in the rear of the truck who had grabbed her messenger bag as she rode north on the right side of Kimball.  The top photograph is a still from video shot by the red light camera several block north.  In it, the vehicle is seen making a right turn onto either West Diversey Avenue or North Milwaukee Avenue.  Because it did not run the red light at that intersection, the red light camera did not photograph the vehicle's license plate.  Jana has confirmed that the vehicle shown in both screen captures above are the vehicle involved in the attack.

Chicago police seem to be taking this matter seriously.  They are treating this matter as an aggravated battery rather than a simple hit and run.  As a result, the CPD has assigned two detectives to investigate the matter. Jana and I met with them on August 23rd.  We looked at the red light camera footage together.  After Jana identified the vehicle in the video, the detectives told us they would obtain additional footage from other cameras, essentially following the vehicle through the city to the driver's eventual destination.  The hope is that once the vehicle is found, we will have the driver.

A few days after the incident, we thought we had identified and located the driver.  A friend of Jana's photographed a maroon Tahoe parked near the site.  We ran the plates and obtained the name and address of the vehicle's owner.  Police questioned the man and ruled him out as a suspect.  Also, his vehicle had a roof rack, a feature which appears to be absent on the vehicle involved.

Many people have sent us emails inquiring about the possibility that there is a link between the attack on Jana and a hit and run fatality that took place in the Rogers Park neighborhood several hours earlier.  On August 19th at around 6:20 p.m. an 83 year old man was struck and killed by the driver of a maroon SUV which may have been a Chevy Tahoe or Suburban.  The driver fled the scene and has not yet been located.  There is no reason I am aware of to believe that the two incidents involved the same vehicle or driver other than the fact that both vehicles involved were maroon SUVs.  Here is a photo of that vehicle taken from a red light camera near Rockwell Street and Peterson Avenue:

Photo of the vehicle involved in the Rogers Park incident.
Courtesy The Chicago Tribune
While we would appreciate any tips that can be offered by the general public, please bear in mind that the persons responsible for the attack on Jana may be dangerous.  Do not put yourself at risk.  If you have a tip, we can be reached at 312.629.1901 or via email at brendan@fklawillinois.com.

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