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.