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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What I Learned In Texas

Years ago the notion of committing one's entire law practice to representing people who ride bicycles perhaps seemed a little nutty.  Or worse, like a some sort of marketing gimmick.  My, how times have changed.

Earlier this month I attended the First Annual Bike Law Summit in Austin, Texas.  "Summit" sounds a bit pompous.  A Summit is something held to end a war, or eradicate some worldwide nastiness.  In this case, it was a formal gathering of bicycle lawyers from around the country who got together to examine how best to represent people who ride.  Present were bicycle lawyers from every region of the country; each bringing experience and commitment to the cause, protecting cyclist's rights and making it safer to ride.  Our bicycle law firm was the proud and only representative from Illinois.

Peter Wilborn leads the
discussion in Austin. Also
Seen (from right: Ann, Bob,
Peter,Timmy and Ben
The range of experience was fascinating to listen to.  Generally, lawyers focus their practices on one or two states.  We all tend to practice in a bubble.  It is often eye opening to listen to attorneys from other parts of the country.  Ann Groninger, for example, practices bicycle law in North Carolina.  That state's laws make it difficult for injured people to receive just compensation.  North Carolina is one of only a few states which adheres to the doctrine of strict contributory negligence. This means that if the injured person's own negligence contributed in any way to cause their injury, even if the defendant was more negligent, then the plaintiff receives nothing for their harms and losses.  In contrast, in states like Illinois, a plaintiff's comparative fault only serves to reduce the amount of compensation their may receive, so long as the defendant is shown to be more at fault.  North Carolina's somewhat draconian law means that Ann has a lot less leverage with insurance companies to negotiate resolution of a claim.  She therefore ends up trying cases in front of a jury fairly often.  As a result she had a great deal to offer group in terms of trial tips and techniques.  She seems to be very good at what she does.

Bryan Waldman racing at
the CX National
Championships happening
in Austin during the Summit
Charlie Thomas is a bicycle lawyer from New Orleans, Louisiana and former president of the Texas A & M Cycling Team.  He explained that his city and state are relatively new when it comes to bicycle advocacy.  His efforts in teaming up with local bicycle shops to increase the visibility of bicycle advocacy served as a useful primer on connecting with people at a grass roots level.  Bob Mionske was the superstar of our group.  A bicycle lawyer in Portland, Oregon, he is a former USA Olympic cyclist and author of THE  book on bike law, Bicycling And The Law.  He was the first lawyer of note in the United States to identify as a "bicycle lawyer."  His considerable experience representing bicyclists makes him a fountain of knowledge and wisdom.  Peter Wilborn, a bike lawyer in South Carolina, was the leader of our group.  Himself a veteran in the battle to better bicycling, his primary and invaluable role was bringing us all together.  As a coordinated group of like minded attorneys we bring greater resources, energy, experience to each individual fight on behalf of the injured cyclist.  As issues, problems and challenges arise for any of us there is a network of people an email or phone call away with advice and guidance.  Also present at the Summit were the following bicycle lawyers:  Jim Reed, New York; Amy Benner, Tennessee; Bryan Waldman, Michigan; Vance Preman, Missouri; Randy Knutson, Minnesota; Timmy Finch, South Carolina; and Ben Dodge, Arizona.

Also present to offer his insights on bicycle advocacy was Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists.  He has committed his esteemed organization to working hand in hand with Bike Law toward better bicycle advocacy.  With the League behind us we are that much stronger in our ability to represent cyclists and biking

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Safe and Legal Riding In Snowy Urban Conditions

I found myself riding home last night in some pretty crappy weather.  I hadn't set out to ride in snowy, slippery conditions, but it happened.  My ride home from Andersonville to Logan Square was, thankfully, uneventful.  This being the first real snow of the season, I was reminded of some basic but important winter riding techniques to keep the rubber side down.

I was riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker with 26" x 1.75" Schwalbe Marathon tires.  Usually I keep them inflated to around 80 psi, but during my ride I found myself slipping on the fresh snow.  I pulled to the side of the road and let some air out of them.  I don't know how much air pressure I released, but it was enough to allow the tires to compress more against the road but not so much so as to run the risk of getting a pinch flat or having the tires come off of the rims.  This roadside fix provided a lot more grip.  I was also riding, as I always do, with a bright white light on the front of my bike (as is required by Illinois law) and a good deal of red reflective tape on the rear of my bike (also required by law).  Additionally, I had a bright red blinking tail light on the rear.  This is not required by law but is a damn good idea.  My tires also had reflective sidewalls which increased my visibility from the side.  Remember, the key to safe riding in dark and inclement weather is to increase your visibility.  A driver that can see you will avoid you.

The other thing that helped me make it home safely last night was lane positioning.  I rode further left than I usually do in order to avoid the deeper, slicker snow and ice along the curb side of the lane.  I generally tried to ride in the right tire tracks left by motor vehicles.  This gave me more contact with the pavement and helped me see and avoid dangerous road defects like potholes.  Here is a short video of how I positioned myself in the lane:

video

This is very easy to do on side streets with little or no traffic.  Admittedly, on streets with greater traffic flow it takes some getting used to.  There is a natural inclination to want to move to the right, to just get out of the way of the motor vehicles, but this is an urge to which the cyclist should not give in.  Moving right in slippery conditions will increase your chances of wiping out as you move from shallow to deeper snow.  If your rear is well illuminated (the importance of which cannot be overstated), drivers will afford you a wide berth while passing to your left.  Check it out:

video

Taking more of the lane, moving farther to the left in snowy conditions, is permitted by law.  While both Illinois law and Chicago ordinance generally require cyclists to ride to the right, they are only required to ride as far to the right as is safe and practicable.  Cyclists may move as far into the lane as is necessary to avoid unsafe conditions, including snow and ice.  As more drivers pass you your confidence and comfort riding in the motor vehicle lane will increase.  I also find that I generally get more comfortable riding in snow as the winter progresses.  Riding in the first snow of the year always feels a bit scary to me.  But I know from experience that it gets better.

Of course there are assholes out there who will buzz you, pass a bit too closely. . .

video

. . . But, you know, he or she missed me.  It is important not to freak out if this happens and swerve right. Doing so increases your chances of slipping and crashing.  Even if the driver of the SUV in the video had sideswiped me or nailed me with their mirror I likely would have been thrown to the right where there was plenty of landing space.  That of course would have been less than ideal, but still better than slipping and landing in the main traffic lane and in front of a motor vehicle.

It should be said that had I paid attention to the weather forecast I might have avoided riding last night.  But when caught by the weather it is important to remember safe techniques and practices for an uneventful ride.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chicago Bicyclist, Father Of Two, Killed On January 1 By Hit-And-RunDriver

Aimer Robledo
Courtesy of CBS Local
The new year has started tragically for the family of Aimer Robledo, 30, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as he rode his bicycle in West Humboldt Park early this morning, according to The Chicago Tribune.  He leaves behind two daughters aged 8 and 9.

The crash occurred in the 4700 block of West Division Street, according to The Trib, about a mile and half from Mr. Robledo's home.  The driver was operating a dark colored minivan and struck him at around 3:00 a.m., according to CBS Local.

There are private security cameras located on the block where Mr. Robledo was struck.  Investigators should be able to acquire footage of the crash or the van fleeing the scene if the camera owners are contacted right away.

Eight Chicago cyclists were killed while riding on city streets in all of 2014.

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