Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bicyclists Are Rarely At Fault for Traffic Accidents

Bicyclists are rarely at fault for causing cycling accidents, according to a recent study commissioned by the British government. In Britain, as here in Chicago, there is a misconception that bicyclists engaging in "rogue" behavior, like blowing through stop signs, are usually at fault for causing their own injuries. However, the study revealed that drivers' failure to look out for bicyclists is the primary cause of serious accidents. The Guardian originally reported this story. I was made aware of it via Urban Velo's website.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Video Shows Buses and Bicycles How To Share The Road

Below is an excellent video created via a partnership between the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the Chicago Department of Transportation about buses and bicyclists sharing the road. The video was made for bus operators and bicyclists to highlight safety issues and offer practical guidance on how to avoid accidents. Along with the recently created bicycling video created by the Chicago Police Department, the CTA video should be required viewing for all city motorists and bicyclists. It is also important viewing for attorneys representing bicyclists in as much as it evidences what the CTA considers the standard of care to be for its bus operators when dealing with cyclists on the roadway.

Share the Road - Buses and Bicycles from Chicago Bicycle Program on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Cool and Logical Analysis Of The Motorist Menace

Bicycles are not dangerous. A gentle push of a pedal and a bit of coordination is all that is required to glide serenely forward. Learning to ride one of these simple devices is among the first advanced physical endeavors we humans attempt. Bicycling becomes more complicated, challenging, after we leave the safety of our parents' driveways and the untrafficked peace of the sidewalk. When the bicyclist ventures onto the road -- as he or she must -- cycling becomes a little scary. Our streets were made for motorized traffic, not self propelled traffic. The laws that govern how our streets and roadways are to be shared were written with motor vehicular traffic in mind, not bikes. The attitude of the driver has formed within the context that history. This is mine, thinks the driver. Pedestrians, scurry across if you must, but do so infrequently and within a narrowly defined space. Get out of my way! Nonautos are trespassers, sometimes tolerated and often not. This, I submit, is the majority viewpoint in America. Bicycling within this context becomes a risky endeavor to be sure. Just last month I read a story about a bicyclist who was left in "serious-to-critical" condition after being struck by a CTA bus while riding in the city. The story prompted one reader to post the following comment:

And now the latest score: Bus 1, Bike 0. No surprise. Until the new bulletproof Krypyonite (sic.) bikes are marketed bike users need to be more careful. Might usually makes right and busses (sic.) are pretty mighty.

Stupid, but an attitude that is neither unique nor new. I recently came across an old essay authored by conservative satirist, P.J. O'Rourke. Written in 1987, it predicts the end of -- and wishes good riddance to -- the bicycle on America's streets. The piece, A Cool and Logical Analysis of the Bicycle Menace, is worth reading. In my opinion, its over-the-top tone makes it entertaining:

A Cool and Logical Analysis

of the Bicycle Menace

And an Examination of the Actions Necessary to License, Regulate,
or Abolish Entirely This Dreadful Peril on our Roads

by P.J. O'Rourke

Our nation is afflicted with a plague of bicycles. Everywhere the public right-of-way is glutted with whirring, unbalanced contraptions of rubber, wire, and cheap steel pipe. Riders of these flimsy appliances pay no heed to stop signs or red lights. They dart from between parked cars, dash along double yellow lines, and whiz through crosswalks right over the toes of law-abiding citizens like me.

In the cities, every lamppost, tree, and street sign is disfigured by a bicycle slathered in chains and locks. And elevators must be shared with the cycling faddist so attached to his "moron's bath-chair" that he has to take it with him everywhere he goes.

In the country, one cannot drive around a curve or over the crest of a hill without encountering a gaggle of huffing bicyclers spread across the road in suicidal phalanx.

Even the wilderness is not safe from infestation, as there is now such a thing as an off-road bicycle and a horrible sport called "bicycle-cross."

The ungainly geometry and primitive mechanicals of the bicycle are an offense to the eye. The grimy and perspiring riders of the bicycle are an offense to the nose. And the very existence of the bicycle is an offense to reason and wisdom.


1. Bicycles are childish
Bicycles have their proper place, and that place is under small boys delivering evening papers. Insofar as children are too short to see over the dashboards of cars and too small to keep motorcycles upright at intersections, bicycles are suitable vehicles for them. But what are we to make of an adult in a suit and tie pedaling his way to work? Are we to assume he still delivers newspapers for a living? If not, do we want a doctor, lawyer, or business executive who plays with toys? St. Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, 13:11, said, "When I became a man, I put away childish things." He did not say, "When I became a man, I put away childish things and got more elaborate and expensive childish things from France and Japan."

Considering the image projected, bicycling commuters might as well propel themselves to the office with one knee in a red Radio Flyer wagon.

2. Bicycles are undignified
A certain childishness is, no doubt, excusable. But going about in public with one's head between one's knees and one's rump protruding in the air is nobody's idea of acceptable behavior.

It is impossible for an adult to sit on a bicycle without looking the fool. There is a type of woman, in particular, who should never assume the bicycling posture. This is the woman of ample proportions. Standing on her own feet she is a figure to admire-classical in her beauty and a symbol, throughout history, of sensuality, maternal virtue, and plenty. Mounted on a bicycle, she is a laughingstock.

In a world where loss of human dignity is such a grave and all-pervading issue, what can we say about people who voluntarily relinquish all of theirs and go around looking at best like Quixote on Rosinante and more often like something in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade? Can such people be trusted? Is a person with so little self-respect likely to have any respect for you?

3. Bicycles are unsafe
Bicycles are top-heavy, have poor brakes, and provide no protection to their riders. Bicycles are also made up of many hard and sharp components which, in collision, can do grave damage to people and the paint finish on automobiles. Bicycles are dangerous things.

Of course, there's nothing wrong, per se, with dangerous things. Speedboats, racecars, fine shotguns, whiskey, and love are all very dangerous. Bicycles, however, are dangerous without being any fun. You can't shoot pheasants with a bicycle or water-ski behind it or go 150 miles an hour or even mix it with soda and ice. And the idea of getting romantic on top of a bicycle is alarming. All you can do with one of these ten-speed sink traps is grow tired and sore and fall off it.

Being dangerous without being fun puts bicycles in a category with open-heart surgery, the war in Vietnam, the South Bronx, and divorce. Sensible people do all that they can to avoid such things as these.

4. Bicycles are un-American
We are a nation that worships speed and power. And for good reason. Without power we would still be part of England and everybody would be out of work. And if it weren't for speed, it would take us all months to fly to L.A., get involved in the movie business, and become rich and famous.

Bicycles are too slow and impuissant for a country like ours. They belong in Czechoslovakia...

5. I don't like the kind of people who ride bicycles
At least I think I don't. I don't actually know anyone who rides a bicycle. But the people I see on bicycles look like organic-gardening zealots who advocate federal regulation of bedtime and want American foreign policy to be dictated by UNICEF. These people should be confined.

I apologize if I have the wrong impression. It may be that bicycle riders are all members of the New York Stock Exchange, Methodist bishops, retired Marine Corps drill instructors, and other solid citizens. However, the fact that they cycle around in broad daylight making themselves look like idiots indicates that they're crazy anyway and should be confined just the same.

6. Bicycles are unfair
Bicycles use the same roads as cars and trucks yet they pay no gasoline tax, carry no license plates, are not required to have insurance, and are not subject to DOT, CAFE, or NHTSA regulations. Furthermore, bicyclists do not have to take driver's examinations, have eye tests when they're over sixty-five, carry registration papers with them, or submit to breathalyzer tests under the threat of law. And they never get caught in radar traps.

The fact (see No. 5, above) that bicycles are ridden by the very people who most favor government interference in life makes the bicycle's special status not only unfair but an outright incitement to riot.

Equality before the law is the cornerstone of democracy. Bicycles should be made to carry twenty-gallon tanks of gasoline. They should be equipped with twelve-volt batteries and a full complement of taillights, headlamps, and turn signals. They should have seat belts, air bags, and safety-glass windows too. And every bicycle rider should be inspected once a year for hazardous defects and be made to wear a number plate hanging around his neck and another on the seat of his pants.

7. Bicycles are good exercise
And so is swinging through trees on your tail. Mankind has invested more than four million years of evolution in the attempt to avoid physical exertion. Now a group of backward-thinking atavists mounted on foot-powered pairs of Hula-Hoops would have us pumping our legs, gritting our teeth, and searing our lungs as though we were being chased across the Pleistocene savanna by saber-toothed tigers. Think of the hopes, the dreams, the effort, the brilliance, the pure force of will that, over the eons, has gone into the creation of the Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Bicycle riders would have us throw all this on the ash heap of history.

What must be done about about the bicycle threat?
Fortunately, nothing. Frustrated truck drivers and irate cabbies make a point of running bicycles off the road. Terrified old ladies jam umbrella ferrules into wheel spokes as bicycles rush by them on sidewalks. And all of us have occasion to back over bicycles that are haplessly parked.

Bicycles are quiet and slight, difficult for normal motorized humans to see and hear. People pull out in front of bicycles, open car doors in their path, and drive through intersections filled with the things. The insubstantial bicycle and its unshielded rider are defenseless against these actions. It's a simple matter of natural selection. The bicycle will be extinct within the decade. And what a relief that will be.

© P.J. O'Rourke
from 'Republican Party Reptile', The Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1987

I wonder if P.J. O'Rourke's childish complaints about bikes and those "organic-gardening zealots" who ride them were actually made to ridicule those who, in all seriousness, protest with red-faced hysteria about the "bicycle menace." Perhaps he was creating a satirical strawman. I don't know. Regardless of whether P.J. O'Rourke meant what he wrote or not, I have enough experience as a bicyclist and a lawyer representing bicyclists to know that a great many motorists do believe strongly in the viewpoints set forth in the essay.

How are these unreasonable folks to be dealt with?

RIDE -- O'Rourke's cheeky predication did not come true, of course. Far from disappearing from American roadways, bicyclists' numbers are increasing. Our new Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, seems committed to policies meant to increase our numbers even more. The future looks bright for bicyclists. Continue to ride. Recruit others to ride. The more people ride, the louder our collective voice will become and the more likely it is that those who are in a position to initiate change -- and fund and build "complete streets" -- will take notice and respond.

ADVOCATE -- Truth is, riding alone will not affect change. A safer and smarter traffic infrastructure will come about with organization. Motorists who think bicyclists do not belong on our streets will not learn better without it either. Join some of the many excellent, committed groups out there actively fighting on behalf of bicyclists. Many of these groups are staffed by smart, committed people who have the ear of legislators. They give bicyclists access to the mechanisms of change. A list of many such groups are listed down the right side of this blog. Locally, I recommend the Active Transportation Alliance. It is a fantastic group of Chicago bicyclists for Chicago bicyclists.

FIGHT -- Motorists should be placed on notice that negligent conduct comes with consequences. If you open your door without looking, make a right turn without paying attention, fail to give cyclists three feet of space, or otherwise drive like a knucklehead and hurt a bicyclist you will be sued. You will pay for your mistake.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Bicycle Tire Inflator Recalled

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced the recall of a bicycle tire inflator, the Zefal EZ+ CO2 Inflator. "The pressurized cartridge containing carbon dioxide (CO2) can forcefully separate from the pump head, posing a risk of injury to the consumer," said the Commission. So, if you have one of these suckers, stop using it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Logan Square Bicyclist May Have Been A Victim Of Road Rage

Chicago Police believe that the 32 year old bicyclist who was struck and killed by a van in Logan Square yesterday was the victim of a road rage incident between two motorists. The bicyclist, Jepson Livingston, on his way to fill out job applications. Read more from the Chicago Breaking News Center here.

Bicyclist Struck And Killed By Van In Logan Square

The Chicago Breaking News Center is reporting that a man on a bicycle was struck and killed by a van near the 3800 block of West Diversey Avenue in the city's Logan Square neighborhood yesterday. The bicyclist was 32.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stylish Video Offers Reminder About The Danger Of Car Doors

Chicago bicyclists are a hardy bunch. Even in the freezing cold of winter there are plenty of bicyclists on the road. Please remember to always check your rear view mirror before exited your vehicle when you park on the street. Opening a vehicle door into a cyclist's path is extremely dangerous and can cause serious injury and even death. In the past I've written about steps bicyclists can take to avoid getting doored. Recently, I found the stylish and amusing video below on the Urban Velo website which I hope will serve as a reminder about the serious danger carelessly opened car doors present to bicyclists.

Monday, December 14, 2009

When Liability Can And Cannot Arise From A Child Learning To Ride

Parents of young children just learning to ride a bicycle worry about injuries. A small child on a bicycle or tricycle can be especially difficult for a motorist to notice. Also, young kids tend to be fearless to a fault. On the other hand, parents tend not to focus so much the harm a young child on a bicycle could cause to others, and the liability that may arise from a child's early efforts at staying upright on a bike. This wasn't a topic on my mind until I came across a 2001 case from the Illinois Appellate Court's second district, Appelhans v. McFall, 325 Ill.App.3d 232 (2nd Dist. 2001). In that case, a 66 year old woman was walking along the edge of a roadway when a five year old boy rode up on his bicycle and struck her from behind, causing her to fall and fracture her hip. In her subsequent lawsuit, the woman alleged that (1) the boy was negligent in the manner in which he rode his bicycle; (2) his parents failed to instruct him on how to properly ride his bike; and (3) his parents failed to "supervise him while he rode his bicycle on a public roadway because they knew or should have know that his youth would prevent him from considering the safety of pedestrians." Appelhans, 325 Ill.App.3d at 234.

The trial court dismissed all three of the woman's allegations and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed that decision. With regard to the allegation that the boy himself was negligent, the court reaffirmed the well-established "tender years doctrine." The court stated, "The rationale for the tender years doctrine is the belief that a child under the age of seven is incapable of recognizing and appreciating risk and is therefore deemed incapable of negligence as a matter of law. The child's immaturity limits his liability regardless of whether, as a litigant, he is the plaintiff or the defendant." Id. at 236. The court noted that had the child been between the ages of seven and 14 a jury would have been asked to consider the child's conduct considering his "age, capacity, intelligence, and experience." Id. at 238. Between seven and 14, the presumption that a minor is incapable of negligence is rebuttable. Once a person is over the age of 14, in Illinois he or she will be held to the same standard as an adult. However, under the facts it was asked to consider, the Appelhans court held that the five year old defendant could not be found guilty of negligence.

With regard to the allegations against the boy's parents for negligent supervision, the court noted that the parents had no reason to believe that their son might cause someone harm. The court stated:

In Illinois, the parent-child relationship does not automatically render parents liable for the torts of their minor children. Parents may be liable, however, if they do not adequately control or supervise their child. To prove a claim of negligent supervision, a plaintiff must show that (1) the parents were aware of specific instances of prior conduct sufficient to put them on notice that the act complained of was likely to occur and (2) the parents had the opportunity to control the child.

Id. at 238-40.

In Appelhans, the plaintiff did not allege that the parents were aware of their son striking anyone with his bike on a previous occasion. Therefore, they could not be held liable for the woman's injury. The court stated that, "We conclude that holding parents strictly liable for failing to prevent their child's negligence is unreasonable and unsupported by the law." Id. at 240.

Notwithstanding the facts alleged in Appelhans, I am inclined to believe that five-year-olds rarely cause harm to others while learning to ride their bikes. Certainly, they pose a much greater risk to themselves then to others. Unless they know that their child is prone to exceptionally devilish conduct, parents need not be too concerned about liability arising out of their young children learning to pedal around the neighborhood.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cheap Bicycle Helmets May Offer Adequate Impact Protection, But. . .

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute recently conducted a study designed to determine whether cheap bicycle helmets, of the kind you might find in a department store, offer less protection than more expensive models. The study found no difference with regard to impact protection. But let's be a little careful here. Fit is important, and the study did not take that factor into account. Bicycle helmets have changed enormously over the years. A few months ago I replaced a helmet I've had since the mid-'90s with a new model. The latest helmets stay in the proper position on the rider's head much better. That means that it is likely to be where it is supposed to be when you bash your coconut against something hard like a windshield. Sometimes you have to pay more for a helmet that fits better. Also, let's not kid ourselves; many of us are vain. I am. If you (or your child) are more likely to wear a helmet because it looks like the latest and greatest, well then there are worse things on which you could spend your money.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Learn About Planning Safe Streets For Bicyclists

“The right of way doesn’t just belong to cars,” he said. “It belongs to pedestrians and bicyclists as well.”

- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

To help facilitate creation of transportation infrastructure that will accommodate all users -- pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles -- the League of Illinois Bicyclists will conduct bike planning seminars throughout the winter. According to the League, "Everyday decisions by planners, engineers, and others affect how safe and convenient it is to bike for recreation or transportation. The seminar, a condensed version of LIB’s Summer 2009 four-week University of Illinois-Chicago urban planning course, will familiarize attendees with car/bike interactions, relevant national standards, best practices, planning tools, related “political” issues and policy techniques, tips on available funding sources, and implementation strategies."

The seminars will take place throughout the state, and in St. Louis, at various times. Click here for dates, times and locations.
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Trouble In Philly

The City of Brotherly Love has been not so much lately. Ever since two fatal accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists in Philadelphia, tempers have gone through the roof. This week the Chicago Couriers Union blog posted a thoughtful synopsis of goings-on there. Also, yesterday's New York Times' Spokes blog outlined some of the proposed legislative backlash these unusual incidents have triggered.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

League Releases List of "Complete Streets"

The League of Illinois Bicyclists has released its 2009 "Complete Streets" list for the Chicago area. Since 2007 the League has annually released its list of recent roadway projects yielding streets designed to accommodate bicycle, pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic. The League is firm in its belief that a street is "complete" when it is "designed to enable safe access for all users." Of the 46 Chicago area road designs analyzed only six received A ratings. These included roadways in Skokie, Schaumburg, Worth, Algonquin, Hoffman Estates and LaGrange.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Learn To Ride In Traffic Without The Traffic

What if it were possible to teach children how to ride their bicycles in heavy traffic without them having to. . . well, ride in traffic? Honda has come up with a way. It may be worthwhile for school districts and local government to consider investing in this simulator.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

CTA Bus Strikes and Critically Injures Chicago Bicyclist

A Chicago bicyclist was struck by a CTA bus yesterday during evening rush hour. The website,, reported that, "The man was struck by a westbound No. 76 Diversey bus at the intersection of Lincoln and Diversey avenues." The website stated that though Chicago Fire Department officials said the bicyclist was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in "serious-to-critical condition," a CTA spokesperson described his injuries as "minor." Sun-Times Media also reported the story online.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Join The Discussion On Bicycle Parking In Chicago

Over the past few years the issue of bicycle parking has become a friction point between Chicago bicyclists and the City. Simply put; there isn't enough. There seems to be a two-fold cause of this problem: First, the number of bicycle commuters has risen significantly of late. This means more folks who need to lock their bikes for prolonged periods. Secondly, the City has been replacing old school parking meters with electronic pay-and-display boxes. While some of the old meters have been left as a courtesy to bicyclists, many have disappeared and have not been replaced with bike racks. What we now have is a situation of increased demand being met by a decreased supply of fixtures to which a bike can be locked. Problem.

Over at The Chainlink John Greenfield, a former Active Transportation Alliance employee and bike parking manager for Chicago Department of Transportation’s Bike Program, has posted a helpful update on how the City is addressing this issue:

The City [has adopted] a policy of leaving 1/6 of the parking meters in place on blocks without bike racks in business districts. In some cases where there is high bike parking demand, meters are retained even if there are existing racks. The City removes the coin mechanisms of the retained meters and labels them so that bicyclists know that they have been left for their convenience.

In addition, CDOT is currently installing additional bike racks on some blocks where meters were removed to help mitigate the loss of bike parking in areas with high bike traffic, e.g. Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park.

In the future, CDOT may retrofit the retained meters. The meters may have their heads removed and have rings bolted on to the poles to create “post-and-ring” bike racks. This would make it easier to park two bikes on a meter.

Mr. Greenfield notes that an article on this subject will appear in a bicycle magazine and he would like to include quotes from local bicyclists. To add your comment to his discussion thread click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Way Bike Thieves Use Craigslist

I love tinkering with my bike. I can't keep my hands off the thing. I upgrade and replace components at a rate that keeps my wife in near constant eye roll mode. Therefore, I of course love Craigslist. I have bought and sold parts on the website quite often and have always (knock on wood) had a good experience. However, there are some regular sellers that use the website that seem a bit shady. Why do some of these folks consistently have so many used bike parts? Right, take a guess.

I was reading the One Less Car blog recently when I came across a post about a scam that utilizes Craigslist. Apparently, thieves steal your bike, or a part of your bike, wait for you to go to Craigslist looking for it, then basically try to sell it back to you claiming to be good Samaritans. Read the full post by clicking here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Personal Jurisdiction Over A Foreign Bicycle Component Part Manufacturer

Bicycle components can and do fail, sometimes causing serious injury to the cyclist. Imagine flying down technical single track and having your stem break. Try to wrap your brain around what it would be like to have your steering tube fail while in a packed peloton. How horrifying to attempt to stop your fixed gear bike in city traffic and your chain breaks. When incidents like these occur causing serious injury a product liability lawsuit may be filed against the manufacturer of the failed component. Such lawsuits offer challenges aplenty to even the most experienced personal injury lawyer. One significant challenge is establishing personal jurisdiction over the manufacturer in Illinois.

Many, if not most, bicycle parts are manufactured overseas, often in Taiwan, China and Japan. That not necessarily a bad thing for the consumer. By my observation a lot of high quality parts are made in Asia, notably Taiwan and Japan. However, for the attorney attempting to haul one of these manufacturers into an Illinois courtroom, a defendant with such a far flung home base may present a challenge. One cannot simply decide to sue someone, whether an individual or corporation, in any old place. There must be some connection between the person or entity being sued and the place where the lawsuit is filed. It is the burden of the person filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff, to establish that the court where the suit is filed has personal jurisdiction over the defendant manufacturer. Without personal jurisdiction a court has no power to render a judgment against the putative defendant. A corporation need not have its headquarters in the state in order to be hauled into court here. A foreign corporation may submit to the jurisdiction of Illinois courts by simply doing some business in the state. 735 ILCS 5/2-209. The corporate defendant must have minimum contacts with the state to be sued here. In March, 2009 the Illinois Appellate Court had the opportunity to determine whether an Illinois trial court had personal jurisdiction over a bicycle component part manufacturer located in Taiwan. In Dickie v. Cannondale Corporation, et. al., 388 Ill.App.3d 903 (1st Dist. 2009), the court found that personal jurisdiction had not been established. The plaintiff in that case had been riding his cyclocross bike with "CODA" clipless pedals, a product of Cannondale Corporation, that were manufactured by Wellgo Corporation when he crashed and was thrown forward over the handlebars. He allegedly suffered injuies to this left hip and leg which twisted because his left foot did not disengage from the pedal. He sued Wellgo in Illinois for negligence in the way it designed and manufactured the pedals. Wellgo moved to have the claim against it dismissed on the basis that it had no minimum contacts with Illinois and that the court, therefore, had no jurisdiction over the corporation. In support of its motion to dismiss, Wellgo submitted an affidavit from its sales director which stated that:

Wellgo is in the business of designing and manufacturing bicycle pedals, including the clipless pedals in the case at bar. Wellgo's pedals are manufactured at a Wellgo facility in Taiching, Taiwan. After being manufactured, the pedals are sold and shipped to Cash Crest Co., and Wellgo has no further involvement with the distribution of the product. . . Wellgo is not licensed, authorized or registered to do business in any state of the United States. It further states that Wellgo, in Illinois, has never sold or shipped products, executed a contract, provided services, paid taxes, possessed assets, maintained a telephone or fax number, employed any individuals, attended trade shows or meetings, advertised, or otherwise solicited business in Illinois. 388 Ill.App.3d at 904-5.

In response, the plaintiff argued "that personal jurisdiction existed over Wellgo under a 'stream of commerce theory'." 388 Ill.App.3d at 905. He asserted that though Wellgo's entire operation was located outside of the United States, it was well "aware that Cannondale was an American company that distributed its products throughout the United States," including Illinois. In other words, Wellgo must have known its products would be marketed and sold in Illinois, thereby establishing minimum contact with the state. The appellate court was unpersuaded by this argument. It noted that "no evidence shows that Wellgo was otherwise aware of specifically where and how Cannondale's products were marketed or sold. Wellgo sold the pedals to Cash Crest Co., a Taiwanese trading company, and from there had no control over or knowledge regarding the distribution of the pedals." Id. at 908. The court also noted that "Wellgo never shipped the subject pedals directly to a distributor in the United States. . . Wellgo has no presence in Illinois." Id. Wellgo's dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction was, therefore, upheld.

What Illinois lawyers representing injured bicyclists may take away from Dickie is that in order to establish personal jurisdiction over a component part manufacturer, the corporation must have some contact with the state greater than simply releasing its product into the general marketplace. When no such minimum contact exists, however, there is another option. In Illinois, a component part supplier can be held liable for distribution of a dangerous product into the stream of commerce under negligence and strict product liability theories. (A seller may not be held liable under a strict product theory, however.) Lewis v. Lead Industries Ass'n, 342 Ill.App.3d 95 (1st Dist. 2003). It is not clear from reading the Dickie decision whether Cash Crest Co. was added as a defendant to the lawsuit. But it apparently had direct contact with Cannondale thereby perhaps establishing contact with Illinois, where Cannondale certainly does a great deal of business. In any event, an inability to bring a remotely located component part manufacturer into the case does not mean that all is lost.

Easton Bicycle Stem Recall

Yesterday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of Easton's EA30 threadless stems. The company has received at least one report of the stem cracking and failing causing a rider to lose control of his bike, according to the Commission. The stems are described as "black with white-and-gray graphics and feature a four-bolt stem face cap. 'EA30' is printed on the stem." If your bicycle has this stem contact Easton Sports for a free replacement.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Two Blogs From Chicago Bicycle Messengers

It has become a bit of a cliche to pay homage to bicycle messengers. However, their influence on bicycling and even popular culture cannot be overstated. They have impacted film, fashion and cycling itself. They are the folks who ride every day in city streets all over the world fighting traffic, bad roads and weather to deliver the stuff business needs to survive. Some do it simply to earn an living. Some do it to experience of joy of riding daily. Many do it for both. To some the way they ride may seem reckless. But those with experience are usually damn good cyclists who ride the way they do based upon a fine tuned understanding of what traffic and pedestrians will do under given circumstances. Mistakes happen. However, by my observation these guys and gals usually know quite well how to get around quickly, efficiently and safely. I recently came across two interesting and informative blogs by Chicago based bicycle messengers, Dispatch 101 and Chicago Couriers Union. The former offers insight into daily messenger life, the good, the bad and the ugly. The later provides much helpful information and resources to messengers and would be messengers (including a bike law primer and the location of public bathrooms in the Loop).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Urban Cycling's Today Is So Yesterday

Speedy, aggressive cyclists zipping along city streets on fixed gear bicycles without brakes causing consternation among pedestrians and other roadway traffic is a scene that is sooo today. Well, yes. But it is also soooo 1895. A very interesting piece appeared in yesterday's New York Times about the beginnings of the long standing conflicts that exist between urban bicyclists and virtually everyone else trying to make their way around the big city. Check it out.
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Headphones Are Legal But Not Smart

Yesterday, the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago based bicycle advocacy group, started an informal online discussion regarding the legality of riding a bicycle while wearing music headphones. While I do not wear headphones while cycling, I realized I was not quite sure myself what the law actually was. I knew it was illegal to wear them while operating a motor vehicle (625 ILCS 5/12-610). I recalled that it was illegal to bike with headphones somewhere. But, what about here? As it turns out, neither the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code nor Chicago Ordinance prohibit wearing headphones while bicycling. (I do not know of any other local municipalities in the state that prohibit them either, though I have not searched every local ordinance.)

One might argue that if drivers are prohibited from wearing headphones, bicyclists are too. Afterall the Vehicle Code states that, "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall. . . be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle." (625 ILCS 5/1502) True enough. However, the state statute dealing with headphones (the law refers to them as "headset receivers") is quite specific. It states that, "No driver of a motor vehicle on the highways of this State shall wear headset receivers while driving." Under the law, a bicycle is not a motor vehicle. Therefore, the prohibition of headphone use does not apply to bicyclists.

So you may legally listen to your iPod while riding your bike in Chicago. The law says nothing about wearing a blindfold while cycling in the city either. Right; not a good idea. There are so many things the urban bicyclist must be attuned to while riding in the city: Trucks, cars, buses, potholes, pedestrians, lights, signs, little dogs, the weather, etc. I think it is crazy to diminish one of your senses while navigating a bicycle through this gauntlet of hazards and distractions. By plugging your ears and pouring music into your fully occupied brain while biking you are just asking to get into an accident. Just leave the iPod at home. Or, better yet, if you really must have music, sing while you ride. Maybe then the pedestrians with their little dogs will hear you coming.
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L.A. Physician Convicted In Road Rage Incident

A former emergency room physician now faces up to 10 years in prison after being found guilty for causing serious injury to two cyclists in Los Angeles in a road rage incident. The motorist was accused of speeding in front of the two then intentionally braking, causing the bicyclists to slam into the back of his car. He had apparently become enraged at the cyclists for "cutting him off." Read the full story here.

Hopefully, had this incident occurred in Chicago the state's attorney's office would have been just as aggressive as their L.A. counterpart in prosecuting this matter. It is important that a strong message be sent to motorists: Share the road, or face the consequences.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Take The Lane, Please

On Tuesday I wrote about how Illinois law permits bicyclists to "take the lane" when it is reasonable and necessary for them to do so. Today I came across a story in USA Today about how the city of Long Beach, California is encouraging cyclists to take the lane and ride with and even in front of motorized traffic. Check it out.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ride To The Right, Except When You Can't

Illinois bicyclists must ride along the right side of the roadway, except when they can't. Let me explain: If you are able to travel at the same speed as motorized traffic, then you may travel in the same lane. However, if you cannot the law requires that you ride "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." 625 ILCS 5/11-1505. But anyone with experience riding in the city knows that doing so is rarely easy. Torn-up pavement, stopped cars, debris, CTA buses, pedestrians and man-eating crocodiles often inhabit the "right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" making cycling scary and dangerous. What is the cyclist permitted to do when faced with such hazards? Section 11-1505 of the Motor Vehicle Code contains an exception. It states that you must ride to the right "except. . . When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions [like] fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, motorized pedal cycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge." (emphasis added) What this means in plain language is that if an object like, say, a tree branch or a bus sits in your path on the right side of the road, you may move to your left, taking the traffic lane, in order to proceed around the object. You must then return to the right side of the road.

Bicyclists may "take the lane" when it is reasonable to do so. City streets do not exist for motorized traffic, but for all traffic. That is the law. That fact noted, I must caution that taking the lane does not mean darting into traffic, not looking before merging left. The Municipal Code of Chicago, and good sense, states, "Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right-hand side of the roadway, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same same direction and at all times giving the right-of-way to other moving vehicles." 9-52-040(c) If there is a motor vehicle coming up on your left that vehicle will have the right of way and the cyclist must yield. However, the motorist owes the cyclist a duty of care as well. Chicago's Municipal Code states, "The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual." 9-36-010(c) When a bicyclist moves to his or her left to go around an object along the right side of the roadway cars and trucks may not crowd or buzz the cyclist, but must give three feet of space at minimum.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Memorial Ride Planned For Fallen Cyclist

A memorial ride for Liza Whitacre is planned for Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. The ride will start at Metropolis Coffee (1039 W Granville Ave), where Liza worked, and will follow her route to the place of her death, Wellington and Damen by Hamlin Park in Roscoe Village. All are welcome.

In Memory Of A Fallen Cyclist

Here is the Chicago Tribune's remembrance of Liza Whitacre:

Woman killed on bicycle loved freedom of riding
Loyola University student Liza Whitacre loved life -- especially one where she could roam freely through Chicago's streets on a bicycle.

But a freak accident ended her life on Wednesday as she and her roommate rode their bikes through the Lakeview neighborhood.

Whitacre, of the 4900 block of North Winthrop Avenue, fell from her bike, landed underneath a truck and was run over by the vehicle outside Hamlin Park on Damen and Wellington Avenues. Police said she was trying to pass between the truck and a CTA bus when she fell off her bike.

Chicago police today said no citations would likely be issued against the driver of the truck. After the accident at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Officer John Mirabelli, a police spokesman said, "The truck driver was apparently unaware that the woman had fallen underneath."

Whitacre was pronounced dead at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

"She rode her bike everywhere. She loved riding her bike," said Tony Dreyfuss, Whitacre's boss at the Metropolis Coffee Company, 1039 W. Granville Ave., where she worked.

Dreyfuss said Whitacre participated in Critical Mass, a monthly biking event that draws up to 3,000 cyclists who ride through Chicago's streets. But Dreyfuss, who has ridden with Whitacre, described her as a careful rider who wouldn't dart into traffic or travel in between moving cars.

Dreyfuss said Whitacre planned on making coffee her career. Whitacre worked as a retail and wholesale trainer at the shop, training other employees how to make specialty coffee drinks and promoting the shop's products to customers, he said.

The coffee shop was closed today because of Whitacre's death and expected to reopen Friday morning, Dreyfuss said.

Whitacre's family members said she was fluent in French, studying the language at Loyola University. She also enjoyed knitting, sewing and cooking.

Whitacre's younger sister, Lauren Whitacre, said she and Liza were inseparable while growing up.

Lauren, 18, said she and her sister always sat next to one another at birthday parties. As children when they'd ride bikes together, Lauren said, Liza would always hide in bushes and pop out from them just to scare her.

"I don't think we ever didn't do anything together," said Lauren, a student at Columbia College, who jokingly described her big sister as "bossy."

Liza Whitacre was born in Phoenix, Ariz., but spent her formative years in the northwest suburb of Palatine, where she attended Fremd High School.

Other survivors include Liza's mother, Cecilia Whitacre, her father, David Whitacre, a younger brother, Max, two grandmothers, a grandfather, two uncles and an aunt.

A wake is scheduled for Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Loyola's Madonna della Strada Chapel, 6525 N. Sheridan Rd. Her funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Willow Creek Community Church, 67 E. Algonquin Rd., South Barrington.

--Jeremy Gorner

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Twenty-three Year Old Killed Riding Her Bicycle On Chicago's North Side

A 23 year old woman was struck by a motor vehicle and killed while riding her bicycle near Damen and Wellington on the North Side of Chicago today, according to The Chicago Breaking News Center. The incident occurred at around 12:30 p.m.

Here is an additional link with a bit more information on this tragic incident.

How To Report Bike Lane Hazards To CDOT

When a bicyclist sustains injury due to a public roadway hazard he or she may seek compensation from the local governmental entity responsible for maintaining the road. There are, however, significant hurdles that must be overcome to do so successfully as I described in an earlier post. One of those hurdles is notice. An attorney representing an injured cyclist will need to prove that the city, town, village or other governmental entity responsible for the road knew or should have known about the hazard. During litigation the lawyer will make a request to the responsible entity seeking disclosure of any and all documents which may have put it on notice of the hazard, such as citizen complaints, and hope that if any exist they will be turned over. If the government responds that no such documents exist then the attorney must prove that the hazard was significant enough and existed for such a period of time that the government should have known about it, and taken steps to correct it. This is called "constructive notice". Having to prove constructive notice can be challenging. How long is so long that the government should be deemed to have been aware? Having documented proof that the government had actual notice of a particular road hazard yet failed to repair it is certainly much better.

Chicago bicyclists should report roadway hazards to the city, especially when the hazard, e.g. a pothole or sinkhole, is present in a bike lane. I recently inquired via email with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) as to how residents may report hazards in the city's bike lanes. There are two ways to do so, by calling Chicago's help line at 311 or online at Here is the email thread:

Two questions:

1) To whom should I report hazards or dangerous conditions, i.e. sink holes, debris, etc., in bike lanes, paths and bike ways in the City of Chicago?

2) How should I make such a report?

Brendan Kevenides


Dear Mr. Kevenides ,

Thank you for your letter. We appreciate your dedication to bicycling and your enthusiasm for improved bicycling facilities in the City of Chicago.

One if the quickest and most effective ways to report pavement damage is to call 311 and input the information yourself directly into the system and onto the maintenance list. You can also do this online at

Establishing and maintaining quality bikeways is consistent with Mayor Daley’s goals of creating safe road conditions for all users and encouraging bicycling in Chicago. Your input encourages our implementation of these goals.


Joshua Koonce

Bikeways Planning Assistant

Chicago Department of Transportation

Chicago Bike Program

30 N. La Salle Street, Suite 500

Chicago, IL 60602

It would seem that the online reporting option creates a clear record of a complaint about a hazard. After submitting a report you will receive a message that states:

Service Request Entry Complete!

Thank you for reporting your city service needs. You will receive a confirmation e-mail with your service request tracking number and a link to the status query page once your service request has been added to the primary service request tracking system. . .

There is a "tracking system"! This is significant because it means that the injured cyclist's attorney can make a request to CDOT for any and all electronic "service requests" within the "primary service request tracking system" to obtain proof the city knew of a particular hazard. Perhaps CDOT creates written documentation of service requests that are made via telephone. But it is clear that there is typewritten documentation of such requests that are made online. Having typed complaints about a particular hazard that the city failed to respond to would be a tremendous help to the injured bicyclist and his or her attorney. When making an online service request please be as specific as possible. For example, if you are reporting a pothole in a bike lane, when the online form asks, "What size and shape is the pothole?" you should respond with something like, "Pothole is in the bike lane in front of ABC store, is quite large and presents a hazard to bicyclists." With this kind of description who could argue credibly that the city was not on notice of the hazard and the danger it posed to cyclists?

One thing was not made clear to me from my inquiry with CDOT: For how long service requests are kept in the "system". Does CDOT keep such requests for 30 days, 6 months, 7 years? One would hope that requests are kept until such time as the hazard is repaired or corrected, but who knows. In any big organization data, information, documents can just disappear by accident or not. In light of that reality I propose that if you submit an online service request to CDOT regarding a bicycling hazard that you send a copy of the confirmation email you will receive following your request to The Chicago Bicycle Advocate at In that way we will have a data source to look to when clients come to us with a case arising out of a roadway hazard. Working together we can make Chicago safer for bicyclists.
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Join The Chicago Bicycle Advocate At

If you are a Facebook user join The Chicago Bicycle Advocate group at

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Bicyclists Tend To Ignore Motor Vehicle Laws

On Friday posted an interesting and informative article about why bicyclists tend not to obey traffic laws meant for motor vehicles, especially when it comes to stop signs. Illinois law requires bicyclists to come to a complete and full stop at all traffic control devices and signs. As I have written before, however, that law is impractical. Bicyclists will not halt at stop signs and red lights. Instead, they will read traffic conditions and act accordingly. As a cyclist approaches a stop sign he or she will slow, look left, right and straight for vehicles then respond as circumstances dictate. That, my friends, is the way it is and the way it will be so long as the majority of our cities lack infrastructure that facilitates bicycle traffic in a serious way.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

What To Do After A Bicycle Accident

You've crashed; now what? Many times, the cyclist who has just been in an accident cannot quite process what has happened. You may find yourself asking, Did that just happen? Am I hurt? What should I do? The first thing you should do is remove yourself from any additional danger. Get out of the road, move your bike to safety, sit down, try to control your breathing and calm down. You may literally be shaking, your breathing maybe rapid and your heart may feel like will thump right out of your chest. That is pretty normal after experiencing even minor trauma. After a short time you should do the following:

Notify - Pull out your mobile phone (you'd be nuts to go biking without one), dial 911 and request both an ambulance and the police. Do this even if you are not sure if you are hurt or think that you have only minor injuries. Right now your adrenalin is pumping and your body maybe masking symptoms of a serious injury. Play it safe. Don't forget to tell the 911 operator where you are to the best of your ability and provide your mobile phone number. If the paramedics have a hard time locating you, the dispatcher may call you back. Do not turn away medical care offered by paramedics and let them take you to the hospital. If your injuries turn out to be minor, you won't be there too long. If the police ask you if you wish to make a report your answer should be an emphatic "yes." If your injuries are severe and you cannot make a report at the scene, go to the police department and make a report as soon as you are able to do so.

Gather - After gathering yourself, and your bike, it's time to gather as much information at the scene as possible. While you have your mobile phone out, click a few photos of whatever it was that caused your crash, e.g. the driver's vehicle and license plate, the road hazard, the broken bicycle component, etc. If there are people around you, ask if anyone saw the accident. If so, get their name and telephone number. If you were struck by a motor vehicle ask the driver for his or her name, address and telephone number. Ask to see a driver's license and insurance card.

Shortly after being involved in bicycle accident you may be contacted by a representative of an insurance company who will ask you to give a recorded statement. Questioning will focus on how the accident happened and the nature and extent of your injuries. This is most likely to occur where you have been hit by a motor vehicle. You may even be contacted, in person or via telephone, while you are still in the hospital. Do not give a statement until you have sought legal advice. Why? Because you need time to recover physically and collect your thoughts before making a statement to which you will be bound later. You may not at that point even fully appreciate the full extend of your injuries or the care and treatment that you will need. There is no good reason not to wait before giving a statement. The driver's insurance company may even make a quick offer to settle your claim and ask that you, in return, sign a document releasing its insured from further liability. Do not do it without seeking legal advice. Again, there is no good reason not to wait until after you can fully appreciate what happened and what the repercussions are or will be. The driver's insurer will want to take it fast to resolve the claim quickly for as little as possible. You take it slow.

Talk to a lawyer - Speak with an attorney even if you believe your injuries are minor. It should be noted that following a cycling accident you may not be best served by seeking legal advice from Uncle Bernie who handles bankruptcy cases. Seek advice from a personal injury lawyer, preferably one with experience handling bicycle accident cases. The initial consultation with an attorney should not cost anything. If the attorney decides to take your case, he or she will -- or should -- only receive a fee when and if the case resolves in your favor. This is called a contingency fee agreement. A lawyer is most likely to agree to represent you when your injuries are severe, with significant medical bills. Again though, call a lawyer even if your injuries seem minor. When I've received such calls I spend time offering guidance on how I think the victim should proceed, then recommend that he or she negotiate with the driver's insurer on their own. There may be no point in an attorney taking a piece of the pie in a claim that can be resolved quickly and easily for a relatively small sum of money.

Compensation - Many people ask me what kind of compensation they are entitled to following a bicycle accident. The money "damages" to which you will be entitled include reimbursement for:
  • Medical bills;
  • Lost wages;
  • Cost to have your bicycle repaired;
  • Pain and suffering (both past and future);
  • Loss of a normal life; and
  • Disfigurement.
If your injuries are permanent and profound, or you are killed, your family, i.e. your spouse and children, are entitled to compensation for:
  • Loss of financial support that you would have provided to them; and
  • Loss of consortium/society; that is their loss of the love, guidance and services you would have provided to them.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, monetary compensation is paid by the at fault person's, or entity's, insurer rather than out-of-pocket.

Litigation - Sometimes it is necessary to file a lawsuit in order to wrest fair compensation from the at fault person's or entity's insurance company. Generally, this occurs where the insurer believes that its insured is not at fault based on the facts, or where there is strong disagreement over the amount of compensation that the injured bicyclist should receive. It can also occur where the at fault person has "substandard insurance," coverage from a crumby insurance company that tends to litigant every case in order to delay payment for as long as possible. Depending upon the type of accident at issue, the attorney will take differing steps in his or her investigation. If the accident involved a motor vehicle, an accident reconstruction expert may be retained. If the crash was caused by a defect or hazard in the roadway, a different sort of expert may be consulted. In a product liability case, involving failure of a bicycle component, an engineer or metallurgist will probably need to be retained. Most bicycle accident cases, however, do not require retention of experts. A thorough and aggressive investigation of the facts by the law firm will suffice. In all cases, the cyclist's medical bills and records will be obtained from care providers. After the lawsuit is drafted, filed and served on the defendant(s), your attorney and the defendant's attorney will trade written questionnaires called interrogatories, request production of relevant documents, photos and other materials, and interview all those involved in the matter, including parties, witnesses, physicians and experts, in a deposition. After that, the matter will proceed to trial if a settlement agreement cannot be reached. The vast majority of cases filed settle without going to trial, but trials certainly do occur. It is important to make sure you hire an experienced trial lawyer just in case.

Criminal prosecution - In bicycle accidents involving a motor vehicle, the driver will often receive a traffic citation and will need to appear in court to defend himself or herself. What happens in the traffic or criminal case will have little if any bearing on what occurs in a civil lawsuit. In fact, I have successfully resolved bicycle accident personal injury cases in which the at fault driver was found not guilty of violating the motor vehicle code.

Every case is different and will be resolved on its specific facts. If you have any questions that have not been sufficiently answered in this post feel free to contact me directly or post a comment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Increased Severity of Bicycling Injuries In The U.S.

An increase in bicycle commuters combined with a largely woeful biking infrastructure may be the cause of more severe bicycling injuries in the United States, according to findings presenting a the annual meeting of the American College of Surgeons in Chicago yesterday. Certainly the increased enthusiasm about bicycling in the U.S. is a positive for the general health of Americans and for the environment. The data is now in, though, which suggests that our infrastructure simply must become more bicycle friendly if the current rate of bicycle use is to be sustained.

A report about the findings can be found at with quotes from the lead study researcher.
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Safety Commission Orders Recall of Electra Bicycles and Schwalbe Tires

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today announced recalls of Schwalbe brand bicycle tires and Electra bicycles. The Commission recommended that consumers immediately stop using Schwalbe Ultremo R Bicycle Tires because tire layers could separate causing the inner tube to rupture. The tires were sold at bike stores and online between April and May 2009 for about $75. The Commission also recommended that consumers stop riding 2009 Electra bicycles with front trays or baskets. The company that makes these bikes has received fifteen reports of the front tray or basket coming loose and contacting the front tire during use, creating a fall hazard.
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Website That Could Help You Ride Safer

With information we can avoid danger and affect positive change. As bicyclists who ride through the crowded city we rely on our skill and experience to get us from point to point safely. We also hope. We hope that drivers give us the three feet of space the law requires. We hope that drunk drivers stay far from us. We hope that a sink hole has not cropped up in the bike lane since we were last there. We hope that lady in the SUV on her cell phone with three kids trying her nerves from the backseat sees us. Hope is a good thing. But when my health and safety are on the line give me information over hope any day. provides cyclists with the means to report and receive information about danger spots so they can ride smarter and safer. I was made aware of this helpful site by a post last week at provides cyclists with information regarding:
  • Where have cyclists experienced close calls?
  • Where have cyclists been hit and injured?
  • Where have cyclists been killed?
  • Where have dogs chased cyclists?
  • Where are the pot holes located?
  • Where have cyclists been harassed by motorists?
At the moment the site has only two incidents listed in Chicago. For our city, the site is not yet a useful resource. But if enough bicyclists post incidents on the site it certainly can be. With accidents and incidents posted on the site perhaps trends will become clear and danger areas can be corrected or simply avoided. It is up to bicyclists to make this a useful tool. Let's get to work.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

In One City, A Proposal To Require Bicycle Licensing

In the online addition of Bicycling Magazine, Bob Mionske writes about an ongoing effort in Toronto to require bicyclists to be licensed and helmeted to use the roadway. Nobody tell the Daley Administration, which has never seen a new revenue source it didn't like. On a serious note, I could be persuaded that licensing bicyclists is a good idea if I could be assured that license fees would be used to fund a Copenhagen style biking infrastructure. That seems unlikely, though. Revenue raised by requiring bicycle licenses probably would not pay for much beyond that needed to set up and run the licensing program itself.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cyclist Injured Near Montrose and California

A bicyclist was injured on October 5th when he was struck by a car near Horner Park, just east of North California Avenue and West Montrose Avenue in Chicago. We have been retained to represent him in his claim against the negligent driver. Our client was riding his Trek road bike eastbound on West Montrose at the time of the collision. As he approached a driveway leading into Horner Park, riding along the right side of the street, he saw a silver car stopped in the westbound lane of Montrose angled as if waiting to turn into the driveway. Because the driver was stopped he fairly assumed that she saw him and was waiting for him to pass before making her turn. However, just as he reached the driveway the car darted into his lane and struck his bicycle, sending him flying forward onto the hood of her car. He was immediately groggy, having smacked his head. He also had pain shooting through his wrists which accepted much of the impact. Bizzarly, the driver exited her car and accused our client of being some how at fault for damaging the hood of her car. She then left the scene before police arrived without providing her name, address and insurance information. Luckily, there was a witness to the accident and the driver was later found.

Our client was treated after the incident at Swedish Covenant Hospital where he was diagnosed with two badly sprained wrists. The injury, for which he is forced to wear immobilizing splints, has understandably kept him from his job as an airport baggage handler. Our firm is taking this matter seriously and will aggressively pursue the at fault driver and make sure she is held accountable.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Pile Of Dirt, A Bicycle and A Duty of Care

For a kid there are few things more fun and exciting than a bicycle and a pile of dirt. It's messy, it's exciting and it's simple. The problem, however, is that it often presents a young child with some serious danger. Speaking from the experience of my much younger self, a pile of dirt offers a kid the chance to fly, the mound providing a ready-built ramp for aerial tricks and stunts. Unfortunately, the fun sometimes ends with broken bones, serious cuts and gashes, sprains and even head injuries. I remember an incident from my own childhood in which a friend and I created a ramp from a pile of dirt at the bottom of a steep street. I went barreling down the road, onto and over the dirt pile. I remember being terror-struck as I flew through the air and eyed a bunch of cinder blocks haphazardly strewn in my poorly anticipated landing zone. The impact against the hard blocks broke my leg.

What duty does the private landowner owe to children engaged in this sort of bicycling on his or her property? The answer boils down to foreseeability. In Grant v. South Roxana Dad's Club, 381 Ill.App.3d 665, 886 N.E. 543 (5th Dist. 2008) an 8 year old boy was seriously injured while using a pile of dirt as a bike ramp in the parking lot of a privately owned playground that was open to the public. In response to the lawsuit filed by the boy's parents, the defendant landowner asserted that the case should be dismissed because the pile of dirt was an open and obvious danger that even an 8 year old could appreciate. If the child chose to risk launching himself through the air via the dirt mound, the landowner felt it should not be held responsible where injury resulted. The problem for the landowner, however, was that it knew ahead of the boy's accident that children were legally on its property, engaged in dirt jumping and that they were likely to get hurt while doing so. The appellate court noted that while the dirt was perhaps open and obvious, an 8 year old boy may not fully appreciate the danger of using it as a bicycle ramp. In any event, the Court stated that the ability of the boy to have recognized the danger was not the only issue in determining whether the landowner had a duty to correct or warn against the hazard. The Court stated, "In order to find that a landholder owes a duty to a child injured on its premises, a court must also find that (1) a dangerous condition exists on the property, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that children would be present on the premises, and (3) the risk of harm to children outweighs the burden of removing the danger." Grant, 381 Ill.App.3d at 670. The Court found it damning to the landowner that the park's commissioner testified that he had seen children jumping their bikes on the dirt, had shooed them away because he recognized they could get hurt and observed them return to the mound with their bicycles despite his admonition. In light of that knowledge, the Court held that the danger to the boy was foreseeable and that the landowner, therefore, owed him a duty to remove the hazard, especially given the nominal cost involved in dismantling the pile by just spreading the dirt around.

In Grant, the boy was legally permitted to be on the property at the time he was injured. But what if he had been a trespasser? Again, knowledge is key. Given the facts presented in that case, the landowner still could have been held liable. The general rule in Illinois is that a landowner owes no duty of care to trespassers except to avoid purposefully injuring them. However, our courts have carved out a "frequent trespass exception" to this rule. "Under this exception, a landowner is liable for injuries to a trespasser proximately caused by its failure to exercise reasonable care in the course of its activities, where the landowner knows, or should know from the facts within his knowledge, that trespassers are in the habit of entering his land at a particular point or of traversing an area of small size." McKinnon v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation, 263 Ill.App.3d 774, 777, 635 N.E.2d 744 (1st Dist. 1994). A failure to object to trespassers coming on the land may be viewed as "tacit permission" for them to do so. The landowner may be liable to such "tolerated intruders" for injury "where the harm to be anticipated from a risk for which the defendant is responsible outweighs the inconvenience of guarding against it." Id. at 778. The facts presented in Grant were that the landowner knew the boys continuously came onto its property specifically to jump their bikes on the pile of dirt. The park commissioner had seen them do so on more than one occasion. The commissioner had asked the boys to leave on one occasion, but on others he failed to do so. He testified that he saw the boys return to the pile with their bikes even after he asked them to leave. After the boy suffered his injury the dirt pile was spread out with little cost or effort. Pursuant to the "frequent trespass" exception, the landowner in Grant could have been held liable under these facts even if the injured boy had been a trespasser. The owner know the boys continuously entered a specific portion of its property to play on the dirt mound. Also, the cost of preventing the harm, i.e. by flattening the pile, was slight.

Children on their bicycles tend to be endlessly creative, and that's a good thing. Kids will always gravitate toward danger. As parents, we of course hope they will survive their natural inclinations for fun and adventure seeking. Landowners must recognize that they simply cannot turn a blind eye to children playing on their property. There is no need to be the angry neighbor who constantly yells at children to stay away. At the same time, if there is a dangerous condition on your property that you know children encounter you must take reasonable steps to correct the hazard.
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