Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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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