Monday, November 28, 2011

Settlement For Bicyclist Injured When Passengers Exit Taxi Into Chicago Bike Lane

A substantial financial settlement has been reached by our law firm on behalf of a bicyclist doored when a taxi cab driver allowed his passengers to disembark into a dedicated bicycle lane at the 2400 block of North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago on March 17, 2011.  The 40 year old cyclist was traveling southbound in the bike lane when passengers suddenly emerged from the taxi, which had stopped in southbound traffic.  Unlike the typical dooring incident, the bicyclist in this case was doored from the left rather than the right side.  The bicyclist had been wearing a helmet and his bicycle was equipped with lights.  He was treated for a sprained knee and left hand fracture.

Taxi cab drivers owe a duty of reasonable care to roadway users in the location and manner in which their passengers are permitted to exit the vehicle.  This duty extends to bicyclists, permitted users of Chicago streets

Monday, November 21, 2011

Florida Bicyclist Victim of Turning Fire Truck, Orlando Sentinel

Sadly, cyclists are killed almost daily all around the country.  I generally focus on incidents in Chicago and around Illinois.  Unfortunately, there are enough of those to keep me busy.  So I ordinarily would not pay much attention to a story about a bicyclist killed in Florida.  However, I found the coverage of this sad story by the Orlando Sentinel frustrating so I want to comment about it.

Cullen Detamore, 18 years old and the father of a toddler son, was killed on October 24th when he was run over by a right turning fire truck while riding his bicycle.  Mr. Detamore, "Was riding his bike next to the fire truck traveling southbound on Lakemont Avenue, when the truck went to make a right turn," according to a local television station.  He was killed when he was run over by the rear wheels of the truck.  It seemed that Mr. Detamore was the victim of a driver who turned right without looking in his right rear view mirror for bicyclists.  If Mr. Detamore was riding along side the large vehicle when it began its turn he possibly had little time to stop or veer out of the way.  Rather than considering the truck driver's failure to look to his right before turning as the cause of this incident, the Orlando Sentinel focused its coverage on the fact that Mr. Detamore was riding that mechanism of mayhem, a fixed gear bicycle.  The paper's headline read, Bicyclist Killed By Fire Engire Was Riding Illegally On Bike With No Brakes.   Quoting a law enforcement spokesperson the paper stated, "Cullen Detamore was riding a baby-blue racing bicycle designed for indoor tracks. . .  The only way to stop on such bicycles is to 'put your feet down or fall over' -- which is why the law requires bicycles ridden on roadways to have working brakes."    Further along in the story is considerable mention of how upsetting the event was for fire department personnel.  Only passing reference was made of the child Mr. Detamore left behind.  There was no reference to whether he was married, or how upsetting his death was for his family and friends.

An illegal bike?  This young man must have had a death wish, right?  Of course not.  If Mr. Detamore was riding a "bicycle designed for indoor tracks" then it had a fixed gear drive train.  That means, assuming he was riding with a sensible gear ratio (more on that later), he was riding with a braking system entirely compliant with Florida law which states:
Every bicycle must be equipped with a brake orbrakes that allow the rider to stop within 25 feet froma speed of 10 mph on dry, level, clean pavement[§316.2065(14)].
Fixed gear bikes do not have freewheels so the rider cannot coast. Instead, the bike's rear cog is fixed to the rear wheel so that if the rear wheel is spinning so is the cog. When the bike is moving, either forwards or backwards, the chain is turning, the pedals are spinning and the rider's legs are working.  The bicycle's drive train, consisting of the fixed rear cog, chain, cranks, pedals and the rider's legs, act as a braking system, one that works better than the uninitiated may think. It is quite possible, and in fact common, to quickly stop pedaling, locking up the rear wheel and bringing the bike to a complete skidding stop.  A fixed gear bicycle is entirely compliant with Florida's (and Illinois') law regarding bike brakes.  The reasonableness of riding with a fixed gear braking system is not as controversial was one might think.  At least one U.S. jurisdiction rewrote its vehicular law to accommodate fixed gear bicycle riders. Amended in July, 2006 Washington D.C.'s vehicle code states:
Each bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which enables the operator to cause the braked wheels to skid on dry, level, clean pavement; provided, that a fixed gear bicycle is not required to have a separate brake, but an operator of a fixed gear bicycle shall be able to stop the bicycle using the pedals.18 DCMR 1204.1
Not only was Mr. Detamore's bike likely compliant with Florida law, his ability to brake or not brake may have had nothing to do with his death.  As noted above, according to at least one account, he was riding along side the fire truck when the vehicle turned.  It is not clear whether the truck utilized its turn signal, or how quickly it initiated its turn.  The bicyclist may have had little reason to anticipate that the truck was about to turn in front of him.  He may not have been able to stop in time to avoid the collision no matter what sort of braking system his bike was equipped with.  Unfortunately, none of this is mentioned in the Sentinel's article.

In my opinion, fixed gear bikes are legal. . . usually.  Stopping one of these bikes is not exceptionally difficult.  (Even this 40 something year old lawyer can do it.)  But it takes some practice before the novice rider gets the hang of it.  It feels weird at first and the rider must remember to use his or her legs to stop.  Also, the bike's gear ratio must be considered.  Some gear ratios will make it nearly impossible to bring the bike to a quick stop.    For example, a front chainring with 53 teeth and a rear cog with 13 teeth is going to be almost impossible to bring to a skid stop.  It is way too efficient.  Much of the energy exerted to the cranks is transmitted to the rear cog and wheel.  On the other hand, riding with a gear ratio of 46/18 will make it much, much easier to accelerate and stop.  And let's be clear, if you cannot successfully bring your fixed gear bike to a skid stop then, unless you have an additional braking system on the bike, you are not in compliance with a statute like the one in Florida, and in Illinois.  But riding a fixed gear bike does not necessary make the cyclist a reckless scafflaw.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Urban Bicyclists May Finally Get A Witness

Fort Tree Bikes
Can I get a witness?! Well, yes.  Cycling accessory manufacturer Cat Eye has come up with a handlebar mountable video and still camera, dubbed the "Inou", that can be used to record and track your ride.  While other manufacturers have created similar devices there are a couple of things I really like about this one.  First, it can take both video and still photos automatically at intervals that you can choose.  Secondly, it has a GPS tracking device built in and records your location throughout your ride.  You can view your route after your ride by logging onto the integrated computer application Cat Eye has created for the device.  Thirdly, the Inou detaches from the included handlebar mount quickly and easily, just like a typical headlight.  This feature is a must for urban bicyclists who would have to take the device with them after locking up.  Finally, the Inou is pretty small and non-obtrusive, again making it practical to use daily in the urban setting.

One of the biggest challenges in representing bicyclists in litigation against motorists is finding a witness.  The motorist and the bicyclist rarely seem to agree on how a crash occurred.  Since the victim has the burden of proof in personal injury litigation, if a witness cannot be found to support the bicyclist's version of events the case may be a lost cause.  A handlebar mounted camera could, in many circumstances, tip the scales in the bicyclist's favor by revealing exactly what happened.  Dooring incidents and intersection crashes could be documented by a front facing camera.  Other "action cameras" I've seen are good, but frankly impractical for daily city use.  They've tended to be too big, too bulky and too difficult to take with you.  Cat Eye may have come up with a viable option that could help the city cyclist protect his or her rights in the event of an accident.

I have not used the Inou myself, but I would certainly love to hear from anyone who has to learn whether the device actually lives up to its promise.  Below is a video from Interbike 2010 demonstrating some of the Inou's features:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chicago Bicyclist Struck By Semi To Undergo Pelvic Reconstruction, Battling Infection

The female bicyclist struck by a semi tractor trailer on Friday afternoon is fighting infection and is to undergo surgery to repair a shattered pelvis at Loyola University Medical Center, according to a reader of this blog who contacted me last night via email.  The bicyclist, Terri Cenar, was struck at around 1:45 p.m. on November 4th and initially taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  No details have been reported regarding the cause of this incident.  Prayers for her recovery have been requested.

Poking around online revealed Ms. Cenar to be an avid cyclist and frequent bike commuter.  She is a current or former fitness instructor.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bicycle Seriously Injured By Semi On Near Northside

A semi tractor trailer struck and seriously injured a female bicyclist near Chicago Avenue and LaSalle Street on Friday afternoon, November 4th.  The women was reportedly taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital following the collision.  The incident occurred at around 1:45 p.m.  No information is presently available regarding the cause of the crash or how the victim fared over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cab Driver's Failure To Use Caution Dropping Off Passenger Causes Cyclist's Injury

Chicago taxicab drivers must exercise caution when dropping off passengers.  Passengers should be permitted to disembark only where it is reasonably safe to do so.  That usually means pulling to the curb. Stopping so as to give a passenger the option of either exiting the cab into moving motor vehicle traffic, or into a busy bicycle lane is negligence on the part of the driver.  Once again a cab driver's poor decision as to where to drop off a passenger has resulted in injury to a bicyclist.  Our law firm is representing the cyclist.  On Halloween evening at around 7:30 p.m. a 35 year old female cyclist was injured when a southbound taxi cab on Wells Street, about a half a block south of North Avenue, dropped off his passenger into a dedicated bicycle lane.  In this instance, the right wheels of the taxi encroached into the bike lane, an ordinance violation.  When the passenger opened the right rear door it struck the left hand of the bicyclist causing severe finger tendon laceration requiring eight stitches.  It is not yet clear whether surgery will be necessary to restore full function to the finger and hand.

The bicyclist would have been easily visible.  Her bike was equipped with operating lights and she was wearing light colored clothing at the time of the incident.  She was wearing a helmet and did not sustain a head injury.

Wells Street at the location of this incident has one southbound and one northbound lane.  Cab drivers on this and similar roadways simply cannot provide their passengers with two unsafe options of exiting and simply hope nothing bad happens.  In such instances, the passenger is offered the option of either exiting on the left of the cab and into moving motorized traffic, or on the right into a busy bicycle lane.  This is negligence plain and simple.  Cab drivers must drop off passengers in a reasonably safe place so as to avoid putting either the passenger or other roadway users at risk.

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