Friday, November 30, 2012

Bicycling Police Officer Deals With Narrow Lane, Impatient Motorist

Below is a wonderful video of a police officer in Florida properly demonstrating how to ride in a narrow lane of traffic, one less than 14' wide.  He takes it.  In such a circumstance it is unsafe to ride far to the right.  Doing so invites motorists to pass you without switching lanes, nearly guaranteeing many close calls.  When you find yourself getting buzzed by passing drivers you should move to farther to the left, taking more of the lane.  If a motorist wants to pass, he or she will need to switch lanes to allow for a safe passing distance.  This is completely legal in Illinois.  The relevant statute requires bicyclists to ride as far to the right as is "practicable and safe." 625 ILCS 5/11-1505  The same statute states that bicyclists need not ride to the right when "substandard width lanes . . . make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this subsection, a 'substandard width lane' means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane."

In the video, the officer also does a nice job of demonstrating one proper and legal way to make a left turn utilizing a left turn lane.  But the best thing about this video is the dopey motorist who decides he hates having a bicyclist in front of him and apparently does not realize that the cyclist is a cop.  How sweet would it be to have a badge to flash at the next motorist who lays on his horn from behind you?  Enjoy:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chicago Police Officer Charged With Felony For Striking, Seriously Injuring Bicyclist Then Lying About It

Felony charges have been filed against a Chicago police officer for striking a bicyclist with his pick-up truck on August 3rd then fleeing the scene, according to The Chicago Tribune.  The officer was off-duty at the time of the crash, reports The Chicago Sun-Times.  The bicyclist suffered serious injuries to her head and lower extremities.

The incident occurred at around 3:25 a.m. near the intersection of California and Wabansia in Humboldt Park.  The officer, Michael Bergeson, a nine year veteran, was allegedly driving his Ford F150 when he struck the female cyclist who was riding with her boyfriend.  The impact reportedly sent the woman over the hood of the vehicle then onto the street.  The Sun Times reports that she was bleeding from the head and was in and out of consciousness at the scene.

Mr. Bergeson allegedly called 911 then fled the scene as the ambulance approached, striking two parked cars as he did so, according to The Tribune.  His vehicle's license plate was retrieved at the scene.  Two days after the crash, he allegedly made a false traffic report blaming the bicyclist for causing the crash.  Prosecutors from the Illinois States Attorneys Office have filed charges against the officer for leaving the scene of an accident and for disorderly conduct stemming from filing a false report, according to The Tribune.  Both charges are felonies.  Today bail was set at $25,000.

Mr. Bergeson will appear in court again on December 20th.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lack of Illumination Need Not Bar Compensation For An Injured Bicyclist

Courtesy Florida Cycling Law
You are riding your bicycle at night and get hit by a negligent driver suffering injuries.  Your bicycle had no lights and no reflectors in violation of the Illinois vehicle code.  Will you you be barred from receiving compensation from the offending driver?

Not necessarily.

The key to determining whether your lack of a light and reflector will bar legal recourse is whether your absence of illumination was a cause of the crash.  In many instances lack of lighting will indeed cause or at least contribute to cause a crash.  Bicyclists should ride with a bright white light on the front of their bikes and with a bright red light and reflector on the back.  Doing so will substantially reduce the chances of being involved in many types of crashes.  For example, front lighting will undoubtedly reduce a bicyclist's chances of getting doored while riding at night.  A driver exiting her vehicle will be much better able to see a cyclist in her side view mirror if the bike is properly illuminated.  Furthermore, Illinois law requires a bicyclist to outfit their bike with at least a front light and a rear reflector.  The relevant statute states:
Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the Department which shall be visible from all distances from 100 feet to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector.

However, lack of bicycle illumination will not always bar an injured bicyclist from recovering against a negligent driver for their injuries.  To recover compensation in a personal injury case the injured person, aka, "the plaintiff", must prove that the defendant (1) owed them a duty of care, (2) breached that duty and as a result (2) caused (4) an injury.  For example, Illinois law states that all drivers owe a duty to all other roadway users to stop at stop signs.  If a driver blows a stop sign and crashes into another driver causing injury then the offending motorist will be found guilty of negligence and ordered to compensate the other driver for their injuries.  But, in our state a jury asked to decide a personal injury case may consider the plaintiff's conduct as well.  Sure, the defendant may have been negligent but the plaintiff may have been as well.  The world is messy and complex that way.  It is not always the case that person A was wrong and person B was right.  Person A and person B may have both been wrong but one was more wrong than the other.  In considering a plaintiff's "contributory negligence" an Illinois jury must, as with the defendant, determine whether he or she violated a duty imposed by law and whether that breach caused, or at least contributed to cause, his or her own injuries.  In the simple hypothetical scenario I presented above, the injured driver also had a duty to stop at all stop signs.  If both drivers blew their respective signs the injured party may have his or her monetary compensation reduced or barred altogether if he or she contributed to cause the injury inducing crash.  Jurors are generally the ones charged with determining percentages of fault.

Back to the issue of bicycle lighting.  It is important to emphasize that a defendant, to establish the plaintiff bicyclist's contributory negligence, must prove two things:  First, that he or she violated a duty either imposed by statute, e.g. the stop sign law, or by the general requirement imposed by "common law" (judge made case law) that all people act as a reasonably prudent person would under similar circumstances.  Secondly, that the failure to do so was a proximate cause of his or her injuries.  A bicyclist riding through the streets of Chicago without a white front headlight and red rear reflector has violated a duty imposed by state statute.  However, whether that failure is a cause of a particular crash and resulting injuries will very much depend on the circumstances.  I have faced this issue several times in my bicycle law practice.  In my experience, whether the plaintiff bicyclist's lack of illumination proximately caused a nighttime collision with a motor vehicle becomes controversial when the driver hits the cyclist from the side in a well lit area.  I have successfully argued a number of times that in that circumstance the cyclist's violation of the light/reflector law had nothing to do with the crash.  If the bicyclist was hit from the side, then a front facing light and rear reflector would not have helped the driver see him or her from the side much better.  Also, if the location of the crash was very well lit, then even lacking the required equipment the driver still should have seen the bicyclist.  Lack of bikes lights did not cause the crash.

There is support in Illinois case law for the notion that an injured bicyclist's violation of a statute need not bar her recovery against a negligent motorist.  Though not a bike lighting case, the First District Appellate Court (Chicago is in the First District) considered this issue in Savage v. Martin, 256 Ill.App.3d 272 (1st Dist. 1993).  That case arose from a car versus bicycle crash occurring at 103rd and California in Chicago.  The bicyclist, a 10 year old girl, was struck by a westbound vehicle on 103rd near its intersection with California as she attempted to ride from south to north across the east-west roadway.  The impact occurred in one of the westbound lanes of 103rd.  There was conflicting testimony as to what color the light controlling westbound traffic was when the girl rode into  the westbound lane.  However, there was no issue that when the girl started across the eastbound lanes of traffic on 103rd the light controlling eastbound traffic was yellow.  The girl was in clear violation of the vehicle code when she crossed the eastbound lanes.  Based upon that the trial court found that she was contributorily negligent as a matter of law.  The appellate court reversed that ruling, however, finding that crossing the eastbound lanes on a yellow light was not as a matter of law a proximate cause of the crash that occurred in the westbound lane.  The Court stated that, "A jury could conclude that by the time plaintiff crossed over the eastbound lanes of 103rd and the median and reached the westbound lanes, the signal for westbound traffic had turned red.  Thus, her act of riding in front of eastbound traffic when the light was yellow may have been negligent, but not a proximate cause of her being struck by a westbound vehicle."

Riding a bicycle at night without lights is dumb 100% of the time.  However, the legal effect of not doing so will very much depend upon the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

67 Year Old Bicyclist Killed By Driver In Crystal Lake

A 67 year old bicyclist was killed yesterday in Crystal Lake when he was struck by the driver of a SUV on U.S. Route 14, according to The Chicago Tribune.  The cyclist, Gordon McClain, was allegedly crossing the road from north to south when a 48 year old motorist in a 2012 Nissan Murano, driving east on Route 14, collided with him. The incident occurred at around 5:45 p.m. Monday near the intersection with Illinois Route 31.  The busy area serves as an access way between residential neighborhoods and numerous shopping and eating destinations.  Windwood Park in also located nearby.

Mr. McClain was dead at the scene due to severe head injuries, according to The Tribune.  He had not been wearing a helmet. Illinois law does not require bicyclists to wear helmets.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Injured Bicyclist To Receive Settlement Thanks To Fellow Cyclist's Account

The driver of the SUV said that he entered the intersection traveling east on a green light when the westbound bicyclist abruptly turned left smack into the side of his vehicle.  Hard luck for the badly injured cyclist. . .

If only the driver's story were true.

The motorist did not count on the unbiased account of an eyewitness to undermine his story.  A female wedding events planner was stopped on her bicycle facing south on Humboldt Boulevard at the light controlling the intersection with West Cortland Street in Logan Square when she saw the horrible event unfold.  It was about 10:30 p.m. on July 8, 2012 and she was riding home from a wedding she had been working.  She saw a 31 year old male bicyclist riding at a moderate pace west on Cortland as she waited for the light to turn. She remembered thinking how much she liked his red bicycle a second before she noticed bright headlights speeding northbound into the intersection, blowing the red light.  The collision was massive and threw the male bicyclist's 6'2", 200 lb. frame into the air then down onto the truck's windshield, shattering it.  Sparks flew into the air from the metal bike scrapping the road, making the event look like an explosion.  Covered in blood, and unconscious the bicyclist was rushed via ambulance to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center where he was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage.

What followed was weeks of pain, and months of healing.  Thanks to his youth, good health and perhaps some luck, the bicyclist made a full recovery.  On Friday, November 16th my law firm, retained by the injured bicyclist, reached a fair settlement with the driver and his insurance company, thanks in no small part to a fellow cyclist who was willing to step forward and tell the truth.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Folding Bicycles Recalled Due To Reported Injuries

Tikit Folding Bicycle
Following at least six reports of product failure, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Bike Friday announced the recall of Tikit Folding Bicycles yesterday. The manufacturer, Green Gear Cycling, Inc., which does business as Bike Friday, received reports that the bike's handlebar stem broke leading to injuries.  A bicycle's stem attaches the handlebars to the fork making it central to the bike's steering.  Reported injuries included at least one incident of a head laceration requiring stitches, according to the press release from the Commission.

The folding bicycles, popular amount cycle commuters, were sold from 2007 until this year.  If you own one of these bikes you should stop using it and contact Bike Friday to schedule a free repair.

Friday, November 9, 2012

68 Year Old Bicyclist Killed By Driver In Skokie

Courtesy The Chicago Tribune
Update:  6:00 p.m.: Robert McKenney, who died after being struck by a vehicle yesterday in Skokie, was an experienced bicycle commuter who, according to his brother, rode to work whenever the weather was nice, reports The Chicago Tribune.  Mr. McKenney was allegedly struck by a 30 year old motorist as he rode his bike south on Skokie Highway near Main Street.  The impact caused him to flip over his handlebars and strike the road, suffering a massive head injury, according to the Tribune.  It has not been reported whether Mr. McKenney was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, though Illinois law does not require bicyclists to do so.  He worked in the purchasing department at Northeastern University.

A 68 year old male bicyclist was  pronounced dead early this morning after being struck by a car while riding in Skokie, according to The Chicago Tribune.  Robert E. McKenney was hit near the intersection of Main Street and Skokie Highway at around 8:00 p.m. on Thursday.  He was a resident of Niles.  No further details have been reported.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bicycle Delivery Rider Injured By Swerving Taxi On Chicago's North Side

His bicycle was illuminated by lights front and back and he was in close enough proximity that he probably could have shook hands with the cab driver that swerved in front of him moments before the crash.  At around 1:30 a.m. on November 4th a 21 year old male cyclist was injured when the driver of a taxi cut him off seconds after the two proceeded through a north side intersection together.  The incident occurred at the intersection of North Sheffield Avenue and West Wolfram Street.  Moments before the crash, the two stopped next to each other, the bike to the right of the cab, at a stop sign controlling south bound traffic on Sheffield.  The bicyclist was working for a pizza shop and was coming from a nearby delivery.  They proceeded from the stop at about the same time before the taxi pulled ahead.  Suddenly, without signaling, the driver swerved to the right directly into the cyclist's path causing the crash.  He did not appear to be picking up or dropping off a fare.  The bicyclist tried to stop and turn to blunt the impact but was unsuccessful given the short distance between them.

The bicyclist hit the ground, his hands and knees accepting the brunt of the impact.  In pain, his adrenalin flowing and immedaitely worried about the cost of medical treatment, the cyclist differed medical treatment until later that day.  At Advocate Illinois Medical Center his right hand and wrist was placed in a stiff splint and wrapped in bandages.  Though not fractured, his hand and wrist remain swollen and painful.  His injuries continue to keep him off of his bike, his bread and butter.

My law firm is representing the bicyclist.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Inattentive Elderly Driver Injures Bicyclist On Sheridan Road

A fractured arm and broken teeth was the price paid by an Evanston bicyclist for one driver's inattention on Sheridan Road last week.  On November 1st a 55 year old cyclist riding along the right side of Sheridan Road in Wilmette was struck by a left turning elderly driver who was not paying attention.  The incident occurred at the uncontrolled intersection of Sheridan and Forest Avenue at around 8:45 a.m.  The experienced male cyclist, out for a training ride on his road bike, was traveling north when the 81 year old driver of a 2003 BMW turned left directly into his path.  The cyclist grabbed his brakes and tried to swerve but had little time to react and crashed into the side of the car.  The impact threw him off the bike and onto the tarmac where his forearm fractured and four front teeth shattered.  His 2011 Cervelo RS was also badly damaged.

The man was taken from the scene via ambulance to Evanston Hospital where his serious injuries were assessed and treated.  He is expected to require surgery to mend his badly fractured forearm.  He is also expected to have extensive dental work over a period of many months to fix and replace his teeth.

My law firm has been retained to represent the bicyclist.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stop and Yield

The article below appears in the November issue of Urban Velo.  Idaho's "stop as yield" law has been around for 30 years.  Until recently its approach to the vehicle code has failed to catch on.  When I have brought up the Idaho stop law to bicycling advocates in Chicago the response I typically get is, "Well, this ain't Idaho."  Fair enough.  But changing the vehicle code to allow city cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs still makes sense and, as I discuss below, is an approach that is taking hold.  Oregon bicycle lawyer Bob Mionske's website has a very interesting description of how the Idaho law came to be.  Check it out here.

The Way You Ride Is Probably A Crime

Brendan Kevenides

Most state vehicle codes require bicyclists to stop at every stoplight and every stop sign. Every single time. How many cyclists do that? If you are like most reasonable urban bicyclists you stop and wait for the light to turn at busy intersections. You never “blow through” stop signs. You always look for traffic when approaching even the quietest intersections. But you do not always stop. You consider yourself a safe cyclist.

There seems to be a disconnect between what the law presently is in most American cities, and the way many reasonable cyclists ride. To be sure, there are risk taking adrenaline fiends riding the streets who run lights out of a desire to go fast, or perhaps just, because. But many others do it because the rule of staying alive trumps the rules of the road. City cyclists share the road with speedier and heavier motorized vehicles. Staying safe often means staying away from cars, trucks and buses which can poleax a bicycle and its rider in an instant. Controlled city intersections often provide the bicyclist with a good opportunity to break away from traffic, to acquire that little, if brief, cocoon of space so prized in the urban streetscape.

One Chicago bicycle commuter who identified himself as Dan, explained his reason for taking such an approach. “I like to jump out ahead of traffic not just for the extra buffer but for the extra visibility, especially downtown. If you need to take the lane for any reason, it’s nice to know that the driver behind you has plenty of time to make a decision about how to react to your presence in the lane,” he said.

But criminalizing the way many reasonable bicyclists ride is bad for cycling. Doing so neither helps broaden the appeal of urban cycling nor the image of bicyclists in general among the non-biking public. Now, however, there seems to be a movement afoot to change this.

More places are seriously considering allowing bicyclists to yield at stop signs and lights. If these initiatives take root, cyclists would not have to stop at intersections under certain circumstances. To be clear, no one anywhere is seriously talking about allowing bicyclists to recklessly blow through traffic lights and stop signs. Rather, under measured consideration is permitting cyclists to yield if traffic is present at an intersection, but not waste time by stopping when nary a caris in sight. These proposals have been enacted to some degree, or are under serious consideration, in London, several cities in France, in Virginia and in Arizona. In London, under consideration at some 500 or so intersections is the possibility of giving bicyclists an “early start,” according to The Guardian. Each intersection or junction is to be separately assessed by Transport for London (equivalent to the DOT) to determine if permitting an early start makes sense given the existing conditions and risks to bicyclists. The plan could “include the installation of traffic lights set with an ‘early start’ phase for cyclists, allowing them to move ahead of the mass of motor traffic.” In June, the city’s first bicycles only traffic light was installed in one East End neighborhood. In France, permitting cyclists to treat lights and stop lights as yield indicators is under consideration, according The Telegraph. The relaxed rule is being tested at 15 intersections in Paris and at locations in the cities of Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Nantes. The law requires that “cyclists yield to pedestrians and opposing traffic,” and bicyclists will, of course, need to rely on their own self-preservation instincts to avoid calamity with motor vehicles. So far, “these experiments have led to no rise in the number of accidents,” The Telegraph quoted Paris’ town hall as stating.

Some will scoff at these overseas measures. Those goofy Europeans; so permissive. However, last year, Virginia became the second state in the nation to permit bicyclists to yield at traffic control devices. For some time Idaho has permitted bicyclists to do so. Since July 1, 2011, throughout the Old Dominion a bicyclist may proceed through the intersection on a steady red light after coming to a “full and complete stop at the intersection” and waiting two minutes. Sensibly, the revised traffic code requires bicyclists to yield the right of way to motorists approaching the intersecting road and to only to proceed when it is safe to do so. Presently, the Arizona legislature is considering a similar measure, but without the somewhat random two minute waiting period. If passed Arizona House Bill 2211, a bipartisan measure, would permit bicyclists 16 and older to slow to “a speed reasonable for the existing conditions” upon approaching a stop sign and “yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection” before proceeding. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Patterson (D) and Rep. Vic Williams (R), in its present state would also establish that, “If after riding past a stop sign without stopping the bicycle rider is involved in a collision in the intersection, the collision is prima facie evidence of the bicycle rider’s failure to yield the right-of-way.” In other words, if a cyclist proceeds through a stop sign and gets hit, it would be presumed that he or she is at fault for causing the collision. One supporter of the bill told that the proposed law, “Isn’t a green light to blast through a stop sign.”

Recently, Illinois’ legislature has demonstrated an understanding that traffic laws may require revision to reflect sensible human tendencies. Earlier this year, a new Illinois law went into effect that permits bicyclists outside of Chicago to pass through red light controlled intersections where the light fails to detect their presence and when no other vehicles are present. While obviously not as far reaching as the other initiatives described above, this sort of law is an important step because it recognizes that it sometimes does not make sense to treat bikes just like cars. Safety should not require a bicyclist to wait for a light to change when good sense and the circumstances permit safe passage through an intersection.

At the moment many state traffic laws criminalize the way sensible, careful bicyclists ride. This sends a terrible message and gives fringe anti-bicyclists something to scream about every time a cyclist rides through a light. Cyclists should not be legally permitted to blast through stop signs, but let us consider where it might make sense to revise the rules of the road.

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