Monday, March 25, 2013

Chicago Bicyclists Have Options, Need Not Use Protected Bike Lanes

Cyclists are not required to ride in Chicago's protected bicycle lanes.  Wherever one exists, Kinzie Avenue for example, bicyclists will have the option to ride in it, or to use the main roadway along with other traffic.  

Clarification of the law came from Luann Hamilton and Gabe Klein, CDOT deputy commissioner and commissioner, respectively, at the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council meeting on March 13th.  Their statements on the matter were documented verbatim by journalist, John Greenfield, of Streetsblog Chicago, and came in response to questions raised on the subject at the meeting by me and fellow attorney, Jim Freeman.  At issue was whether Section 9-52-020 of Chicago's Municipal Code applies in the context of a protected bike lane.  That section states,
(d)  Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.
Given the broad wording of the ordinance, I have been concerned that it could be applied to deny a bicyclist compensation where a crash occurred on a road with a protected lane that the cyclist chose not to use.  The ordinance, in my opinion, is vague on its face.  It does not define the term "usable path for bicycles".  Could it mean any track designed and built for cyclists that is physically separated from other traffic?  It did not seem a stretch to image a defense attorney, or judge, interpreting a bike lane, like the one on Kinzie separated from other traffic by bollards and parked cars, to fit within the definition of "a usable path."  Thankfully, CDOT has offered its interpretation of the ordinance.  Here's how the discussion went as recorded by Streetsblog:

Jim Freeman: So Chicago’s got a statute that says if there’s an adjacent bike path, bicyclists have to use the path and not the street. Is it the city’s position that that applies to protected bike lanes?

Luann Hamilton: No, it doesn’t. The ordinance applies to the Lakefront Trail designation at the South Shore Cultural Center because, when we put that stretch in, the department wanted to make sure that cyclists weren’t in the road by the cultural center. So they put that law in for that one location, but it doesn’t apply to other places.
JF: The concern that I have is that, and I haven’t seen this instance yet, but I could envision an instance where a bicyclist is struck in the street and then they’re issued a citation, in effect blamed for causing or contributing to the [crash] because they were riding in the street and not the protected bike lane.
LH: Actually, if you look at the language we’re OK.
Mike Amsden: It says “adjacent to the roadway.”
LH: This is in the roadway. “Adjacent to the roadway” is not the same thing as a curb lane in the roadway.
Gabe Klein: But it’s a good point, something that we need to talk to [the Illinois Department of Transportation] about, just to say, “Hey, the way things are written in various places, doesn’t really apply to certain infrastructure.”
Brendan Kevenides: Do you know if CDOT’s position with regard to having to use the protected bike lane versus the street is in writing somewhere?
LH: The position is that cyclists can use the whole roadway. Just because we’re putting in these facilities doesn’t mean that bicyclists have to stay in that facility. For example, what if they need to make a turn? They have to go out of the facility at that point anyway.
BK: ‘Cause I have the same concern. For example on Kinzie, especially, and it’s a sliding scale, but where you have that level of division from motorized vehicles, I can imagine a judge who’s considering this saying, “Well, that’s a usable path.” The statute is somewhat vague and wasn’t written when these protected bike lanes came into existence, obviously. So is there something I can look at, something I can cite to?
LH: You can look at the code. I don’t think there’s anything beyond the code right now, but we’ve been having a lot of conversations, not just about bike lanes but about things like pedicabs…
Ron Burke: Would it be helpful if the city’s legal department or someone wrote a memo?
BK: That’d be great.
LH: We can get [the law department] on this. [They've] already written this internally. So we have some documentation.
BK: Wonderful.
Charlie Short: I was going to say, the national trend is to eliminate that sort of language. Because it was written in 1990 when there were only bike paths [in Chicago] and so it made sense. Usually the tendency is to eliminate that language entirely and actually Illinois has eliminated that language.
JF: Does Chicago have a plan to do that?
LH: It only was meant to apply to that one location, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t eliminate it or put clarification in.
JF: Well, I guess we’ll see if it’s a problem then [laughs].
RB: I think what I hear Luann saying is, legally it’s not a problem now. No one’s enforcing it that way, the code is pretty clear. If we can get like a legal memo to that effect which clarifies that, that might be a clearer path forward than trying to change the code. But who knows, maybe there’s some clean-up language going through the city council that you could throw in.
LH: Well, we’re always trying to clean up issues with the city code, right Charlie?
RB: Cool.
I am looking forward to seeing the promised memo, something official I can show an opposing attorney or judge should this issue arise in a bicycle crash case.
The provided clarification is appreciated and is good news for city cyclists.  Because we are so vulnerable on the road compared to other users, it is important to have options for dealing with the inevitable challenges that come with sharing the road with motor vehicles. Also, not being required to use the protected lanes means that bicyclists can offer the city helpful feedback regarding what works well and what does not.  In meetings I have been at with city planners they have earnestly admitted to a desire to learn over time how to make the bike lanes safer for cyclists, without unnecessarily inconveniencing pedestrians and motorists.  If the city builds something that sucks, then cyclists will not use it and that is important information for CDOT to have.
A few words of caution:  If you are hit by a car while riding outside of a nearby protected bicycle lane, remember that if the matter goes to trial, jurors tend not to leave their feelings outside the courthouse door.  You may be viewed less sympathetically for choosing to ride outside the bike lane.  This could hurt your chances of a good legal outcome.  Also, there is no small amount of controversy over the city's decision to spends lots of money on bike specific infrastructure.  Frankly, a lot of motorists are pissed about it and may feel compelled to act aggressively toward a bicyclists ignoring the bike lane.  If you decide that the protected lanes are not for you, I strongly recommend riding at about the same speed as traffic and to take extra care to follow the rules of the road to avoid conflict.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lakeview Delivery Rider To Be Compensated By Backing Driver

A 22 year old bicycle delivery rider who suffered a broken wrist in a crash will be compensated by the driver that backed into him in Lakeview. The incident occurred at around 4:20 p.m. near 2866 North Broadway as the cyclist was returning to the pizza shop where he worked after making a delivery.

Proceeding southbound on Broadway at a slow to moderate pace, the bicyclist came upon a 2007 Mazda 6 in the roadway behind another vehicle attempting to parallel park along the right curb.  He stopped his older model black, Schwinn bicycle to a stop about 15 feet behind the idling car.  He turned his bike a bit to the left as he stopped so that the right side of his body and bicycle faced the rear of the vehicle.  Suddenly, without warning the driver threw his vehicle into reverse, stepped on the accelerator and slammed into the cyclist waiting behind him.  The heavy impact threw him to his left and off of his bike. He caught himself with his outstretched left hand, the jarring impact with the street fracturing his wrist at the base of his thumb.

The bicyclist was forced to wear a stabilizing apparatus on his wrist and thumb for eight weeks following the crash.  Immobilization of his painful wrist prohibited him from riding his bicycle.  An accomplished musician, proficient at playing guitar and violin, he was unable to play music during that time as well.  Though he continued to work throughout that period he was significantly hindered in what he was able to do. 

Having hired my law firm to represent him, the bicyclist is to receive a substantial settlement which will compensate him for his medical bills and the other harms and losses he experienced due to the driver's negligence.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bicyclist Suffers Multiple Fractures Following Logan Square Hit and Run

A 35 year old bicyclist is still suffering the painful effects of being struck by a hit and run driver on the night of February 21, 2013.  The crash occurred at the intersection of West Logan Boulevard and North California Avenue in the city's Logan Square neighborhood at around 11:00 p.m.  

The cyclist was riding in the right westbound lane when he entered the intersection, the light green in his favor.  He had a bright white light flashing on the front of his bike.  When he reached the middle of the intersection an eastbound vehicle turning left smashed into the cyclist's rear wheel throwing him onto the car's hood, according to another cyclist who witnessed the incident,   The victim and witness both say that immediately after the crash the driver stopped, got out of his vehicle, said he was sorry, then got back into his car and drove away.  In pain and in shock, the bicyclist had the wherewithal to snatch the car's license plate number before the driver got away.  My law firm has been retained to represent the cyclist and is in the process of tracking down the driver.

The collision occurred not far from the victim's home.  The cyclist who witnessed the crash played the role of good samaritan and helped bring the injured man and his crumpled bicycle back to his apartment where the police were called.  As the night progressed, and the initial shock and adrenalin rush started to abate, the pain came.  Smartly, the cyclist got himself to a nearby immediate care clinic where he was diagnosed with a fractured rib, broken collar bone and broken scapula.  His recovery is proceeding slowly.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Emergency Fund Created For Bike Messengers Hurt On The Job

I have had low paying, tough-as-hell jobs that I loved.  But I've never been a bicycle messenger.  No one becomes a bike messenger for the money, or the glamour.  I have know plenty of messengers and represented more than a few.  It is a damn dangerous, dirty job.  That's why the Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund was created.

Created by messengers for messengers, The Fund is a, "non profit public charity organization that provides emergency compensation to bicycle messengers who are hurt on the job. Currently the BMEF allocates a $500 emergency cheque to help messengers anywhere in the world during the first week of injury. This provides a boost, to both the financial and the mental/emotional state of the injured messenger."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Want To Learn To Ride The City? Here's Your Chance

Wanna learn to ride the city?

Then let's do this together.  Jane Blew Healy and I will teach the League of American Bicyclists' Traffic Skills 101 course in April at the REI store in Lincoln Park.  The TS 101 course is the foundation of the League's Smart Cycling program which is "designed to develop your knowledge and expertise in the craft and science of bicycling."  It provides the first building block for adults to learn to ride with confidence and competence.  It is strongly recommended for adult commuters, city cyclists and newbies (or aspiring newbies) alike.  It is also the prerequisite course for those interested in becoming a League Certified Instructor.  The program consists of nine hours of in class and on the road course work.  The class room portions will be on April 15 & 22 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at REI's awesome community classroom in its store located at 1466 North Halsted.  We are presently working on the details of the road riding portion, but it will take place in a nearby parking lot and on nearby streets.

Jane and I are certified instructors by the League of American Bicyclists and have been involved in Chicago's vibrant cycling community for many years.  Jane is past president of the Active Transportation Alliance's board of directors and co-founder of Cycling Sisters, a group that encourages women to get more involved in cycling.  She is a mom and is often seen schlepping her kids around town on her bike.  She is an all around awesome woman.  I am a bicycle attorney, legal columnist for Urban Velo magazine, biking advocate and everyday cyclist.  You can learn more about my background here.

Save your spot in the class by emailing me at  Please provide your name, age, email address and telephone number.  We will be back in touch in a few days with the particulars, including cost of the program.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Skokie Bicycle Commuter Thrown High Into The Air By Minivan To Be Compensated

The case of a 33 year old bicyclist thrown 15 feet into the air by a minivan while commuting to work in Skokie has resolved successfully.  The male lab technician will be compensated for his injuries and the extensive damage to his bicycle thanks to a settlement reached in the case by my law firm late last week.

The cyclist was riding at a moderate pace along the right side of 7501 Lincoln Avenue in Skokie on the morning of October 24, 2012.  As he pedaled north a 1999 Plymouth Voyager emerged from a parking lot on the opposite side of the street.  The driver rocketed across Lincoln Avenue in an effort to enter Sigler's Auto Center on the north side of the street and slammed into the unsuspecting bicyclist, throwing him in to the air.  He landed hard on his helmeted head and left shoulder, sustaining a mild concussion and soft tissue shoulder injury.  He spent several weeks undergoing physical therapy, but has recovered fully.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Automobile Association Unveils Bicycle PSA

I love this bicycle PSA video unveiled at this week's National Bike Summit by AAA.  Wait, what?  You heard me, AAA, the American Automobile Association.  Bicycle advocates and AAA have apparently found some common ground on the whole us vs. them thing.  You see, the thing is there is no cars vs. bikes.  As the video highlights, we are all just moms, dads, sons and daughters using one tool or another on the road to get from place to place.  Thanks AAA for helping us remember that.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Car Company Creates Bicycle Detection System

Volvo tries really hard.  It pioneered the use of the three point seatbelt as standard equipment.  More recently, it started looking into external airbags to protect pedestrians and cyclists in the event of a collision.  Now, those brainy Swedes are at it again, developing what it calls a "cyclist detection" system.  The idea is to assist the driver with braking should a sizable object, like a bicycle or pedestrian, suddenly serve into the vehicle's path.

I am a bit concerned that technology like this may encourage drivers to be more passive behind the wheel.  An over reliance on such technology could discourage drivers from simply paying attention.  I'll check my email real quick.  If something swerves in front of me the car will just stop itself.  Scary.  On the other hand, humans have always been fallible, and I for one have to tip my (cycling) cap to Volvo for continuously seeking to address that continuing truth, and for its willingness to consider how bikes and cars may interact with each other.  Tack själv.

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