Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Long Winter and the State of Bike Lanes in Chicago.

By Jim Freeman

Last year I think we were all pleasantly surprised to see the City do a good job with snow and debris removal from the protected and buffered bike lanes.  I was one of the early naysayers who predicted the Kinzie Cycletrack would be a good place to pile snow in the winter, and I was glad to be proven wrong.  Having said that, last winter was pretty easy.

This winter, however, is a different story.  Now we're seeing how the City handles snow removal during a real winter.  The old folks I talk to admit that the beating Chicago has taken this winter has been the worst since 1979, and it shows in the bike lanes.  Some bike lanes have been maintained, while others are a mess. 

The pictures here were taken this morning on Lake Street just west of Damen.  Not only is there a lot of ice in the bike lane, there are garbage cans blocking the bike lane the whole distance between Damen and Western.  I suspect that the cans were left in this position by Streets and Sanitation only becuase there is such uniformity to their position.  In the background of the top photo you can see a garbage can and taxi almost completely blocking the bike lane.

I've heard people opine that at some point this winter the City just gave up on clearing the bike lanes.  While I don't think they gave up, I have noticed that some bike lanes are maintained better than others. 

On Washington between Ashland and Halsted the bike lanes are clear, but only becuase the bike lane is on the traffic side of parked cars.  The curbside is still cluttered with piles of hard packed snow and ice.  As a result, many cars are parked away from the curb so that they end up obstructing the bike lane.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who is still commuting to the West Side or Oak Park.  Lake Street was a street transformed by the installation of bike lanes, but I suspect the commute this winter is a rough one.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Call To Arms Against Holes

There are some huge potholes out there.

Duh, this is Chicago at the end of winter, and particularly brutal winter at that.  Still, I don't remember seeing so many large craters distributed throughout the city such as there are right now.  Many of these pose a serious threat to bicyclists.  Many occupy bike lanes and areas designated for bike travel.  North Clark Street in Lakeview comes to mind, as does North California Avenue in Humboldt Park.  Hit one of these craters with your front wheel and you may end up picking your teeth up off the ground, or worse.  This is no joke.

The city has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for permitted and intended users of its property.  Under Illinois law a bicyclist is generally considered both a permitted and intended user of an area explicitly marked for bike traffic.  To be held liable for a dangerous condition in a bicycle lane that causes an injury, a municipality must have notice that the condition existed.  The City of Chicago does not owe a duty to its citizens to constantly inspect its roads, streets and alleys for danger.  Our transportation infrastructure is just too enormous to allow such an inspection system.  However, once the City is aware of a dangerous condition on its property, i.e., in one of its bike lanes, then the City must take reasonable steps to fix it.  What that may mean exactly will depend on the specific circumstances.  Our law firm is presently suing the City of Chicago on behalf of a bicyclist who was seriously injured when the front wheel of his bicycle struck a large hole in a bike lane on S. South Shore Drive on the City's South Side.  We have alleged that the City was made aware of the hole's existence, and of its propensity to become hidden by standing water, many months before the crash thanks to a call made by a concerned resident who lived nearby.  

Putting the City on notice of a dangerous roadway condition is important.  Ideally, the City will respond and fix the problem before someone gets hurt.  If it fails to do so,  proof that the City was notified yet failed to act in a timely manner can be used to preserve the injured cyclist's right to compensation for his/her harms and losses.  So, how can the average cyclist help out?  To borrow a ubiquitous slogan: If you see something, say something.  There are a few ways in which that can be done.  Calling 311 is an option.  Perhaps a better one, is to go to the City's "Pothole in Street" website.  Though the site needs a catchier name, it allows for quick and easy reporting of dangerous potholes.  Perhaps a better way still is to whip out your trusty smart phone, snap a photo and report it immediately using the Chicago Works Mobile 311 app.  Available for iPhone and Android users, the app has been around since 2012 and is quite easy to use.  It even tracks the progress of the requested service.  

If the worst happens, and a cyclist is injured due to a dangerous pothole, an attorney's office can send a Freedom of Information Act request to the City of Chicago requesting any complaints that may have been made about the particular hole.  If it turns out that one or more service requests were made then the attorney may take the appropriate action to get the injured bicyclist compensation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bicycle Light and Camera Combination May Be Just What Cyclists Need

Lights, camera, Fly6
When drivers believe they are being watched they are more likely to behave themselves.  That is the principle, or at least the hope, behind a new project called Fly6, a rear mounted video camera and tail light for bicycles.

The project is in the development stage and a Kickstarter campaign is underway to help the innovative device to mass production.  Fly6 is the invention of two Austrialian cyclists, Andrew Hagen and Kingsley Fiegert of Perth.  It is a battery operated, rechargeable red flashing tail light that fastens to the rider's seat post just like many other rear facing lights on the market.  The difference is that the light is accompanied by a tiny, high definition video camera that records what is happening to the cyclist's rear.  It records on a two hour loop, meaning that after two hours of run time, the camera starts to record over earlier footage.  In the event of an incident, the camera's microSD card can be removed to download the footage for permanent safekeeping.

Having viewed the Fly6 Kickstarter page, my first impression is that this is a potentially brilliant product.  As a super bright tail light it helps the cyclist be seen by motorists.  Increasing one's visibility is without a doubt the best way to avoid getting hit in the first place.  The Fly6 also notifies rear approaching drivers that they are being watched thanks to the accompaniment of small, bright spinning lights that operate when it is recording.  The camera itself seems to be of high quality, good enough hopefully to record a license plate in the event of an incident.  The size and ease of use of the product seem ordinary enough that use of the Fly6 would not add hassle to the daily bike commute or recreational ride.

Here is a video from the Fly6's Kickstarter page:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Illinois Law Says Drivers Should Stop and Yield to Pedestrians in Crosswalks.

by Jim Freeman

The video below shows a family trying to negotiate a marked crosswalk spanning Armitage Avenue.  They approach the crosswalk as a team.  The woman goes first, trying to get traffic to yield, while the man walks their child behind.  The woman points to the crosswalk and indicates a desire to cross.

What you can't see, just out of frame, is that the driver of the blue car reluctantly comes to a stop just inches away from the lady, immediately rolls his window down and starts yelling while edging forward in a threatening manner.  It all happened really quickly, but the driver's intent was clear. 

The driver of that blue car should be ashamed of himself.  He not only had no right to be mad at the pedestrians, but he had an absolute duty to stop and yield to them.  The Illinois Motor Vehicle code requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.  625 ILCS 5/11-1002 states in relevant part, "...the driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk..."             
If a driver strikes someone in a marked crosswalk they should be expect to be sued for any injuries that arise from that collision.  If their insurance is insufficient to cover the judgement they will probably be held personally accountable for the difference.  The driver could not only be sued, but could be ruined financially and forced into bankruptcy.  The driver will also risk being charged with criminal violations relating to the accident.

If you or anyone you know is ever struck by a car while cross the street in a crosswalk please give us a call.  We enjoy sticking up for vulnerable roadway users, and we love holding negligent or wanton drivers accountable for their actions.      

Friday, February 7, 2014

Large Trucks Should Have Guards To Protect Bicyclists, Pedestrians

A tanker truck outfitted with a guard to protect cyclists.
Right hooks are scary.  They occur when a driver turns right in front of a cyclist causing a crash.  Even scarier - and often deadly - are right hook crashes involving large trucks. The frighting potential exists for the cyclist to end up under the wheels of the truck.  

Our law firm has represented numerous bicyclists who were right hooked by a large truck.  In September, 2013 one of our clients was the victim of such an incident, getting right hooked by a large tanker truck which turned right across the bicycle lane at Milwaukee and Odgen.  The cyclist suffered a fractured and separated shoulder, but her injuries could have been much worse.  She could have been killed.  In October, 2012, one Chicago bicyclist was not so "lucky".  The man in his 50s was killed in Chicago's Noble Square neighborhood when a truck driver illegally turned right in front of him at the intersection of Ashland Avenue and Augusta Boulevard.  (Our firm does not represent the cyclist.)  These tragedies are not unique to Chicago, and now one large city has decided to adopt aggressive measures to protect cyclists from large trucks.

By the end of 2014, London will prohibit large trucks - those over 3.5 tons - from operating in the city without, "side guards to protect cyclists from being dragged under wheels, as well as mirrors to improve a driver's view of cyclists and pedestrians," according to The Guardian.  The measure was proposed in the wake of the deaths of several cyclists killed in London after being swept under the wheels of large trucks.  The measure will be enforced by on street checks and via closed circuit video cameras, The Guardian reports. There will reportedly be large fines for non-compliance.  

There has been some interest in the United States for similar measures.  In 2008, the City of Portland adopted a resolution recommending that large trucks be fitted with side guards.  While not binding policy, at least some trucks operating in the City, including city owned vehicles, were outfitted with the guards.  Also, last year the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), published safety recommendations that included truck side guards.  It called for the development of,
[P]erformance standards for side underride protection systems for single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.
Once the performance standards . . . have been developed, require newly manufactured single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds to be equipped with side underride protection systems meeting the performance standards.
The NTSB also recommended the installation of "visibility enhancement systems to compensate for blind spots" in order to protect bicyclists and pedestrians. The recommendations came on the heels of a NTSB safety study, Crashes Involving Single-Unit Trucks that Resulted in Injuries and Deaths, which found injuries and fatalities to cyclists caused by turning heavy trucks a significant hazard.

Since 1998, large trucks in the United States have been required to have rear impact guards to protect motorists in the event of a rear end collision.  While some have questioned the overall effectiveness of the rear guards, there have been a reported reduction in fatalities since implementation of the requirement.  Now, it is the time to take similar measures to protect bicyclists and pedestrians by requiring large trucks to be outfitted with side guards.

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