Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Husband, Father Of Two Killed Riding Bicycle To Work By Driver Who May Have Disobeyed Stop Sign

Efrain Diaz-Torres with his two children
Courtesy ABC 7 News
When the weather was nice Efrain Diaz-Torres road his bicycle to work so his wife and two small children could use the car, family friend Joanie Recchia told ABC 7 News.  Yesterday he bid his family goodbye, hopped on his bicycle and began his two mile ride to his manufacturing job.  It was a pleasant spring morning.  He never made it to work.

The driver of a white van, Edward Kowalski of 129 Rosemont Avenue in Roselle, struck and killed Mr. Diaz-Torres at the intersection of Rosemont Avenue and Roselle Road early yesterday morning, according to Telemundo Chicago.  As of yesterday, authorities were investigating the scene in an apparent effort to reconstruct the crash.  It is not entirely clear how the collision occurred but here is what is known so far:

  • Mr. Diaz-Torres lived in the 1800 block of Roselle Road.  To reach the intersection of Roselle and Rosemont he would have had to travel south.
  • Mr. Kowalski was traveling eastbound on Rosemont just prior to the crash and was attempting to make a left to travel north on Roselle when he collided with the bicyclist.
  • Video and still photos of the crash scene taken by several news outlets showed rescue personnel attempting to extricate the cyclist and/or his bicycle from underneath the van which was stopped on the east side of Rosemont.  The vehicle was stopped at an angle as one might expect from a vehicle in the midst of making a left turn.
  • Mr. Diaz-Torres was familiar with the area and was an experienced cyclist.
  • A stop sign controlled Mr. Kowalski's direction of traffic at the intersection of Rosemont and Roselle, a t-intersection adjacent to Turner Park.
  • No traffic control device controlled Mr. Diaz-Torres's direction of traffic.

It has not been reported whether Mr. Diaz-Torres was riding on Roselle Road or on the adjacent sidewalk before the collision.  However, it should be emphasized that he would have been well within his rights to do either.  This is an important point.  In Roselle, as is the case throughout Illinois, cyclists have all of the same rights to use the roadway as drivers of motor vehicles.  If Mr. Diaz-Torres was riding on  Roselle Road he was in compliance with the law.  Also, in Roselle cyclists are permitted to ride on the sidewalk, so long as there is so official prohibition against doing so.  This is consistent with the Illinois Vehicle Code.  A review of the location of the crash reveals no such prohibition.  If Mr. Diaz-Torres was riding on the sidewalk before the crash he was in compliance with the law.  Given how vulnerable cyclists are to injury and death caused by inattentive drivers in their much heavier, faster motor vehicles, it makes sense for them to have more than one safe legal navigation option.  Regardless of which option Mr. Diaz-Torres chose, Mr. Kowalski had a duty to stop at the stop sign at Rosemont and Roselle and look for all vehicles before proceeding.

In the various media reports about this sad event some issues have arisen that I find troubling.  First, virtually every media outlet has found it necessary emphasize that the driver appears not to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, as if that somehow abrogates his responsibility to some degree.  It does not.  I am not sure why there has not been more emphasis on the fact that the driver had a stop sign.  Secondly, there has been some speculation (perhaps reasonable speculation) that the sun obscured the driver's vision as he traveled east on Rosemont upon his approach to the intersection.  Let us assume that it did at around 6:10 a.m. yesterday.  The rising sun should not have greatly affected his view left (to the north) and right (to the south).  He should have been able to see Mr. Diaz-Torres despite any glare from the east.  In any event, it is a fundamental rule of the road that a driver who cannot see should not proceed.  Looking and failing to see what should be seen is no defense.  It is an indictment.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Man Riding His Bicycle Struck And Killed By Van Driver In Roselle

Courtesy ABC 7 Chicago
The driver of a white utility van struck and killed a man in his 40s riding his bicycle in Roselle this morning. The fatal collision occurred on South Roselle Road, near the intersection with Rosemont Avenue shortly after 6 a.m. near Turner Park, according to NBC 5 Chicago.  The bicyclist's name has not been released.

The driver had been eastbound on Rosemont Avenue, a residential street, before making a left onto Roselle Road when he hit the cyclist. The driver's direction of travel on Rosemont was controlled by a stop sign.  Photos and video from the scene showed paramedics and firefighters working to extricate the man and his bike from underneath the van.

Turner Park, part of the Roselle Park District, is right next to the crash scene.  There are several bike paths in the area.  The weather in the area this morning was clear and pleasant.  A review of the area on Google Streeview demonstrates that the sight lines on Rosemont Avenue at the intersection are clear.  

The cyclist's direction of travel prior to the crash has not been reported.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Complete Streets Posterboy

A lack of complete streets requires the elderly to just make do.
Photo by Jim Freeman
by Jim Freeman

I spent Easter weekend with my family in southern Missouri.  My sister lives in Nixa, Missouri, which is about 5 miles south of Springfield or about 40 miles north of the Arkansas border.  There are almost no sidewalks in Nixa.  In fact, it seem like there are no sidewalks in southern Missouri apart from the central downtown districts.  The park in Nixa, a few blocks from my sister's house, has no sidewalks providing pedestrian access, but it does have parking for 20 or 30 cars.

Necessity dictated that I spend part of the morning at the local Walmart Auto Center for an oil change as it was the only place open on Easter Sunday.  While I waited an elderly man entered the service station from an exterior door.  He had a walker with four wheels that had been fitted with a box with a capacity of about three cubic feet.  It held what appeared to be his lunch and some personal effects.  He was dressed in a pair of striped overalls and a high visibility reflective vest (a clear sign to me that this man is loved).  Slowly, he made his way into the service center waiting room, helped himself to a complimentary cup of coffee and sat down with his lunch.

The man, Paul, was born in 1926.  Paul was a local to the area, and we discussed the many changes Southern Missouri had undergone in his lifetime.  His impression was that before WWII most of the population was rural.  Everyone had heir own garden, and they stocked their basements with the bounty of the season for the winter ahead.  He remembered a time when his family went swimming in the James River on Easter, and it was so cold that there was still ice creeping out from the riverbank.  Paul has four children.  His children have children, and he claims his family now numbers around 50 people including, "in-laws and out-laws."  When we met, Paul was in the process of getting his daily exercise.  He planned to spend the rest of the day with his family.

Paul currently lives down the road from the Walmart in what I suspect is a retirement home.  As there are no sidewalks, Paul is accustomed to walking in the street to make his daily walk to the local Walmart.  Most of the time he walks the whole way without resting.  Today, he admitted, he took a break for a couple minutes somewhere in between.

As we headed out of town I snapped the picture above.  This is not Paul, and I suspect that  it is not unusual to see two elderly people in the road in the span of 20 minutes.  Notice that there aren't any sidewalks or shoulders on this road, and that is pretty much how the roads are set up in Southern Missouri.

Complete Streets is a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated, and maintained to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. Complete Streets allow for safe travel by those walking, bicycling, driving automobiles, riding public transportation, or delivering goods.   Many communities, such as Nixa, have been designed to facilitate easy and fast access to destinations via automobile. In rural and suburban communities, people often rely on the automobile as their sole means of transportation.  In such communities, automobiles are the central focus of transportation, infrastructure and land use policies to the extent that other modes of transportation, such as walking, cycling and mass transit, are viewed as impractical.

If all we do is focus on transportation by automobile we neglect a piece of the population who cannot drive for one reason or another.  Pedestrians in Nixa walk in the street or in the ditch.  If we're lucky, all of us will be so fortunate as to live as long as Paul and the man in the hat.  Once we reach that age, if we live in a community that has not adopted a complete streets policy we will be forced into local transportation under unsafe conditions, or depend on others to provide for our auto transportation needs.  I, for one, am way too independent for that.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cycling Legalese: Does The Bike Lane Compel You?

The following article by Brendan Kevenides originally appeared on the Urban Velo website.
Ever expanding bicycle infrastructure is awesome, hands down. But are you compelled to use a bike lane or separated path if it exists, even if it is in disrepair or otherwise not suitable? Read on.
Q:There are new bike lanes popping up all over. That’s cool, but do I have to ride in them?
Bike lanes are awesome, except when they’re not. As someone who has been riding in the big bad city for decades, I am thrilled at the proliferation of bike specific infrastructure in my town and others nationwide. Our cities are evolving. However, no big North American city can claim to be on par with bike meccas like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. In the evolutionary timeline we have crawled out of the primordial ooze, but we are still pretty wet behind the ears. Sometimes bike lanes, and other cycle specific infrastructure, suck. Thankfully, in most places bicyclists are not required to use bike lanes or separated paths.
There are several reasons why a cyclist might choose not to ride in a bike lane. It may be in disrepair, full of potholes, ruts or broken glass. Leaving the bike lane may be the safe thing to do. It is common in U.S. cities for the lanes to be occupied illegally by cars, delivery trucks or other vehicles. Here in Chicago, buses are permitted to share bicycle lanes with people on bikes. In the winter months, bike paths maybe rendered impassable due to the accumulation of snow and ice. There are even times when cycling on a path or in a bike lane clear of obstructions just does not make sense. For example, a roadie on a training ride may be advised to avoid a path crowded with cyclists traveling at a more leisurely pace.
There once was a time when the majority of U.S. states had what are commonly referred to as “mandatory use laws,” that is laws that require cyclists to use a bike specific path or other designated area located adjacent to a regular travel lane. These laws were more common at a time when there were actually fewer such paths in existence, and virtually no bike lanes in North American cities. According to the League of American Bicyclists, “In the 1970s, mandatory use laws of some sort existed in 38 states.” Now, however, there are far fewer such laws, many having been repealed. Illinois’ vehicle code has no mandatory use requirement. Until recently, the municipal code of Chicago had such a requirement which read, “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.” The ordinance did not define what a usable path was. Was it a bike lane with nothing more than a painted line separating cars and bikes? Or, was more substantial separation required, like a jersey barrier? This vagueness ultimately lead to repeal of the ordinance in June, 2013.
Cyclists throughout Illinois and in places like Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and many others cyclists may ignore bike lanes and paths for any reason. In other jurisdictions a cyclist’s right to do so is qualified. For example, in California a bicyclist must use a bicycle lane where one is provided, unless he or she is traveling at the same speed as traffic moving in the same direction. California bikers may also abandon the lane when overtaking another bicyclist or pedestrian, when preparing to turn left, to avoid debris or hazardous conditions or when approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. The law in New York seems to be the same. Where there are bike lanes, cyclists have to use them. It appears, however, that cyclists there may abandon them under the same circumstances set for the in California Code.
The state with perhaps the scariest mandatory use language is one generally considered the most bike friendly in North America, Oregon. Its vehicle code states that, “A person commits the offense of failure to use a bicycle lane or path if the person operates a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.”
An “offense.” Yikes. Still, even in Oregon a bike lane or path may be abandoned to pass other cyclists, to make a left turn, to avoid hazard and to execute a right turn. Also, Oregon provides that a person need not comply with the mandatory use law unless it has been determined after public hearing that the bike lane or path is “suitable for safe bicycle use at reasonable rates of speed.”
As is generally the case, knowing what the law requires depends on the particular circumstances and where you are. If you want to check the law on mandatory use in your state, The League of American Bicyclists has a very helpful chart online. Be advised, however, that laws can change at any time without notice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Man Attacked on Bike; Caught on Helmet Cam.

by Jim Freeman

The video below of a bicyclist being attacked is chilling.  The incident took place in Baltimore but attacks can and do happen in Chicago.  Attacks on cyclists in cities are not confined to any particular neighborhood.

I've had rocks thrown at me.  It actually doesn't hurt to get pegged with a small rock when you're biking.  I find it rather natural to protect my face with my shoulders when in a tuck.  You just kind of shrug in the direction of the incoming projectile and absorb the impact.  In the winter your layers will absorb an impact from most small rocks without so much as a welt.  Bigger rocks- not so much. 

People have thrown bottles at me.  Once a kid threw a bottle that was a little short and it exploded underneath me, flattening my rear tire.  I gave chase, but ultimately let the kid get away.  What am I going to do, beat up an eight year old kid?  Another person once threw a bottle from a moving car.  I followed him home (just a few stupid blocks away) and called the cops, but CPD didn't think he was throwing the bottle at me; he was just throwing it out the window.  I said, "Ok...  Then at least give him a ticket for littering."  They declined that request.  

I had a young girl act like she was going to kick me as I rode by.  The only thing harmed was my pride, but it was an irritating assault nonetheless.   

I once was riding home with a friend when we came upon the tail end of a cyclist being beaten down in the street by a bunch of kids.  As we rode up there were hearty laughs coming from the wolf pack.  The cyclist was in the process of escaping, so there wasn't much for me to do.  I called the cops, but no one was around by the time they responded. 

One time someone threw a pipe at a friend I was riding with; I remember seeing the pipe spiral seemingly slowly through the air as it gracefully arched toward my friend.  It struck the ground and bounced into his rear wheel, taking him down.

I once had a driver wave me through a small hole in traffic, only to hit the gas once I was in front of his car in an apparent attempt to run me down.  I'll never forget the sensation of the heat coming from his radiator.  It was a cold winter day, and he came that close to hitting me. 

I can't tell you how many times I've had a car pass me so close that I was sure I would be hit.  Once it actually happened, and I was struck by a passenger mirror.  Sometimes it is just an oblivious driver, other times the intention of threat is crystal clear.

Violence against bicyclists isn't an issue in just certain neighborhoods, or something that is perpetrated by a predictable subset of our population, rather it is a problem that comes from all aspects of society.  One time I had a frat boy run out into the street and punch me in the helmet.  How do I know he was a frat boy you ask?  It takes one to know one brother, and I'll take a punch to the helmet over almost any other offense.  That was the day I learned that when you spray someone with tear gas you need to aim for their center mass and move upwards to the face.  I shot straight for his face and missed off to one side.  He got the idea and backed off, but it was a disappointing miss nonetheless.  I vividly recall someone yelling from down the block, "You guys look like IDIOTS!"  I'm quite sure the onlooker was telling the truth.

I once had a soccer mom in a minivan do the "quick hit the gas when the biker gets in front of you" because she didn't like that I merged in front of her as she approached a red stoplight.  I circled back and rolled up to her window in an effort to dole out some accountability.  She declined to crack her window and instead pulled out her cellphone as if to call the police.  I asked through her closed window to be sure to tell them that she was willing to run me down.    

I have a friend who carries a nine ounce can of bear repellant at all times.  He has thwarted a couple attempted assaults and two attempted robberies with the judicious use of bear spray.  I actually don't suggest bear spray, but my friend likes it for it's 30 foot range.  Police have told me in the past that the bear spray isn't nearly as concentrated as self-defense pepper spray, and therefore not as effective.  My friend swears by it though, and admittedly, has used it to great effect.

I'm glad to see that this guy is using a helmet cam.  I'm a big advocate of helmet cams.  A few weeks ago I bought one for my paralegal, Bob, who commutes every day from Hammond, Indiana.  Once a week he has some new video of someone willing to risk Bob's life so they can get around just a little faster.

Any regular commuter is subject to offenses that most people would find shocking.  Stuff like this happens all the time, but to hear about it just doesn't quite convey the gravity of the situation.  Photographic evidence is a powerful thing, and this video really conveys the senseless nature of violence against bicyclists.  You can't argue with the video.  It shows what happened.  I'd like to see more cyclists using helmet cameras.  I wish I'd had one in years past.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Women Bike Chicago To Hold Day of Dialogue and Demonstrations

By Anne Alt

It started with a conversation about a year and a half ago, when several of us shared a thought that had been troubling each of us.  In our travels and on volunteer shifts doing CDOT bike traffic counts, we noticed that the percentage of women we saw among everyone we saw riding bikes on the street was very low, usually 25-30% or less.  We started asking questions to discover the reasons why and brainstorming to develop ways to encourage more women to ride. That led to our first event a year ago and motivated us to continue.

Women Bike Chicago is holding its second annual Day of Dialogue and Demonstrations tomorrow,  Saturday April 12.  This year, it’s in a new location: Dvorak Park at 1119 W. Cullerton in Pilsen.

A wide spectrum of women and experiences will be represented.  The event is exclusively for women presented by women.  If you are a woman who would like to learn more about buying a suitable bike for you, using a bike for transportation, meeting other women to ride with, and more, we hope that you will join us on Saturday.  Please share this info with other women who might be interested.
If you’re a guy, please encourage female family members, friends, co-workers or other women in your life to attend. 

We’ve organized rides, social events and presentations since last year’s event, and we’re offering a slightly larger event this year.  Child care is available for those who need it.  The event is free, but we encourage you to make a donation if you’re able to help out with the costs of holding the event.

For a complete schedule and other info, click here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bicyclist In Serious Condition After Being Struck By Rampaging Driver In Skokie

The mangled bike. Courtesy
Evanston Now
A bicyclist in his 50s was seriously injured yesterday in Skokie when he was struck by a 63 year old driver, according to Evanston Now. Video from ABC 7 Chicago shows the bike laying in the street in the 700 block of Main Street, the red carbon fiber frame sliced in half.  As of yesterday evening the bicyclist was in serious condition in St. Francis Hospital with a head injury.

The collision with the bicyclist reportedly came at the end of a three mile rampage in which the female driver struck several other motor vehicles and a woman on a motor scooter.  Witnesses apparently describe the woman as muttering to police that she did nothing wrong.  Drugs and alcohol were reportedly not found in her system.  No word as to whether she was experiencing a mental or physical calamity of some sort at the time of the crash.  

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