Monday, June 30, 2014

Schaumburg Bicyclist Left With Serious Head Injuries After Being Struck By Hit and Run Driver

A 52 year old Schaumburg bicyclist was left in serious condition after he was struck by a driver that fled the scene, according to the Daily Herald.  The collision occurred at the intersection of West Wise Road and Cranbrook Drive in Schaumburg at around 2:43 p.m. on Saturday.  Police are still looking for the driver of a white two door sports car with damage to its right front fender which may have caused the crash, according to The Chicago Tribune.  Anyone with information about the crash should contact the police at 847.348.7055.

The bicyclist was left with "serious head injuries" and was taken to Alexian Brothers Medical Center, according to the Daily Herald.  Few details of how the crash occurred have been report though the cyclist is believed to have been riding on Wise Road, a designated bicycle route, when he was hit.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thirty-One Year Old Chicago Bicyclist Killed By CTA Train

Thirty one year old Ronayne Thomas was killed just after midnight this morning when he was hit by a CTA Brown Line train as he was riding his bicycle across the tracks in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood.  All of us at Freeman Kevenides Law are especially saddened by the news.  Ronayne had been our client.  I knew him for several years.  He was a good guy and a passionate and experienced city cyclist who rode his bike just about everywhere.  We wish to express our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

Ronayne was pronounced dead at the scene near the Kimball Brown line station in the 4700 block of North Kedzie Avenue at around 12:30 a.m., according to ABC 7 Chicago.  He was struck by a an approaching northbound train as he rode across the tracks.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Bicycle Injury Case That Led To Correction Of Illinois Law Settles

Our law firm has settled "Lilly's case," a high profile lawsuit which arose when a pregnant Chicago bicyclist was doored on Halloween, 2012.  Though her injuries were not terribly severe, given her pregnant state at the time and how she was treated by the police afterwards, the incident was a truly miserable experience for her.  But, for bicyclists throughout Illinois the event led to some positive legal changes.

"Lilly" was actually Rebecca Resman, the feisty development officer of Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance, and a very experienced city cyclist.  Her response in the immediate aftermath of the collision caused a ripple effect that went all the way to the Executive Mansion in Springfield, and to Chicago's City Hall.  At around 9:15 a.m. on October 31, 2012, Rebecca was riding her bicycle along her ordinary route to work southbound along the 1900 block of North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago.  She was five months pregnant at the time.  She was riding along the right side of the roadway in an area designated to be shared by bicycle and motor vehicle traffic.  Cars and trucks were backed up on southbound Lincoln as they were on most days and Rebecca was passing the stopped motor vehicles on the right, a very common practice among city cyclists.  As she attempted to pass a 2000 Buick Electra stopped to her left, a front seat passenger opened his door into Rebecca throwing her hard to the pavement.

Hurt, frightened and angry Rebecca asked the police officer who responded to the scene whether the occupants of the Buick would be ticketed.  The law is quite clear that motor vehicle occupants must look for traffic, including bicycle traffic, before opening their door.  The officer told her that if he was inclined to ticket anyone it would be her.  (In an earlier blog post I wrote that Rebecca was ticketed.  She wasn't.  The officer only threatened her with a ticket.)  He also wrote his police report strongly suggesting that it was Rebecca who was at fault for the collision.  After she hired us to represent her in an injury claim against the driver and passenger we received the following letter from Progressive Insurance Company:

The insurance company had "determined that [our] client, Ms. Rebecca Resman is majority at fault for this accident occurring.  The on-scene police report puts fault on Ms. Resman, states that she improperly overtook on the right causing this collision to occur."  Because of the way the report was written, Progressive was denying the injury claim.

We filed a lawsuit.

We also worked with Rebecca's employer, The Active Transportation Alliance, to get the law clarified.  The police officer was under the mistaken impression that a provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code allowing for right-sided passing only when eight feet of space is available applied to bicyclists. It actually only applied to motorcycles, motorized scooters and the like.  Rarely do Chicago cyclists have eight feet of space available for passing stopped traffic.  As the law was written, however, a cursory read could cause confusion as it had in this case.  We wrote up some simple changes to be inserted into the state statute and into Chicago's municipal code and submitted it to Ron Burke, the executive director at Active Trans.  He and his staff worked hard to find bill sponsors in Springfield and to get our proposal added to pro-bicycle ordinance changes Mayor Emanuel's office had already submitted to the City Counsel.  In Springfield, the bill sailed through both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Quinn.  In Chicago, we participated in negotiations regarding the language with Ron Burke, representatives from the Chicago Department of Transportation and city lawyers.  Eventually, we reached an agreement and the law was submitted and passed by the City Counsel.   Now, in Chicago and throughout Illinois there can be no question that bicyclists may pass slowed or stopped motor vehicles on the right.  There is no eight foot rule applicable to cyclists, only a requirement that passing be executed if the circumstances made it reasonably safe for the cyclist to do so.  Click here for a thorough description of the law and how it was clarified.  

During the litigation that followed Progressive's rejection Rebecca gave her deposition, during which she answered questions about the crash posed by the insurance company's attorney.  She did a wonderful job of explaining how the crash occurred and gave all those present the distinct impression that she was in no way acting foolishly at the time of the incident.  She established her credibility.  There were three reasons she was able to do this:  First, she is a very smart, awesome person.  Secondly, we spent time working with her to make sure she was well prepared for her deposition.  The importance of working with a client before their deposition cannot be overstated.  For the attorney, depositions are routine affairs, but young lawyers must remember that for the client they are novel and scary events.  Time must be taken to talk with the client and prepare them for what they may expect, the types of questions that will be asked and what the setting will look and sound like.  Rebecca was a good student during preparation and this helped her relax and perform well when the time came.  Thirdly, the facts were on her side.  The truth of the matter was that she was doing everything right when she was hit.  She was the victim of someone else's carelessness.  

Soon after her deposition, the defendants' attorney called me in hopes of reaching a settlement.  After several days of negotiations they made an offer I felt comfortable recommending to Rebecca and the case resolved.

When I work with people who want to learn to ride in the city I teach them to ride confidently.  Understand what your rights are then exercise them.  That does not mean that you will always have smooth sailing.  There are motorists and cops out there that either do not know or do not care about cyclists' rights.  But when you are in the right and something goes wrong there are folks out there who can and will help.  The Active Transportation Alliance is an awesome and powerful group advocating and working for cyclists and pedestrians.  Also, my partner Jim Freeman, me and our kick ass staff are always itching for a fight on behalf of people who ride.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Riding Single File vs. Two Abreast: What's the Law?

Courtesy Higher GearBike Shop
The following article by Brendan Kevenides originally appeared as part of his semi-regular column at Urban Velo, Cycling Legalese:

Q:  I had an angry driver accost us on a casual ride about taking up the whole road. We were in the rightmost lane, riding more or less with traffic, and two abreast. What are the laws on riding two abreast?
The law as it regards riding single file versus two abreast, a.k.a., riding next to each other, tends to reflect the frustration and sometimes hostility between those who like to use their bikes for transportation and exercise and those who think bikes belong on sidewalks or on limited use paths. In many places in the United States riding two abreast is legal; except when it isn’t. In some places it is explicitly prohibited. Unfortunately, it is difficult to provide a bright line rule. Much will depend on the law of the state you are in, the local ordinance of the town you are riding through (which may differ from the state’s vehicle code), the width of the roadway and the judgment of a police officer.
I recognize that this is not a satisfactory answer, but hopefully an explanation will offer some guidance.
The law in New York is as good an example as any of the “it depends” rule. Section 1234(b) of the New York Vehicle Code says:
Persons riding bicycles… upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Simple, right? You can ride two abreast but not three or more.
But the section continues: Persons riding bicycles upon a shoulder, bicycle… lane, or bicycle… path, intended for the use of bicycles… may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available.
The section adds, however, that when passing another user of the bike path or lane, cyclists must do so while riding single file.
Okay, but wait: Persons riding bicycles… upon a roadway shall ride… single file when being overtaken by a vehicle.
So it appears that while street riding in New York, you may ride two abreast; that is until a driver feels that you are in the way and wants to pass. Then you must revert to single file. Got that?
Let’s take a look at Illinois.
As in New York, the Illinois legislature giveth, then it taketh away.
The relevant state statute says: Persons riding bicycles or motorized pedal cycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than 2 abreast, except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for their exclusive use.
That is the give. You can ride two abreast. Now for the take: Persons riding 2 abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane…
This does not seem quite as onerous as the New York law. Still, there is much left open to interpretation so as to erode the confidence of cyclists when riding two abreast. What exactly does it mean to “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic?” What traffic? Motor vehicle traffic? Bicycle traffic? And who gets to decide? Generally it will be a police officer who makes the controlling judgment call. The officer will likely look to another section of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code for guidance which states that a person on a bicycle riding: at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable and safe to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
To the extent that the left most rider riding two abreast is not as close as practicable and safe to the right side of the road, he or she may be subject to a traffic citation.
But wait, it gets even trickier in the Land of Lincoln. Some towns/municipalities have taken it upon themselves to regulate this issue. This means that during a single ride the law may change as you pedal across town boundaries. For example, let’s say you would like to begin a group ride with your buddies in Chicago and head north into the suburbs, a very common practice for club riders here. At the beginning of the ride in the City you may ride two abreast, so long as you are not impeding traffic. However, as you reach the North Shore suburb of Winnetka you must “ride single-file, except on paths or parts of roads which are set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.” To the best of my knowledge, cyclists are not warned of a change in the law as they enter Winnetka. Perhaps a sign that says something like, “Welcome To Winnetka; Now Get In Single File” would alert cyclists to adjust their group riding formation accordingly. Absent that, it seems that before setting out with a buddy on a ride in Illinois, you must research the local ordinance of each town you plan to pass through. Because what’s more fun than preparing for a bike ride by doing a whole bunch of legal research?
California has taken an arguably novel approach to this issue. Its state code says this about two abreast vs. single file riding: Nothing. The California vehicle code does not address the matter at all. So that means you can ride two, three, four, five, etc. abreast in that state, right? Not so fast. As we saw in Illinois, some municipalities in California have taken it upon themselves to address the matter.
For example, a local ordinance in Torrance states: Persons operating bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
In that city cyclists may ride two abreast at most. As for the rest of the state, the vehicle code’s silence on the issue does not necessarily equate to smooth traveling through the legal landscape. In 2010, The Press Democrat, a California newspaper, documented conflicts between bicyclists and drivers in Sonoma County. The paper asked a member of the California Highway Patrol to offer his take on drivers’ complaints of cyclists riding next to each other rather than single file. Somewhat predictably the patrolman noted that the state’s vehicle code (like that in every other state) requires cyclists to ride as close to the right edge of the road as practicable. However, he admitted that “Riders do not have to ride single file in CA.”
But… He interprets the law as requiring, “If traffic traveling in the same direction approaches them [the cyclists], then they must move as far to the right as practicable. So, even if it is only one car that comes up behind them, if there is a rider that is alongside another, and in the traffic lane, they must pull in behind or ahead of the rider. If they can safely ride abreast in a marked bike lane, they would not have to do this.” In short, cyclists not riding single file where a car wishes to pass are subject to citation.
So, what is the takeaway from this sampling of the law in three big states with major metropolitan areas? It is that unless riding two or more abreast is explicitly outlawed (I’m looking at you Winnetka, IL), you may do so without getting hassled by the police so long as there are no drivers who wish to pass. If a driver going in the same direction wishes to pass the best practice to avoid legal trouble is to revert to single file.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chicago Police Department, Officer Held Accountable For Injuring Bicyclist

A Chicago Police Department SUV
A settlement has been reached between a 59 year old female bicyclist and the Chicago Police Department for injuries she received when an officer cut her off on the City's Lake Front Path.  After the crash Chicago police ticketed the woman for allegedly damaging the Department's SUV.  Our law firm filed a lawsuit on the cyclist's behalf and negotiated resolution of the case with Department lawyers.

The incident occurred where the Lake Front Path is intersected by South Larabiba Drive on the City's South Side.  At around 7:00 a.m. on November 2, 2011, the woman, an experienced cyclist, was riding southbound on the Path on her way to the South Shore Cultural Center.  The weather was slightly overcast, but was dry with good visibility.  At the intersection with Larabiba, she crossed with the light in her favor traveling at 10 or 11 miles per hour.  At that location, East Marquette Drive runs parallel to the Lake Front Path.  An on-duty police officer was traveling north on Marquette in a 2009 CPD Chevy Tahoe.  When he reached Larabiba Drive he turned right directly into the path of the southbound bicyclist. The front of the woman's bike struck the side of the SUV, the collision throwing her hard to the ground.  She was taken from the scene to the University of Chicago Hospital via ambulance.  She was diagnosed with a two fractured ribs, a punctured lung and with injuries to her hip and back.

Liability for the incident was denied by the Chicago Police Department which accused the woman of being at fault for causing her own injuries.  Immediately following the crash, several other police officers arrived at the scene and the bicyclist was ticketed for damaging the the Department's vehicle with her bike.  The bicyclist called us and we filed a lawsuit against the Department and the officer seeking compensation for the woman's injuries.  Not surprisingly, during his deposition the police officer testified that he turned on a green light and did nothing wrong.  Much of the case centered around the officer's in-vehicle video recording system.  The Department vehicle was equipped with a dashboard video camera.  However, despite our requests, the Department was unable to turn over any video which may have shed light on how the crash occurred. The Department contended that for some reason the dashboard camera was not working at the time of the crash and turned over documents to us which it said demonstrated that fact.  We demanded that we be permitted to take the deposition of the person in the Department most familiar with the video recording system.  During that deposition, the Department's own employee testified that the dash cam definitely was working a few days before the crash.  He could not say that it was not operational at the time of the incident, that generally the in-vehicle video system is always on and recording and that if video was taken of the collision it should have been preserved.  We believe that this potentially damning testimony helped bring the Defendants to the bargaining table.  The case settled for $85,000.00.

. . . And the ticket the cyclist received for supposedly denting the Department vehicle was thrown out.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Using Your Cell Phone While Bicycling.

By Jim Freeman

Yesterday I went to court with a bicyclist who had been charged with a violation of Chicago Municipal Code section 9-76-230(a), using a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle.  That section of the Chicago Municipal Code states in relevant part, "no person shall drive a motor vehicle while using a mobile, cellular, analog wireless or digital telephone."  The officer's narrative stated that the, "...offender was observed...  using his cellphone while driving his bicycle on a city street in traffic."

After I filed my appearance and met with the attorneys for the City we were able to convince them that my client was not operating a "motor vehicle" as was clearly required by the language of the statute.  The case was dismissed in its entirety.

On the other hand, my client could have been charged with a violation of 9-52-110(b), which reads in relevant part, "Except as otherwise provided in subsection (c) of this section, no person shall operate a bicycle while using a communication device."  A cellphone is included in the definition of a "communication device."  Subsection (c) indicates that this section shall not include those people using a hands-free-device.  I, for one, have never found a hands free-device that could be used while riding a bicycle.  In my experience there is just way too much outside noise and wind. 

It is illegal and dangerous to talk on your cell phone while riding a bicycle (unless you are using a hands-free device), but it is the responsibility of the officer and the corporation counsel to know what the proper violation should be.  If you've been charged with such a  violation please feel free to give us a call.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bicyclist Killed In Bridgeport Hit and Run Was Caring Woman

Suai Xie, courtesy of DNAInfo
The 59 year old woman who was killed last week by a hit and run driver was a hard working, caring person. DNAInfo published a thoughtful article this morning about Suai Xie who was killed while riding her bike home from the grocery store in Bridgeport.  It is hugely important to tell the stories of the bicyclists who are killed and injured each year in our city and state.  Sometimes I worry about constantly using the short cut term "bicyclists."  These are people with life stories and families who happened to have been riding a bike.

Check out the full article about Suai Xie here.

Changing Lights; A Dangerous Time.

By Jim Freeman

At intersections controlled by traffic lights, most accidents occur within a few seconds of the change of lights.  As a cyclist, I understand that timing and negotiating an intersection is part of the art of riding a bicycle.  As a driver, I understand that just because the light turned green doesn't mean I can just plow ahead without verifying the intersection is clear.  I'm in the minority though, and most drivers don't appreciate that they must verify the intersection is clear before proceeding when a green indication appears.

Drivers do two dangerous things in connection with changing lights.  They time the green or they will try to beat the red.  Both of these are very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians because the vehicles tend to be going very fast as they enter the intersection.

A driver approaching an intersection with a green light changing to yellow will often speed up in attempt to make the light.  I call this "beating the red."  In Chicago this happens often as Chicago yellow lights are a ridiculously short three seconds.  The driver does or doesn't make the light, but when he hits the intersection he might be going well in excess of the speed limit.  That's how Mandy Annis was killed at the intersection of Kedzie and Armitage.  She was waiting at a red light on Armitage at Kedzie.  Witnesses related that the light turned green and Mandy pedaled forward into the intersection.  What she didn't realize is that a driver heading southbound on Kedzie was speeding up in a failed attempt to beat the impending red light.  Some estimates had the driver traveling at 45 miles an hour when he entered the intersection.

The other thing drivers tend to do when approaching an intersection is time the green.  The driver approaches a red light, but they can see that the light is changing, so they time it so that they hit the intersection at speed exactly as the light turns green.

The video below shows a driver and a bicyclist timing a light.  As you watch the video note the delivery truck waiting at the light in the left hand lane.  That truck blocks the view of the intersection to cars in the right lane.  You can see the light in the foreground of the video.  If you look closely you can see the light change to red just as the bicyclist enters the intersection.  At exactly that time you see a pickup truck approach the intersection at speed.  The pickup never stops before entering the intersection, and he can't verify that the intersection is clear because the delivery truck is blocking his view.  Many factors converged to cause this collision.  If any one of the factors had not been present the collision would not have happened, but it just goes to show the dangers that lurk close to the change of lights.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Driver In Fatal Bridgeport Hit And Run To Appear In Court Today

Gabriel Herrera, courtesy
The Chicago Tribune
Gabriel Herrera, 65, got into his van at his home on the 3000 block of South Quinn Street, drove around the block on his way to Home Depot, hit and killed 59 year old Suai Xie and kept going.  Ms. Xie was riding her bicycle along the 2900 block of South Poplar Avenue very close to a park at the time of the collision, according to The Chicago Tribune.  The crash occurred at around 5:30 p.m. on Friday.  Apparently, a witness provided police with the van's license plate number leading to Mr. Herrera's arrest a short time later, the Tribune reported.

The driver is scheduled to appear in court today.  He is charged with "one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident that led to a death and one misdemeanor count of failing to render aid. He was also cited for failing to reduce speed," according to the Tribune.

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