Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chicago's Top Cycling Stories Of 2014

In 2014 the City of Chicago continued its commitment to making our streets better for cyclists. More bike lanes were installed around the city, and old facilities were updated.  Despite those encouraging signs Chicago has a ways to go toward becoming a truly great biking city.  The League of American Bicyclists still only ranks Chicago as a Silver city for cycling, significantly behind Gold cities like Seattle and San Francisco and a Platinum city like Portland.  This lag was seemingly highlighted by the poor condition of our roads and bike lanes after a particularly difficult winter. Also, the number of deaths was up substantially from 2013.  So with a mix of good and bad here are the top five Chicago cycling stories of 2014:

5.  Showing that one person really can make a difference, one fiesty cyclist fought the law and won. June saw the resolution of "Lilly's case," a high profile lawsuit which arose when a pregnant Chicago bicyclist was doored on Halloween, 2012.  Rebecca Resman, aka "Lilly", was threatened with a traffic citation by a Chicago police officer after she was doored by the passenger of a motor vehicle as she passed on the right in a bicycle lane.  The responding officer apparently felt that the cyclist violated a statute prohibiting two wheeled vehicles from passing stopped or slowed motor vehicles on the right unless they were afforded 8 feet of space, a rarity in Chicago.  The law was only meant to apply to motorcycles, scooters and the like.  Our firm, which represented Rebecca, and her employer, The Active Transportation Alliance, worked with legislators in Springfield and with the City of Chicago have the law clarified to permit passing on the right so long as  there was "reasonable" space in which to do so.  With that important change in place and following Rebecca's poised deposition testimony, the case resolved to her benefit.

4.  Our state's appellate court did Illinois bicyclists a solid with its holding in Pattullo-Banks v. City of Park Ridge.  Illinois municipalities may now be held liable for injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists forced into the street by snow piled onto sidewalks and bike lanes by city plows, according to the Court.  The ruling was issued on September 4th and overturned an order entered by Cook County Judge Lynn Egan dismissing the plaintiff's lawsuit against the city.

3.  First, it was in Detroit.  Then it was a television commercial.  In 2014 Slow Roll made a home in Chicago as a new kind of urban advocacy.  Slow Roll Chicago was founded by Jamal Julien and Olatunji Oboi Reed as a means of getting people of all types, young, old, in shape and out on their bikes and into the communities  The idea is to have fun but also to, you know, see stuff and, more to the point, become aware of what is happening throughout Chicago.  The hope is that awareness will encourage action where ever and whenever it is needed.  Slow Roll uses the bicycle as a tool to create neighborhood awareness, not merely as a means of recreating.  In September Julien explained to The Chicago Tribune, "We want to promote the communities that we're riding through.  We'll be  looking at coffee shops, mom-and-pop restaurants and small retailers.  And if there is a historical venue, we can stop and talk about it."  Reed added, "We ride because we believe the more people that ride in our community, the better we stand an opportunity of our communities being improved."

2.  The first half of the year was a rough one for Chicago cycles with an exceptionally brutal winter, and an unprepared or unresponsive administration combining to make getting around by bike very difficult.  Pot holes (more like craters in some spots) and snowy, icy bike lanes were the big story of early 2014.  Back in 2013, the city did a pretty good job of clearing bike lanes when winter weather hit.  But by February of this year, as my partner Jim Freeman noted on this blog, "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."  By early March, the winter still in full effect, it seemed that the City had thrown in the towel.  Even in the touted Dearborn Bike Lane, snow and ice remained long after storm clouds had cleared making pedaling to work treacherous.  When the weather finally did break, potholes, many of considerable enormity, remained, and the City was spread thin in its efforts to fix them.  

If Chicago is truly committed to seeing the bicycle become a viable means of transportation for its citizens and visitors then it simply must be as committed to clearing the streets for cyclists as it is for drivers.  Let's hope that last winter was a learning experience, merely a blip in the march towards our city becoming more bike friendly year 'round.

1.  Twice as many people died riding their bikes in Chicago in 2014 as did the year before.  Through today, 8 people died in bicycle related crashes this year, compared to 4 in 2013.*  Adding to this sad statistic was a report released in October by the Governors Highway Safety Association which listed Illinois as having the 5th most bicycle fatalities in the nation between 2010 and 2012.  Certainly this is sobering stuff highlighting in the starkest possible terms how far we still must travel to make our state and our city safer for cycling.  

It seems fair to note that cycling in Chicago and statewide has increased in popularity.  Given all of the earnest work done by planners statewide it would be hard to argue that cycling now is more dangerous than it was 10 years ago.  More people on bikes may be expected to lead to more injury and more fatalities. Still, the goal is zero bicycling fatalities and here's hoping that 2015 sees us closer to reaching that crucial milestone.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

CTA And City Must Do A Better Job Of Protecting Chicago Bicyclists

Riding with buses is no fun.  Until Chicago does a better job of segregating bicycle and bus traffic, like some other North American cities have, cyclists will just have to deal with it. Even experienced city bikers grit their teeth when a Chicago Transit Authority bus zips passed only to swerve right in front of them to pick up/drop off passengers.  More novice cyclists I've spoken with cite the presence of CTA buses as a major factor that keeps them from riding more.  

But there are rules that bus drivers must follow.  When they are disobeyed and a cyclist is injured as a result, the CTA may be held responsible.  Consider the video below shot earlier this week on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park:

The three buses presented a dangerous situation for bicyclists in the area, as well as for the people seeking to board the second bus.  The first bus driver did nothing wrong.  The driver activated his or her turn signal, passed the cyclists at a sufficient distance then pulled fully into the bus stop well ahead of the cyclists.  However, that bus's presence at the stop, plus the second bus driver's conduct created a dangerous situation.  The second driver boxed the cyclists in then opened the bus door inviting riders into the path of the bikers.

Let's look at the CTA's own rules regarding how drivers are to deal with bicyclists upon approaching a stop.

CTA Poster from 2004

Close up of section on Service Stops

Close up of section on Curbing
The above poster was published by the CTA in 2004 and was meant as a guide for drivers regarding safe interaction with bicyclists on the road.  Comparing the sections on Service Stops and Curbing to the conduct of bus #2 in the video we see a couple of violations.  Firstly, the driver should have let the two cyclists to the right of the bus pass the bus stop before bringing the vehicle to a halt. Secondly, he or she should not have opened the bus doors before allowing the cyclists to pass. Thirdly, after allowing the cyclists to pass, the driver should have pulled to the curb to discourage cyclists from passing on the right while picking up/dropping off passengers.  Thankfully, the bicyclists were traveling slow enough so as not to cause injury to themselves or the people attempting to board the bus.

The video shows a third bus adding additional danger to the mix.  With two buses at the bus stop and now a third bicyclist passing them on the left, the third driver decided to pass the buses and all three cyclists on the left rather than wait for the bus and bicycle congestion to clear.  Very foolish.  Yet this sort of mess is all too common in my experience as a daily cyclist.  Buses passing too close and too fast, zipping into and out of bike lanes without concern for the presence of cyclists is consistently frustrating and down right frightening.  City bus drivers are required to obey the same rules of the road as are other drivers.  When they fail to do so, and/or violate the procedures put in place by their employers, i.e. CTA, and their conduct causes harm, they may be held liable for so doing.  It should go without saying that bicyclists also have a duty to follow the rules of the road, the same rules applicable to drivers, and should appreciate that buses make frequent stops.  Extra caution should be taken around buses.  

While there are some lousy bus drivers out there, I do not mean to disparage them all.  Bus drivers are doing a job and generally try to and want to do so safely then go home to their families.  Much blame for dangerous interactions between Chicago cyclists and bus drivers must go to the state of our current infrastructure which too often requires them to share the road with each other.  That, plus the fact that the drivers are trying to maintain a strict time schedule sometimes leads to calamity.  Earlier this year I had the opportunity to use bike share in San Francisco.  I was impressed with that city's efforts to segregate bus and bicycle traffic by creating bus stop islands to the left of bike lanes.  With these buses need never enter bike lanes to pick up and drop off passengers.  Chicago would be wise to take note.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Postal Driver Nearly Delivers Right Hook To Chicago Bicyclist

An aggressive U.S. postal driver nearly delivered a right hook as I rode home in the Kinzie bike lane last night.

Illinois law generally requires bicyclists riding slower than motor vehicle traffic to travel along the right side of the roadway.  Right turning drivers who fail to look for bicyclists on their right are among the most common causes of bike crashes in urban areas.  These collisions are common enough in Chicago that the city's municipal code addresses them.  Section 9-16-020(f)  states:
When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.
The situation represented in the video above was particularly frustrating.  The driver must have seen me.  Firstly, I was riding in a clearly marked bicycle lane.  Secondly, I must have been very visible to any driver.  I had a red flashing light on the rear of my bike, panniers with reflective strips, tires with reflective sidewalls (Schwalbe Marathon), and a bright flashing white light on the front of my bike.  Thirdly, there is a sign located at the intersection (Kinzie and Jefferson) that instructs turning drivers to stop for bicyclists and pedestrians.  (Bicyclists are only required to stop at that intersection when pedestrians are present.)

I was able to avoid colliding with the mail truck because I was not riding very fast.  Also, the driver did use his/her turn signal.  Thankfully, I noticed it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chicago Cycling Club Loses Long Time Ride Leader

Joe Dickstein (in Blackhawks sweater) with
other members of the Chicago Cycling Club

by Anne Alt
Our local bike community lost someone special this week. Longtime Chicago Cycling Club member and ride leader, Joe Dickstein, died suddenly and unexpectedly on Tuesday.
Many of you may know him from his sports nostalgia rides and treks to restaurants serving excellent burgers and craft beers.  Joe was the ultimate sports fan with a great sense of fun.  His last trip was a hockey pilgrimage to Canada.
He has contributed so much to the club over the years.  We will miss him.

The memorial service will be at Chicago Jewish Funerals, 8851 Skokie Blvd. at 12:00 NOON on Friday, December 5.  Shivah services will be at the Dickstein residence, 7447 N. Hoyne #1S, Chicago immediately following the service on Friday; Saturday night 6-9 p.m., Sunday 2-9 p.m., and Monday 6-9 p.m.  If you were friends with Joe and his wife Phyllis, she would welcome your support in this difficult time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Disturbing Video Of Car Slamming Into West Chicago Bicyclist Helps Bring About Resolution Of Legal Case

Screen capture of video showing the
moment before impact.
(Scroll down for full video.)
Persistent sleuthing, hard work and a little luck has brought about successful resolution of a bicyclist's legal claim against a driver that struck him from behind last year.  Our law firm represented the bicyclist, an active, physically fit 75 year old man.  The case resolved for the full amount of available auto insurance coverage.

The collision occurred on May 1, 2013 at around 6:30 a.m. on West Washington Street in West Chicago, Illinois.  As the video footage below shows the cyclist was pedaling his Trek mountain bike eastbound when he was hit from behind by the driver of a 2007 Toyota Camry.  Before impact he was well-established in the roadway and was cautiously merging left preparing to make a left turn.  In so doing he was fully compliant with the Illinois Vehicle Code.  The driver told police that she was traveling at about 30 mph at the moment of impact.

Soon after the bicyclist hired us we received the Illinois Traffic Crash Report created by the West Chicago Police Department.  It suggested that the bicyclist was at fault for causing the crash.  The report quoted the driver as stating that as she drove east "a man on a bicycle struck her vehicle and hit her windshield."  She also told police that, "She did not see the bicyclist and was not distracted by anything."  Witnesses apparently told police that, "The bicyclist began to enter the middle of the east bound lanes in front of" the car.  The report concluded stating, "No citations were issued." Unfortunately, our client was unable to provide us with much assistance.  Other than recalling that he had been eastbound on Washington, he was unable to recall much else having sustained a head injury that impacted his memory.  We got to work gathering evidence.  The first thing we did was carefully survey the area, looking for cameras that may have captured the incident.  We got lucky.  The crash took place in front of a jewelry store.  It was likely to have security cameras.  It was important to contact the store right away, before any existing footage of the crash was deleted or recorded over. Thankfully, the store owner was cooperative.  He had several cameras on the outside of the building and agreed to search the video archive for us.  It turned out that the cameras captured the crash from multiple angles, which were forwarded to us.  I have posted the best views below.  The first video is from the camera looking west and clearly shows the cyclist and car that hit him in the moments leading up to impact.  The second video shows the terrifying collision and its aftermath.  A warning:  Some will find the videos disturbing.   They are posted with our client's knowledge and permission.

The footage allowed us to rebut the suggestion in the police report that the bicyclist came out of nowhere and mindlessly ran into the car.  It shows that he was well established within the roadway so as to give a reasonably careful driver plenty of time and space to see him and avoid hitting him.

The cyclist made a downright remarkable recovery from what were very serious injuries.  He was knocked unconscious at the scene, his head having smashed the vehicle's windshield.  His lower left leg was badly broken, requiring surgical repair.  He also had several very large open wounds that required surgical closure.  After days in the hospital he spent more than a month in a rehabilitation facility. Though his medical bills were quite substantial, the driver only carried the minimum amount of insurance coverage permitted under Illinois law, $25,000.  After we provided the video of the crash to the driver's insurer, it quickly tendered the full amount of the policy.  We then looked to our client's own auto insurer to provide additional compensation pursuant to the underinsured motorist provision of his policy.  The video footage also persuaded our client's insurer to tender the full amount of available coverage, thereby maximizing his compensation. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Urban Velo Rides Off Into The Sunset

Urban Velo is calling it quits.  The online blog and print magazine that served as a forum for all things related to biking in the city for seven years, from 2007 to 2014, announced today that it has published its final issue.  Archived issues of the magazine will be available in digital format at

I am very proud to have periodically contributed to Urban Velo's Cycling Legalese column for the last two years.

Urban Velo came to be during the fixed gear heyday of the mid-aughties.  Based in Pittsburgh, editor, Brad Quartuccio, and publisher, Jeff Guerrero, created the go-to online and print source for all things urban cycling.  Uniquely its focus was the people who love to ride in the city, messengers, polo jocks, bike advocates, commuters, BMX kids, hipsters and plain old people who tended to favor steel and denim over carbon fiber and lycra.  Its popular, i love riding in the city section featured regular people doing what they loved on their bikes world wide.  The print edition of the magazine became regular reading in city bike shops nationwide.

It will be sorely missed.

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