The blog on this website includes articles and editorials by James Freeman on subjects relevant to his legal practice. These writings are not legal advice and should not be taken as such. If you need to speak with an attorney, please contact us.

All content is copyright by The Law Offices of James M. Freeman. Readers are encouraged to share the content; which is allowable only with a link back to the relevant page on this website.

Please contact us if you have any questions about how these issues relate to your particular situation.


Hit-and-Run Settlement; Parish v. Allied Van Lines

On September 12, 2009, Mr. Parish and a friend were riding their bicycles through Carlyle, Illinois.  They were participants in a ride organized by the Trenton Police Department.  The route for the ride took Mr. Parish eastbound on Franklin Street through downtown Carlyle.  In the area of the accident Franklin street has one lane of travel in each direction with no shoulder or parking on either side.  As the two approached 7th Street Mr. Parish heard his friend, who was riding in front, yell, "Truck!"  Mr. Parish looked back to see a semi tractor-trailer emblazoned with the familiar "Allied Van Lines" logo bearing down on the two cyclists from behind. 

The semi did not appear to move over at all to allow space while overtaking the cyclists.  Mr. Parish and his fellow cyclist moved as close to the curb as possible.  The Allied truck passed them at about 35 mph within 18 inches, in violation of the Illinois 3 foot passing law.  Somehow, while the two cyclists were attempting to get out of the way of the passing semi, they ran into one another, causing Mr. Parish to fall and break his leg.  Admittedly, there was never any contact between the cyclists and the truck. 

The truck continued eastbound without stopping.  The driver was never identified, and the subject truck was never found.  No witnesses were able to obtain a license plate or identifying number from the truck, although Mr. Parish did notice numbers on the door where the truck's DOT number would have been. 

We brought suit on behalf of Mr. Parish.  We filed our case in DuPage County.  We considered venue to be proper there since Allied Van Lines is headquartered in DuPage.

After all evidence had been disclosed and all witness statements had been taken, Allied Van Lines brought a motion to dismiss claiming that they were not liable for Mr. Parish's injuries.  In support of their motion Allied pointed out that they did not employ any drivers, nor did they own any trucks.  That was true too.  Allied Van lines is a sort of umbrella corporation.  Allied contracts with moving companies who own trucks and employ drivers.  When Allied contracts with a company they funnel business to the company and they allow the company to use Allied's logo. 

Illinois law dictates that a commercial truck bearing the logo and US-DOT number of a corporation is operating pursuant to the corporation's authority, and therefore, the corporation is vicariously liable for the driver's negligence. Because of this law, we argued that identification of the driver, ownership of the truck, and actual contact were all irrelevant.  We argues that the only relevant question before the court was whether or not there was a reasonable question of material fact as to whether or not the subject truck bore the Allied Van Lines logo and US DOT license number. 

The Court agreed with us and denied Allied's motion.  In order to avoid the danger of trying a hit-and-run case without so much as a single witness to refute Mr. Parish's version of the events, Allied agreed to settle the case for $130,000.00. 

Women Bike – A National Initiative

In a previous post, I mentioned a first-time event intended to encourage more Chicago women to ride bikes for transportation.  The effort to empower women cyclists goes far beyond Chicago.  The League of American Bicyclists (LAB - our national bike advocacy organization) has started a Women Bike initiative with the same goal.   

Carolyn Szepanski  of LAB explains:  “The inspiration for the League's Women Bike program started at the Alliance for Biking & Walking Leadership Retreat in 2010. At that event, several female leaders called for a short but inspiring Women's Caucus — and there was so much to discuss! It was clear that getting more women riding and supporting female leaders already engaged in the movement was an issue with tremendous importance and momentum.

Meanwhile, statistics show that we have a significant gender gap in U.S. cycling.  Only 24% of bike trips taken in 2009 were by women.  Clearly, if we want bicycling to become a mainstream form of transportation, we have to understand and address the barriers for women and families.  The goal of the Women Bike program is to act as a hub for all the tremendous activity around women's cycling, providing new resources, sharing what's working, and building a sense of community that engages women both on the streets and within the ranks of the bike movement.”

The number of female League Certified Instructors (LCIs) is steadily growing.  They send a positive message to hesitant women.  An LCI friend of mine started a kids’ bike club in her town that grew from a summer activity to a year round celebration of bikes, including a group of very confident girls. She also created an earn-a-bike program that helped some of the older girls develop their mechanical skills.  She has also encouraged a female friend who wasn’t comfortable riding alone to come along. Her friend has become a stronger, more confident cyclist.

At the recent National Bike Summit, the Women’s Bicycling Forum and related events are squarely aimed at changing the face of cycling.  Tammy Duckworth brings a unique perspective to the event as a woman, a veteran, and a disabled cyclist.  Her message of inclusion sets a powerful example.

Better laws, infrastructure improvements and development consistent with the 8-80 concept also create a more supportive environment for transportation cycling.  I’ll discuss these topics in future posts.

The combined momentum from these events and initiatives has the potential to get a lot more women on bikes.  I hope that it’s enough to increase the percentage of transportation cyclists who are female to a number that’s much closer to our percentage of the population.  Having better infrastructure helps, but doing more to support each other (teaching, mentoring, and being ride partners for safety and encouragement) is critical in getting more women on our roads.

  • Anne Alt, Paralegal

Protected Bike Lanes; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

I'll say it again; protected bike lanes are all the rage in Chicago.  Protected bike lanes have a purpose and appropriate application, but they aren't the answer to all our problems.  They are a good possible solution for bicycle traffic on roads that would otherwise be unsafe for cyclists to use due to traffic speeds or volume.    

The Good...

Protected bike lanes provide space for bicyclists.  In theory they "protect" bicyclists from many of the hazards associated with sharing road space with cars.  If the protected bike lanes are designed properly, they seem to reduce doorings and instances of bicyclists being struck by cars entering or leaving parking spaces.  Having said that, unsignaled protected bicycle lanes do not appear to resolve hazards associated with vehicles making turning movements across protected bicycle lanes (more on that later).

Protected bike lanes are also thought to encourage some would-be cyclists to bicycle in an urban setting when they would otherwise be reluctant to do so.  The idea is that timid bicyclists feel more comfortable being insulated from many of the dangers posed by sharing streets with cars.  People who would otherwise feel uncomfortable to cycle on city streets are willing to use protected bicycle lanes, perhaps working their way up to riding in traffic. 

The Bad...

Section 9-52-020(d) of the Chicago Municipal Code reads as follows:

"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."

While people may argue over whether or not a protected bicycle lane is a "path," I expect that any police officer acquainted with this statute will be willing to issue cyclists a citation for using the roadway and not the protected bicycle lane.  Fear not though, we also expect that CPD will be just as vigilant enforcing this statute as they are at enforcing any other traffic statute, so bicyclists probably don't need to be concerned about getting tickets for using the roadway.

We expect that this statute will more likely be used by motorists to defend themselves after they injure a bicyclist in the street outside of a protected bicycle lane.  The motorist will argue that the bicyclist was in violation of the statute, and the bicyclist should not have been using the road.  The statutory violation may be considered per se evidence of negligence, and it may provide a grounds for the driver's insurance company to deny payments to a cyclist.

Turning movements have surfaced as one of the big dangers of protected bike lanes.  We don't know why exactly, but we have hypothesized that the separation between the two types of traffic makes drivers feel detached from the bicyclists and therefore they fail to consider cyclists when making turning movements.  The possibility also exists that by moving the bicycle traffic to the outside of the lane the cars tend to be moving faster becuase they have more distance to increase their driving speed before hitting a bicyclist in the protected bike lane.  We suspect that once data is available we may find that protected bicycle lanes with bicycle traffic signals coordinated with the vehicular traffic signals are safer than intersections without such coordinated traffic signals.

Either way, vehicle turning movements across protected bike lanes are dangerous.  We have seen a number of instances where bicyclists are struck by vehicles making turns across protected bike lanes.  Most disturbing is that the injuries from these types of accidents seem to be more severe than normal turning collisions.  Bicyclists should use caution and watch for turning vehicles when crossing intersections in the protected bike lanes.

The Ugly...

They just striped a bike lane through the rubble that was the outer lane on Sacramento through Douglas Park.  That's no big loss to drivers either as most drivers avoided using the outer lane of Sacramento becuase of it's poor surface. While Sacramento needs a bike lane, the bike lane needs to be one that is actually suitable and safe for use by bicyclists.  

Passing on the Right

There is a bit of buzz recently about the application of the Illinois Vehicle Code to bicyclists with respect to passing on the right.  I have seen it suggested that bicyclists can, in fact, pass on the right.  I have also seen instances where bicyclists have been ticketed for passing on the right. 

As it currently stands, most police officers believe that the bicycle is considered to be a two wheeled vehicle.  This belief is largely rooted in the provision of the Illinois Vehicle code which states that traffic laws apply to bicycles (625 ILCS 5/11-1502).  The law as applied to two wheeled vehicles dictates that a two wheeled vehicle may overtake another vehicle when there is eight feet of unobstructed pavement to the right of the vehicle being overtaken (625 ILCS 5/11-704[b]) or an open lane of travel (625 ILCS 5/11-703[c]).  Although there is no specific precedent in case law, I expect that a bicycle lane would be considered to be an open lane of travel. 

I have handled many cases in which a bicyclists was injured while in the process of overtaking a vehicle on the right.  The common scenarios involve a bicyclist filtering through on the right of a line of stopped cars, or overtaking a vehicle waiting for traffic to clear before making a left turn.

Doorings are a big danger when overtaking on the right, as are sudden turning movements.  I've had cases in which drivers became sick of waiting in traffic and they suddenly decided to turn right, striking a bicyclist who was passing on their right.  I've also handled a number of cases in which cyclists were filtering up on the right and were doored by either a passenger exiting a car stopped in traffic, or doored by a driver's side door of a car parked in a parking lane.  In almost all of these cases, if the police officer assigned fault, some or all of the fault was attributed to the bicyclist for overtaking on the right in violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code. 

There are arguments to be made for why this law doesn't apply to bicyclists, but those arguments are legal in nature and they generally won't help someone trying to negotiate with a police officer at the scene of an accident.  They also don't tend to sway an insurance company who intends to suggest that Illinois law requires that bicyclists "queue up" when they come to a line of stopped cars.  While any bicyclist will understand the absurdity of the passing on the right prohibition, you shouldn't expect to have a jury of your peers.  In any county in the state of Illinois you may expect to have a jury of drivers, and drivers tend to be sympathetic to other drivers in the face of a helpful statute.  Although I have been successful at obtaining recoveries for client in these situations, the ambiguity is always a problem that has to be dealt with. 

You shouldn't depend on being able to defend your way out of a charge of improper passing on the right in the event of a collision or ticket.  To be clear, there is no binding case law interpreting whether or not a bicycle can lawfully pass on the right.  The law is currently ambiguous, and more often than not, it is interpreted to favor motorists.  If you are passing a vehicle on the right in Illinois, you are in a vulnerable situation, and you should use extreme caution.  If you are involved in an accident while overtaking on the right don't be surprised if the responding police officer authors an unfavorable report.  In such an instance it is very important that you speak to a lawyer.  Insurance companies do not tend to negotiate in instances where they have liability defenses. 

I see cases every year where bicyclists passing on the right are wrongfully blamed for collisions.  I handle cases in which negligent or inattentive drivers use this statute as a defense for their actions.  I hope the advocates that lobby and legislate on behalf of bicyclists in Illinois will work hard to fix this ambiguity in the coming years.  In the meantime, if you are going to pass on the right please use extreme caution.   

Pedestrians and the Dearborn Bike Lanes.

A couple weeks ago a guy at my gym cornered me and told me his harrowing tale of wandering out into the Dearborn bike lane.  As you might imagine, he was almost struck by a passing bike.  Since the Dearborn bike lanes were installed in the winter months, I expect we won't see the full hazard pedestrians and cyclists pose to one another until the weather finally breaks.  I fully expect to field a call or two following the first warm and sunny day from a pedestrian or bicyclist injured when their paths cross on the Dearborn bicycle lane.

The City has rightfully designed the Dearborn bicycle lane with safety for all users as a primary concern.  Dearborn is not designed to move all traffic as quickly as possible; it is intended to allow all users of the public space that is Dearborn Street be able to move about with as much safety as possible.  To that end, the city has installed special traffic signals, and timed those signals to give all users an opportunity to proceed in as safe a manner as possible. 

At the last Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, a man showed up in a cast just to tell his story of woe.  Apparently he had just parked his car adjacent to a separated bike lane.  He seemed to understand that there was a bike lane between the parking spot and his car.  He exited his car and proceeded to walk toward the parking pay box.  As he stepped out into the bike lane a bicyclist struck him and caused him to fall to the ground.  He injured his right elbow severely.  The man admitted that he hadn't looked before stepping out into the bicycle lane, but argued that the bicyclist was traveling too fast.  He appeared to make this argument because the bicyclist was unable to stop in time to avoid the accident.

To be clear, as a pedestrian it is your duty to cross in a designated crosswalk.  If you step out into a lane of travel mid block, you must look both ways to ensure there is no impending traffic.  If you fail to look for traffic before stepping into a lane of travel, you are at least contributorily responsible for any ensuing collision, and at worst you may be wholly at fault.

To that end the City has taken it upon themselves to paint, "LOOK" in the crosswalks crossing the Dearborn bike lanes.  The picture below was taken on the south side of Jackson Street.

Likewise, bicyclists are responsible for obeying their traffic signals and keeping a proper lookout.  If a bicyclist sees a pedestrian straying into the bike lane, that bicyclist has a duty to use due care to avoid hitting the pedestrian.  Bicyclists cannot disregard traffic signals or plow through pedestrians.  They must use due care.

If a bicyclist and a pedestrian are involved in a collision they should stop and make sure one another are uninjured.  First and foremost, call for medical attention if needed.  The parties involved should exchange information and call the police if anyone is injured or their property damaged.  In a bicycle/pedestrian collision an automobile insurance policy would be almost completely irrelevant.  The liability coverage afforded by a homeowner's or renter's policy would be activated by such an accident.

They key to negotiating the new layout of Dearborn Street is the same regardless of your preferred mode of transportation.  Use caution.  Always look before proceeding.  Obey all traffic signals, and be considerate of others.  The Dearborn bicycle lane is an exciting experiment in urban planning, but it will require a learning curve.  More important than anything is that you keep your eyes open.  Accidents will happen, but there are things we can all do to reduce the risk.    

A Bike Lane I Like.

I have long estimated that about 1/3 of all bicycle collisions in the City of Chicago are doorings.  One of the problems with many of the bike lanes in Chicago is that they are striped in the door zone.  In such a bike lane the hazard of being struck by a passing car is presumably reduced, but the likelihood of being doored is still a formidable danger.  Although it is counter-intuitive, it is recommended that a bicyclist riding in a standard city bike lane ride closer to the outside of the lane in order to ride outside of the door zone, thus reducing the danger of being doored.

The new bike lane on Halsted (pictured below) provides a buffer between cyclists and parked cars.  I really like the design of this bike lane as it not only provides a buffer for space between parked cars, but it also provides a bit of space between the bicyclist and moving traffic.  In such a lane the cyclist can more safely travel outside of the door zone.  Also note that the bicycle markings are not centered in the bike lane, rather they are toward the outside of the lane.

When I've talked to my contacts at the City or people involved in planning for such infrastructure, they usually are clear that most roads with bike lanes simply don't have enough width to provide space between the bike lane and parked cars. 

As always, it is best to ride outside of the door zone.  If you are forced to ride in the door zone use caution.  Look in parked cars, and look in side view mirrors.  If you see someone on the side you are passing, beware of the potential for a door to open.  You can also put your hand out as if to catch the door when you pass.  I've had a few times when I have caught an unexpected door in this manner and avoided being doored.

What Do Auto Safety Standards Mean for the Rest of Us?

Streetsblog NYC recently posted an article titled, "Bringing Auto Safety Standards Into the 21st Century."  The article points out that in the United States we allow the auto industry make safety considerations only for the passengers inside the vehicle.  The rest of the public, including pedestrians and bicyclists are largely ignored.

This is true too.  Take the example of doorings.  In Chicago, I have long opined that about one-third of all bicycle/auto collisions in the City are the result of a dooring.  One reason that doorings are such a problem is becuase the auto industry has set the standard door operation such that the door opens in an intrusive and potentially dangerous fashion.  While this may be one way to design a car door, it certainly isn't the only way, nor is it the safest.  Doors could be designed to open upward (as in the example of "Lambo doors"), thus reducing the possibility that the open door would impose on the traveling public such as bicyclists or other passing traffic.   

People can argue about the practical aspects such measures, but doing so would ignore the reality that the auto industry in the United States is basically ignoring the safety concerns.  I don't process to know the answeres to all safety problems, but I do know that "auto safety" means only the safety of the people inside the auto.  It completely ignores everyone else, and that's something we should try to change going forward.  

Bike Sharing Coming to Chicago... Soon

Chicago’s long-anticipated new bike share system is designed as a transportation system to complement public transit and walking.  Solar powered docking stations will be installed in the Loop and many neighborhoods to offer residents and visitors a new transportation option.

What types of trips is it good for?  The system is designed for brief trips.  It could cover the last mile of a commute, offering a faster, more flexible way to get across the Loop.  People who need to run errands but don’t have a bike at work may find it faster and more convenient than a cab or transit trip.  It could be a vehicle for neighborhood shopping trips, meeting friends for dinner or drinks, or going to a concert venue or sporting event.  Someone who doesn’t own a bike could try transportation riding before investing in a bike. Tourists may find it a flexible, easy way to reach popular destinations.

The program isn’t intended to replace traditional half day or full day bike rentals.  After buying a membership, the first half hour of each trip is free. The next half hour costs a small fee, and the fee increases each hour that the bike is in use.  When you reach your destination, or a stop along the way, simply check the bike into a nearby station, and check out another when you want to continue your trip.   There’s no need to carry a lock.  The docking station secures the bike.

Toronto’s bike share system offers 1-day, 3-day and 1-year memberships.  I believe that Chicago’s system will offer similar options.

Slate recently ran an article about the success of Washington D.C.’s bike share program.  As in Washington, Chicago’s first attempt at a bike share program was too small to be practical and viable.  The B-Cycle program was launched  in 2010 at a handful of sites in and near the Loop.  Those locations were more useful to tourists than Chicago residents, so B-Cycle never caught on with local residents.  The small number of stations severely limited the usefulness of the network, and it never expanded beyond its initial footprint.

Toronto’s Bixi bike share was launched in the spring of 2011 and had a very successful first year.  On a visit to Toronto last spring, I spent a few days using Bixi to get around town.  The sturdy bikes, identical in design to those we’ll get in Chicago, offer a cushy, stable ride, similar to that of a traditional Dutch bike.   Their steel frames are built for durability.  The Chicago Department of Transportation created an information page about the upcoming program, where it gathered public input to determine where the bikes would be most useful to residents.

Chicago’s initial attempt at a 2012 launch was delayed by technical difficulties as well as a legal challenge to the winning bid.  It’s currently scheduled for launch in the spring. 

I’m looking forward to using it often – for lunchtime errands, visits with friends after work, in conjunction with transit, and for traveling to parks and museums.  How will you use bike share?

  • Anne Alt, Paralegal

Dearborn Bike Lanes; The Maintenance Report

I don't know if everyone would agree with me, but I'm actually really impressed with the City's maintenance of the bike lanes in Chicago.  When the first protected bike lane was installed shortly after the change of administration I expected that the Kinzie Cycle Track would make a good place to store snow during the winter months.  I also expected that it would collect debris.

Much to my surprise, I've been pleasantly surprised by the consistent efforts the City has made to keep the bike lanes clean and safe.  Shortly after the installation of the Dearborn bike lanes I expressed some concerns about water pooling in the bike lanes.  This happens becuase the streets are intentionally pitched toward the curbs to help water flow to sewer drains.  As pictured above, In a number of places along Dearborn the water doesn't properly drain, and it ends up pooling after precipitation.  I was worried that this would lead to slipping hazards for cyclists, and it may.  Admittedly though the City has been somewhat diligent with respect to their use of salt in the bike lanes, especially in the areas where water pools.  I snapped a photo the other day of a very salty Dearborn bike lane.

 

Problems with Marshall Boulevard Bike Lane

 

With all the great stuff the City has been doing with respect to bicycle infrastructure, there is still room for improvement.  For instance, the Bike Lanes on Marshall Boulevard are filled with parked cars on a daily basis.  The City installed bike lanes, but they left the parking signage suggesting that it is legal to park on the boulevard (as seen in the picture below).  As resident Dan Korn points out, "CDOT needs to install signage that matches the paint on the road. Until they do, anyone who gets a ticket has a very legitimate defense."

I assume this was an oversight on the City's part and that they don't actually intend for cars to park in the bicycle lane.  If so, the City needs to get out there, remove the signs and start issuing some tickets for parking in the bike lane.

(Marshall Blvd looking northbound from the curve at 24th)

(Marshall Blvd looking eastbound from the curve at 24th)

Every time I've been through the intersection of Marshall and Cermak since they installed the bike lanes there have been cars parked lining both sides of Marshall Boulevard north and south of Cermak.  This isn't an isolated incident, and it isn't something that just happens certain times of the day.  It's a chronic problem that poses dangers for bicyclists who are forced to ride into traffic in order to avoid parked cars.  Further, since the City has, in effect, created this dangerous condition they could theoretically be held liable if a bicyclist is injured avoiding cars parked in the bike lanes.

Syndicate content