02

Blog

Chicago Cannot Deny Responsibility For Bike Lane Hazards

Wabash-BBL

In a hearing last week in the Circuit Court of Cook County the City of Chicago sought to have all of the bicycle lanes installed throughout the City declared “recreational facilities.”  The effect of this creative legal maneuver would have been to immunize the municipality for injuries to bicyclists caused by the City’s failure to keep its bike lanes safe for riders.

The matter arose from a lawsuit filed against the City where a Chicago bicyclist was severely injured when she struck a large water filled hole located in the middle of a marked bike lane at 1124 North Damen Avenue.  The suit alleged that the City was aware of the hole for some time and that it had a tendency to fill with water, creating a hidden danger for bicyclists.  It also alleged that despite this knowledge it failed to take measures to fix the hole.  Generally, the law requires the City of Chicago, like any other owner of property, to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition.  This requirement does not mean that the City is automatically liable any time someone is injured on its property.  But where the City knows, or should know, of a hazard on its land it must take reasonable steps to fix it.  This general rule does not apply to what are known as “recreational facilities,” such as “parks, playgrounds. . . or other enclosed recreational facilities.”  For these types of places, an injured person has the burden to show that the City willfully and wantonly failed to maintain its property in a safe condition.  This is a much harder burden to meet.  An injured person would need to prove that the City showed a reckless disregard for his or her safety, a showing very close to intentional conduct.  The practical effect would be to immunize the City from any negligence on its part to properly maintain its bicycle lanes.

It is not unusual for Chicago to fail to respond to dangerous conditions that develop in its bike lanes.  It is important for the City to recognize that, just like anyone else, it must fix dangers to reduce the chance of injury.  If it does not then there must be consequences.  Fortunately, last week a Cook  County judge denied the City’s attempt to free itself of responsibility under such circumstances.  The City’s law department strenuously asserted that Chicago’s bike lanes are akin to play grounds and should therefore be declared recreational facilities as a matter of law.  On behalf of the injured bicyclist our law firm argued in response:

A part of a street designated for bike traffic is no more a recreational area than that part of the same street designated for motor vehicle traffic or pedestrians. . .  Bicycle lanes in Chicago, while sometimes enjoyable places in which to travel, have been installed to facilitate basic transportation.   To hold otherwise as a matter of law would be to sanction the degradation of the bicycle as a mere toy for those with excessive leisure time, instead of a simple tool that may be used to cheaply, efficiently and healthfully transport residents of Chicago from point A to point B.

Importantly, the City could cite to no legal precedent in support of its novel position that a portion of the street may be deemed a recreational area.  Its position on the matter was not supported by law.  More than that, however, the City of Chicago’s effort in this regard may be viewed as a slap in the face to all bicyclists.  It communicates that those of us who choose to travel by bike are not to be taken seriously.  Would the City ever seek to have motor vehicle lanes declared recreational areas?  How about pedestrian crosswalks?  I doubt it.   Apparently, the City feels that people traveling by bike to work or school are not worthy of the same protections afforded to drivers and pedestrians.

To be fair, I know some of the people that work for and with the Chicago Department of Transportation, the department responsible for designing and installing our city’s bike lanes.  Many them are transportation cyclists themselves and are committed to seeing biking grow as a viable means of transportation in our car clogged metropolis.  I have to wonder whether any of them were consulted about or even knew of the position being taken by the city’s law department.

Comments

Bike Law Kickr Review
Feb 20, 2017

A 500-mile initial review of the Wahoo Kickr Indoor trainer, why we purchased it and who we think it is for.

Read More
Hazards of Biking with a GoPro or Garmin
Feb 15, 2017

Did you know that there are reasons for riding with and without cameras strapped to your handlebars and embedded within your tail lights?

Read More
Cycling Law Enforcement Training in Georgia
Feb 10, 2017

CBS Atlanta News This past November, Fulton County elected a new sheriff. (Yes, there’s literally a New Sheriff in Town.) During the run-up to the election, one of the candidates posted a tasteless video of John Wayne shooting guns and seemingly taking out cyclists. This created a huge backlash. One of the candidates for Sheriff, […]

Read More
2017 Moving People Forward Conference
Feb 08, 2017

This past Monday I attended the Moving People Forward conference in downtown Denver. The conference was hosted by Bicycle Colorado in lieu of their annual Colorado Bike Summit which has been moved to later in the year. Leaving the conference I had mixed emotions from my attendance. As I boarded the commuter rail back to my […]

Read More
Olga Cook Ghost Bike
Feb 02, 2017

The New Jersey man charged with felony manslaughter for striking and killing cyclist Olga Cook in the bike lane on the West Side Highway has agreed to plead guilty to all charges.

Read More
Bike Law - 2017 Fat Bike Nationals
Feb 01, 2017

A recap of the 2017 Fat Bike Nationals held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Words from Bryan Waldman, and photo credit goes to Bike Law cyclocross racer, Wade Burch.

Read More
Cyclist Stop Sign
Jan 30, 2017

Bike Law fully supports the Colorado Safety Stop Law, Senate Bill 93, that was introduced by Senator Andy Kerr to rethink the, “Operation Of Bicycles Approaching Intersections”.

Read More
Bike Law USA Cycling Team
Jan 26, 2017

As a step toward increasing the safety of cycling and advocating for the rights of cyclists, we are pleased to announce a partnership between the Bike Law Network of Independent Bicycle Attorneys and USA Cycling.

Read More
Bike Law Michigan Mechanic Award
Jan 17, 2017

Bicycle mechanics are referred to as the unsung heroes of the peloton. They are also the unsung, and often unrecognized, heroes for local bike shops and most cyclists. Show some love for your mechanic by nominating him/her to be considered for the Bike Law Michigan Mechanic of the Year Award. 1 winner will receive a […]

Read More
Bike Law Manifesto 02
Jan 16, 2017

Our second principle is a gentle reminder of why we always turn to the bike.
“Nothing else allows us the independence, pleasure, and power to move so far, so fast, with so little effort.”

Read More
Michigan Needs Better Cycling Laws
Jan 13, 2017

After two years of a dramatic increase of bicyclists killed by car crashes in Michigan, there is a clear connection between these deaths and the lack of laws to protect cyclists.

Read More
DC Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act
Jan 12, 2017

In 2016, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) was a standout group in their unrelenting advocacy work to push forward the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act protecting all vulnerable road users.

Read More
Load More