Call

Blog

Law
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 anytime 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 playgrounds 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

Ebike crash
Bruce Hagen Apr 26, 2022

DRIVER ON METH KILLS 17 YEAR OLD BICYCLIST, BARROW COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY REFUSES TO CHARGE DRIVER WITH FELONY.   On August 23, 2020, at approximately 8:40pm, 17-year old Obianuju Osuegbu was on her way home from her summer job working at a grocery store. She had earned enough money that summer to buy herself a […]

Read More
Stop as Yield
Brian Weiss Apr 25, 2022

Finally, “Stop As Yield” (the much sought after common sense traffic law for bicyclists) is coming to Colorado in 2022, likely July 1st.   Stop as Yield, aka the “Safety Stop” After the Governor Polis signs the law and the Safety Stop becomes effective, anyone who rides a bicycle or scooter on public roads will […]

Read More
Contributory Negligence
Ann Groninger Apr 25, 2022

It took losing at trial and a long appellate process, but it ended in a blow to contributory negligence in North Carolina. We just won an appeal on a bicycle crash case that happened in 2016 and came to us in 2018. The case went to trial during the spring of 2021. Our client was […]

Read More
WALLER CRASH
Rachael Maney Nov 08, 2021

WALLER 6 UPDATE: November 20, 2021 The teenage son of Jason and Jennifer Arnold, who, with their permission, was operating his parents’ F-250 diesel truck when he plowed into our 6 clients while they were riding their bicycles on September 25th, 2021 in Waller, Texas, was released to his parents on Thursday afternoon (11/18/21) after […]

Read More
Atlanta Bike Crash
Peter Wilborn Oct 25, 2021

Many of you have heard about the horrific multi-victim crash from October 7, 2021, in which a Chattanooga driver brutally plowed her car into a group of 5 pedestrians as they were crossing a street, causing catastrophic and life changing injuries. In the chaotic aftermath of running a red light and almost killing an entire […]

Read More
Waller Bike Crash Carnage
Rachael Maney Oct 02, 2021

PRESS RELEASE FROM BIKE LAW’S NATIONAL DIRECTOR RACHAEL MANEY In light of the recent Waller Bike Crash in Texas, and in an effort to help untangle and unpack some of the emotionally-charged comments, questions, and inaccurate assumptions being made, we want to update you on the parts that we can share. I hope that this […]

Read More
Brother James
Peter Wilborn Sep 29, 2021

23 years ago today, the world lost my brother Jim. He was killed on his bike by an under-aged driver who blew through a red light. While the years don’t really blunt the loss, they foster gratitude for the gifts left behind. My brother blessed me with so much, but 3 things stand out:   […]

Read More
Family bicycle charity
Bike Law Aug 17, 2021

GUEST POST BY BIKE LAW AMBASSADOR KURT AREHART The bike charity Raleigh Community Kickstand, or just Kickstand for short, is a four year-old project organized under Oaks & Spokes, a 501(c)(3) engaged in fostering cycling in Raleigh. Kickstand channels donated bicycles to low-income and homeless members of our community whose lives can be improved with […]

Read More
Contributory negligence Bike crash
Ann Groninger May 08, 2021

If you’ve met me, you’ve heard talk about contributory negligence many times, including here and here and here. My vocation and my passion as a bike crash attorney is representing injured bicyclists and families of bicyclists who have been killed by careless drivers. Contributory negligence severely impairs the right of these individuals and bicyclists to […]

Read More
Load More