My Bike Advocate
by Unknown at November 19, 2020, 10:56 pm
|Courtesy Ride Illinois|
Illinois's vulnerable road user law is in need of repair.
The purpose of the statute is to provide extra legal protection to people who legally use roadways without the protection of a rolling cage made of metal and glass. Vulnerable road users generally include people on bicycles, motorcycles, animal-drawn vehicles and farm tractors, to name a few. "VRU laws operate on the principal of general deterrence - by providing an increased penalty for certain road behaviors that lead to the serious injury or death of certain road users people will be deterred from doing those behaviors around those users," according to The League of American Bicyclists.
Our state's VRU law went into effect in 2011, and provided that:
A person driving a motor vehicle shall not, in a reckless manner, drive the motor vehicle unnecessarily close to, toward, or near a bicyclist, pedestrian, or a person riding a horse or driving an animal drawn vehicle.
A driver who violates this law is guilty of a felony should they cause serious injury or death, and a misdemeanor if no great harm is caused. 625 ILCS 5/11-703(f).
Section 11-703 of the Illinois Vehicle Code already contained an important safety rule requiring that:
The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual.
A significant problem with this statute has been revealed by recent decisions not to prosecute drivers whose conduct seemingly violated Illinois's VRU statute by the state's attorney in Champaign County. Those decisions and the context in which they were made were described by long time bicycle advocate and former Urbana city clerk, Charlie Smyth, in a recent post. He described a number of serious injuries and deaths to bicyclists and pedestrians in Champaign County over the past 18 months in which criminal charges were not brought by the state's attorney despite apparently reckless behavior. Charlie reached out to me as he was putting his piece together to discuss the circumstances surrounding the death of bicyclist, David Powell, who was struck and killed by a semi-truck driver in Mahomet, Illinois. Drivers often strike and injure, or kill, bicyclists due to a failure to see and notice them. Not so here. Allegedly, the driver told police that he saw Mr. Powell on his bike when he was nearly 800 feet away. He also allegedly saw Mr. Powell signaling his intent to make a left turn in an intersection. Rather than slowing or stopping until the cyclist could execute his turn, the driver made the conscious decision to execute a close pass of Mr. Powell in the intersection. He ended up striking and killing the 46 year old. The driver's conduct here seems a clear violation of, and a perfect opportunity to engage, Illinois's VRU law to obtain a prosecution. The truck driver had allegedly failed to leave a safe distance of at least 3 feet in attempting to pass a bicyclist he in fact saw, resulting in a tragic death. Nevertheless, the Champaign County State's Attorney, in an email to Charlie explaining her decision, stated:
The law says that a person driving a motor vehicle shall not, in a reckless manner, drive the vehicle unnecessarily close to the bicyclist. . . The question of whether a person can be held criminally liable starts with that person’s mental state. Criminal liability requires recklessness, a very specifically defined mental state in the criminal law of a willful and wanton disregard of the safety of others, or intent, meaning acting with a conscious objective or purpose to accomplish a result or engage in conduct.
The Powell case highlights a problem with the way the statute was drafted that may have caused the state's attorney's hesitancy. As the state's attorney stated, successful prosecution requires showing that the driver acted recklessly. "Recklessness" has a legal definition that may not comport with common usage of that term. "Negligence" is a failure to act as an ordinarily reasonable person would under the same or similar circumstances. On the other hand, "recklessness" is a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others. Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction 5.01 states that, "A person is reckless when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk . . ., and such disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation." The classic law school example is firing a gun into a crowd of people without the intent to actually harm anyone. In this hypothetical, the shooter may not desire or wish to hurt anyone but should know that their conduct will likely cause great harm. Did the driver's conduct in Powell rise to the level of recklessness? The driver was apparently trying to pass not hit Mr. Powell. He did not just drive straight into him. However, 11-703 mandates what is required to pass a bicyclist safely; that is, leaving at least 3 feet of space. What is "reckless" under 11-703(e) is set forth in 11-703(d). If a driver passes a cyclist inside of 3 feet then they acted recklessly.
In fairness to the state's attorney, the statute does not explicitly state that this was the legislature's intent when the statute was drafted. The statute's failure in this regard may have contributed to the state's attorney's reluctance. This should be fixed in the Illinois legislature. For example, I propose the following revision either as a supplement to or replacement for subsections (e) and (f) of Section 11-703:
Every operator of a motor vehicle who causes great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement or death to another resulting from a failure to leave a safe distance when passing a bicycle or individual as set forth in 11-703(d) shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony.
This proposed language would provide clarity to state's attorneys throughout Illinois when making the decision about whether to prosecute a driver under the VRU law. No longer would individual state's attorneys need to wring their hands over evidence (or lack thereof) of a driver's state of mind. The analysis would become much simpler: Was there great harm or death? If so, was it caused by a pass inside of 3 feet? A "yes" to both questions should lead to at least an attempt at prosecution, and messaging to the general public that vulnerable road users are vigorously protected by our criminal justice system.
by Unknown at October 29, 2020, 8:04 pm
There is a lot of anger and hostility out there. I am not referring to the political divisiveness of the nation - although the description applies - but to Illinois's roadways. Drivers and bicyclists seem perpetually angry at each other, particularly when they meet on congested streets. Bicyclists become hostile toward drivers for a perceived lack of empathy regarding the dangers faced while riding. Drivers get steamed at the perceived arrogance and rule flouting by cyclists. Both often feel that the other is just in the way. Sadly, each too often view of the other not as a person, but rather as an impediment to their desire to get where they are going. Why do we too often view our fellow travelers with such suspicion and distain?
The problem is the system, the infrastructure, that the driver and cyclist alike are trying to navigate. They are each trying to make their way along the same space, yet by very different means and with different expectations. The motor vehicle is heavy, mechanically powered and slow to maneuver through tight spaces. The bicycle is light, human powered, quick and easier to maneuver through tight spaces. In either instance, the operator hopes and expects to travel to their destination without unnecessary hindrance or obstruction. Place the two in the same space and one or both are bound to have their hopes and expectations dashed, or, worse, see their bodies injured or their property damaged.
A dozen years ago, writer Charles Montgomery wrote an interesting and influential article in Momentum Magazine entitled, Bike Rage. He wrote,
“…the driving experience primes car drivers for meltdowns.
They are conditioned by popular culture to see cars as symbols of freedom, yet city driving is a slow-motion trap that subjects drivers to constant restrictions on their movement. Drivers are thwarted from enjoying the promise of motion by traffic lights, by congestion – and yes, by cyclists – and they suffer the natural but impossible desire to escape and move forward…”
“…road rage is a symptom of the corrosive effect that modern commuting has on urban culture. Aggressive streets are not just dangerous, they change the way we feel and the way we treat each other, even when we’re not commuting.
… the problem is that city planners have mixed bikes and cars together in ways that offer little certainty about how each should operate, and lots of chances for conflict. Cyclists feel threatened in traffic, just like drivers. Many of us feel hard done by and under attack. I sure do. The average arterial road is an engine of conflict."
This second point resonates strongly with me. My city, Chicago, has spent quite a lot of money and effort building bicycle lanes. I use them regularly and I am glad they are there. However, too many are poorly designed. When city planners intentionally design streets so that public buses must enter bike lanes to pick up passengers, danger, fear and frustration for the biker and bus driver alike are the natural consequences. When designated bike lanes on narrow streets are not protected from physical encroachment by motor vehicles with barriers, not just paint, anxiety and injury become too common. When bicycle infrastructure suddenly ends leaving a confusing and treacherous set of options the bicyclist often feels as if their city does not care about their safety. When municipal crews fail to survey road construction projects with an eye toward bicycle accommodation, the bicyclist and driver both end up seeing red.
After years of incremental change to biking infrastructure in the United States there is still far too much regular conflict between drivers and bicyclists. As a daily city biker and attorney whose practice focuses on representing bicyclists injured on the road, I am in a unique position to observe this phenomenon. The conflicts between drivers and bicyclists are not going away. The injuries and deaths continue. Despite the Vision Zero campaign touted by the City of Chicago, 2020 has so far seen the death of eight bicyclists on our streets, an increase from the average yearly number of deaths between 2012 and 2016 of 5.8, according to Streetsblog. This is entirely unnecessary. The City of Chicago's own 2012 Bicycle Crash Analysis states, "with proper street design and behavior change amongst road users, the overwhelming majority of bicycle crashes are preventable."
It has become apparent that fundamental change regarding street design is necessary. Bike lanes consisting simply of painted lines here and there are not acceptable. Paint is not protection. Paint on the street strikes me as a fingers-crossed type of approach to reducing the sometimes deadly conflicts between motor vehicles and bikes. The era of just hoping that drivers and bicyclists work it out on the road must end, immediately. 2020 has been a year of profound change. In aspects of life big and little, many are awakening to the need to fix what has been broken for a long time. Urban transportation design is one of those broken things. What drivers and bicyclists need is space. Specifically, we need bike lanes that are part of real networks that take us places we want or need to go. Cities should stop designing bikes lanes that just end and instead create safe bike lanes that lead into other safe bike lanes. We need bike lanes that offer real protection in the form of jersey barriers, planters and the like. We need streets that belong to bikes only, that are closed to motor vehicles. Similarly, other streets should be closed to bicycles so that drivers also have places to call there own where they can feel unobstructed by more vulnerable road users like cyclists. Bicyclists need changes in the law too. Illinois needs a stop as yield statute that allows people on bikes to yield at stop signs and lights rather than come unnecessarily to a full stop. This is a year for new thinking about so much. How we interact with each other on our streets should be on that list.
by Unknown at October 21, 2020, 7:05 pm
9-16-020(f) Turning right in front of a bicycle
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.Only when the motorist is well passed the bicyclist, or the bicyclist well passed the motor vehicle, may the driver turn right. If the cyclist would need to stop or slow to avoid a collision, then he or she should be permitted to pedal by before a turn is executed by the motorist.
by Unknown at October 5, 2020, 5:54 pm
This weekend I completed The 1919 Chicago Race Riot Route, a bicycle ride presented by People For Bikes, the Newberry Library, SRAM and ABUS to benefit Blackstone Bicycle Works, a bike shop serving underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Aside from raising money to support an important cause, the route is meant to educate about one of the most violent, tragic events in our city's history that remains unknown to many. The ride took me from the place whether the rioting began along Chicago's lake front and into the nearby neighborhoods of Bronzeville and Bridgeport, home to friction points between white and Black residents.
My impression from the ride, which I did on a sunny, crisp and windy early October morning, was of harsh contrasts offered by what remains, and what does not, from that time long ago. Many of the landmarks commemorating Black contributions in the area are small, new and/or nonexistent. On the other hand, markers of white supremacy and out and out racism remain obvious.
The ride begins at the Eugene Williams Marker which notes the approximate location where a white beach goer killed a Black child who was deemed to have come too close to the white bathing area. The marker, dedicated in 2009, consists of a rock adorned with a plaque. I had probably passed it many times riding on the path without ever noticing it was there. When I came to it during my ride this weekend two garbage cans sat next to it, partially shielding it from view.
|The Eugene Williams Marker at the start of the route.|
I continued on to the front gate of the Union Stockyards, work at which had compelled many African Americans to journey from the South, particularly Mississippi, to Chicago in search of work.
I rode from there back east to see the spot where the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s began. In 1955, a young boy from Chicago, Emmett Till, was savagely murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi after supposedly whistling at a white woman. Upon his body's return to Chicago his mother made the difficult decision to have an open casket funeral for her son so that the whole world could see what racial hatred had done to her boy. Jet Magazine published the photos which fueled the start of the push for civil rights which exploded during the 1960s and which led to passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in 1964. The viewing of Emmett Till's body took place at the Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ at 4021 South State Street. The building is still there. Today the church not only looks run down, it is run down. Designated a Chicago landmark in 2006, the building is in such bad shape that there are noted concerns about it's structural integrity. I imagine that at least the outside of the church looks much like it did in 1955.
Onward I rode to the next location, a marker commemorating the great journalist, Ida B. Wells. There was a time when she was arguably the most famous Black woman in American. She was one of the founders of the NAACP. During her time in Chicago she helped expose the horrors of lynching in the South and school segregation in Chicago among many other important activities. Surely, there would be a sizable memorial to her, a tribute that would rival the soaring tribute to Douglas Stephens I had seen earlier on my ride. It was not to be, though. The City of Chicago has seen fit to commemorate her incredible achievements and contributions with another rock with a plaque. It is unimpressive to say the least, and it sits in the corner of a large empty lot that was the location of the notorious Ida B. Wells Homes, a rough and dangerous housing project that existed from 1941 to 2011.
The final destination on the route lay ahead. I rode several block north to the Victory Monument at 35th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. This was perhaps the only physically impressive tribute to contributions made by Black people I saw on my ride. Though placed in the middle of the road, the memorial is apparently the only one in the State of Illinois that commemorates Black service during World War I. Every Memorial Day a ceremony is held at the monument.
I strongly recommend this ride to anyone interested in understanding the 1919 Riot and the contributions and travails of African Americans in Chicago. It seems that not only must we learn about what happened 100+ years ago, but we must appreciate how much of that vile legacy continues to this day. Those who would deny the continuing existence of systemic racism should perhaps consider why it is that the Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ sits in disrepair while the Hamburg Athletic Club remains intact, or why Douglas Stephens in honored with a soaring marble monument while Ida B. Wells is remembered with a plaque on a stone. The route I rode does not contain answers but the questions posed by the sights, and lack thereof, along the way are numerous.
by Unknown at September 17, 2020, 4:18 pm
- In 2017 Delaware became the second state in the country, after Idaho, to pass a law "permitting/requiring bicyclists to yield at stop signs (when the coast is clear), instead of requiring a complete stop at all stop signs," according to Bike Delaware. That organization notes that, "One of the keys to the near-unanimous passage of this legislation was the involvement, suggestions and buy-in from the Delaware State Police."
- The following year, 2018, Colorado passed a law permitting municipalities in the state to adopt "stop as yield" at their discretion. "Under the 'Safety as Yield law,' if a municipality passes a local law, a cyclist approaching a stop sign has to slow to 'a reasonable speed' and can proceed once it's safe to do so. When approaching a red light, a bicyclist has to completely stop and can go once there is no cross traffic," according to The Coloradoan.
- In 2019 Arkansas passed it's own statewide "stop as yield" law. Under that law bike riders must "first slow down when approaching a stop sign, but they don’t have to stop unless it’s necessary to avoid an immediate hazard. They must also yield to any pedestrians who might be at the intersection. At red lights, the rider must come to a complete stop, but may proceed through the intersection with caution once traffic is clear," according to The Fayetteville Flyer.
- On January 1, 2020, Oregon became the fourth state to adopt a state-wide "stop as yield" law. Under that statute, "if a cyclist who is approaching an intersection where traffic is controlled by a sop sign slows to a safe speed, the cyclist may do any of the following without violating the law: proceed through the intersection without stopping, make a right turn or left turn into a two-way street, make a right or a left turn into a one-way street in the direction of traffic upon the one-way street," according to bike lawyer, and friend, Bob Mionske, at BicycleLaw.com.