Urban Velo

Cycling Legalese: Is Riding Two Abreast Legal?

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

Riding with friends is great, until you get accosted for riding with friends. Just what is the legalese about riding next to one another on the roadway?

Q:I had an angry driver accost us on a casual ride about taking up the whole road. We were in the rightmost lane, riding more or less with traffic, and two abreast. What are the laws on riding two abreast?

The law as it regards riding single file versus two abreast, a.k.a., riding next to each other, tends to reflect the frustration and sometimes hostility between those who like to use their bikes for transportation and exercise and those who think bikes belong on sidewalks or on limited use paths. In many places in the United States riding two abreast is legal; except when it isn’t. In some places it is explicitly prohibited. Unfortunately, it is difficult to provide a bright line rule. Much will depend on the law of the state you are in, the local ordinance of the town you are riding through (which may differ from the state’s vehicle code), the width of the roadway and the judgment of a police officer.

I recognize that this is not a satisfactory answer, but hopefully an explanation will offer some guidance.

The law in New York is as good an example as any of the “it depends” rule. Section 1234(b) of the New York Vehicle Code says:

Persons riding bicycles… upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Simple, right? You can ride two abreast but not three or more.

But the section continues: Persons riding bicycles upon a shoulder, bicycle… lane, or bicycle… path, intended for the use of bicycles… may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available.

The section adds, however, that when passing another user of the bike path or lane, cyclists must do so while riding single file.

Okay, but wait: Persons riding bicycles… upon a roadway shall ride… single file when being overtaken by a vehicle.

So it appears that while street riding in New York, you may ride two abreast; that is until a driver feels that you are in the way and wants to pass. Then you must revert to single file. Got that?

Let’s take a look at Illinois.

As in New York, the Illinois legislature giveth, then it taketh away.

The relevant state statute says: Persons riding bicycles or motorized pedal cycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than 2 abreast, except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for their exclusive use.

That is the give. You can ride two abreast. Now for the take: Persons riding 2 abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane…

This does not seem quite as onerous as the New York law. Still, there is much left open to interpretation so as to erode the confidence of cyclists when riding two abreast. What exactly does it mean to “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic?” What traffic? Motor vehicle traffic? Bicycle traffic? And who gets to decide? Generally it will be a police officer who makes the controlling judgment call. The officer will likely look to another section of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code for guidance which states that a person on a bicycle riding: at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable and safe to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.

To the extent that the left most rider riding two abreast is not as close as practicable and safe to the right side of the road, he or she may be subject to a traffic citation.

But wait, it gets even trickier in the Land of Lincoln. Some towns/municipalities have taken it upon themselves to regulate this issue. This means that during a single ride the law may change as you pedal across town boundaries. For example, let’s say you would like to begin a group ride with your buddies in Chicago and head north into the suburbs, a very common practice for club riders here. At the beginning of the ride in the City you may ride two abreast, so long as you are not impeding traffic. However, as you reach the North Shore suburb of Winnetka you must “ride single-file, except on paths or parts of roads which are set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.” To the best of my knowledge, cyclists are not warned of a change in the law as they enter Winnetka. Perhaps a sign that says something like, “Welcome To Winnetka; Now Get In Single File” would alert cyclists to adjust their group riding formation accordingly. Absent that, it seems that before setting out with a buddy on a ride in Illinois, you must research the local ordinance of each town you plan to pass through. Because what’s more fun than preparing for a bike ride by doing a whole bunch of legal research?

California has taken an arguably novel approach to this issue. Its state code says this about two abreast vs. single file riding: Nothing. The California vehicle code does not address the matter at all. So that means you can ride two, three, four, five, etc. abreast in that state, right? Not so fast. As we saw in Illinois, some municipalities in California have taken it upon themselves to address the matter.

For example, a local ordinance in Torrance states: Persons operating bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

In that city cyclists may ride two abreast at most. As for the rest of the state, the vehicle code’s silence on the issue does not necessarily equate to smooth traveling through the legal landscape. In 2010, The Press Democrat, a California newspaper, documented conflicts between bicyclists and drivers in Sonoma County. The paper asked a member of the California Highway Patrol to offer his take on drivers’ complaints of cyclists riding next to each other rather than single file. Somewhat predictably the patrolman noted that the state’s vehicle code (like that in every other state) requires cyclists to ride as close to the right edge of the road as practicable. However, he admitted that “Riders do not have to ride single file in CA.”

But… He interprets the law as requiring, “If traffic traveling in the same direction approaches them [the cyclists], then they must move as far to the right as practicable. So, even if it is only one car that comes up behind them, if there is a rider that is alongside another, and in the traffic lane, they must pull in behind or ahead of the rider. If they can safely ride abreast in a marked bike lane, they would not have to do this.” In short, cyclists not riding single file where a car wishes to pass are subject to citation.

So, what is the takeaway from this sampling of the law in three big states with major metropolitan areas? It is that unless riding two or more abreast is explicitly outlawed (I’m looking at you Winnetka, IL), you may do so without getting hassled by the police so long as there are no drivers who wish to pass. If a driver going in the same direction wishes to pass the best practice to avoid legal trouble is to revert to single file.

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Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
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Corey’s Stories – Step Aside When You Hear My Stomach Growl

This morning I worked out at the gym very early before work. I often get groceries afterward as the stores have fewer customers and the shelves are usually better stocked. There are two supermarkets along the way home. The nicer organic one across the street from the gym had yet to open when I left. My metabolism after this routine endeavor requires calories and lots of them.

Today, I craved something sweet and fatty like ice cream. I recently rode a double century and needed to replace some valuable nutrients expended. I recalled that Greg Lemond ate ice cream all the time during his career, earning world championship jerseys and Tours of France victories. I was getting a serious case of the hangries, angry because of hunger.

I inched past the cookies, staring at each whatever ounce bag of sweet deliciousness, believing them to be the worst option in my state.

I stood fixedly at the frozen food section, wondering when a half gallon of ice cream turned into 1.5 quart tubs. I became more angry. The ice cream flavor selection was limited to healthy stuff. (Healthy junk food? I know where the f%!# produce is! I already have an apple.) I wanted triple fudge brownie explosion with marshmallows, nuts and a million calories of sugar. Or something similar to it. Low fat, gelato and blandness all meekly stared blankly back from the other side of the frosty glass.

I was still hungry, getting even angrier. I wandered around the aisles like a tiger in a cage. Resigning, I knew what I had to do. I understood, sadly, after a lengthy deliberation where I had to go. I walked past the produce again to get a yogurt in the dairy section I ignored earlier because I wanted ICE CREAM!

I eventually chose a fancy blood orange with vanilla nonsense, putting it into the basket for later consumption at the lair. I got it because they, unlike other brands, sponsored some cycling event. I felt compelled to get that one rather than the one with the crunchy sugar bombs on top to be mixed upon opening.

This was my dilemma as I went food shopping. While I am very content with what I finally selected, I am aware this will not be the last struggle. The season from summer racing to winter cross to off-season working out lasts 10 months of the year.

Cycling Legalese: Does the Bike Lane Compel You?

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

Ever expanding bicycle infrastructure is awesome, hands down. But are you compelled to use a bike lane or separated path if it exists, even if it is in disrepair or otherwise not suitable? Read on.

Q:There are new bike lanes popping up all over. That’s cool, but do I have to ride in them?

Bike lanes are awesome, except when they’re not. As someone who has been riding in the big bad city for decades, I am thrilled at the proliferation of bike specific infrastructure in my town and others nationwide. Our cities are evolving. However, no big North American city can claim to be on par with bike meccas like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. In the evolutionary timeline we have crawled out of the primordial ooze, but we are still pretty wet behind the ears. Sometimes bike lanes, and other cycle specific infrastructure, suck. Thankfully, in most places bicyclists are not required to use bike lanes or separated paths.

There are several reasons why a cyclist might choose not to ride in a bike lane. It may be in disrepair, full of potholes, ruts or broken glass. Leaving the bike lane may be the safe thing to do. It is common in U.S. cities for the lanes to be occupied illegally by cars, delivery trucks or other vehicles. Here in Chicago, buses are permitted to share bicycle lanes with people on bikes. In the winter months, bike paths maybe rendered impassable due to the accumulation of snow and ice. There are even times when cycling on a path or in a bike lane clear of obstructions just does not make sense. For example, a roadie on a training ride may be advised to avoid a path crowded with cyclists traveling at a more leisurely pace.

There once was a time when the majority of U.S. states had what are commonly referred to as “mandatory use laws,” that is laws that require cyclists to use a bike specific path or other designated area located adjacent to a regular travel lane. These laws were more common at a time when there were actually fewer such paths in existence, and virtually no bike lanes in North American cities. According to the League of American Bicyclists, “In the 1970s, mandatory use laws of some sort existed in 38 states.” Now, however, there are far fewer such laws, many having been repealed. Illinois’ vehicle code has no mandatory use requirement. Until recently, the municipal code of Chicago had such a requirement which read, “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.” The ordinance did not define what a usable path was. Was it a bike lane with nothing more than a painted line separating cars and bikes? Or, was more substantial separation required, like a jersey barrier? This vagueness ultimately lead to repeal of the ordinance in June, 2013.

Cyclists throughout Illinois and in places like Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and many others cyclists may ignore bike lanes and paths for any reason. In other jurisdictions a cyclist’s right to do so is qualified. For example, in California a bicyclist must use a bicycle lane where one is provided, unless he or she is traveling at the same speed as traffic moving in the same direction. California bikers may also abandon the lane when overtaking another bicyclist or pedestrian, when preparing to turn left, to avoid debris or hazardous conditions or when approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. The law in New York seems to be the same. Where there are bike lanes, cyclists have to use them. It appears, however, that cyclists there may abandon them under the same circumstances set for the in California Code.

The state with perhaps the scariest mandatory use language is one generally considered the most bike friendly in North America, Oregon. Its vehicle code states that, “A person commits the offense of failure to use a bicycle lane or path if the person operates a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.”

An “offense.” Yikes. Still, even in Oregon a bike lane or path may be abandoned to pass other cyclists, to make a left turn, to avoid hazard and to execute a right turn. Also, Oregon provides that a person need not comply with the mandatory use law unless it has been determined after public hearing that the bike lane or path is “suitable for safe bicycle use at reasonable rates of speed.”

As is generally the case, knowing what the law requires depends on the particular circumstances and where you are. If you want to check the law on mandatory use in your state, The League of American Bicyclists has a very helpful chart online. Be advised, however, that laws can change at any time without notice.

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Cycling Legalese: Riding With Music

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

People love to listen to music and it comes as no surprise that some people like to do it while riding their bicycle. What is the legality of combining bikes and music? It all depends on how and where you’re listening.

Q:I like listening to tunes while I ride. Is that illegal?

Generally, listening to music while riding a bike is not illegal. However, to know for sure whether doing so is okay or not, two questions must be answered: 1) How are you listening to your music? 2) Where are you?

If you are listening to music via a set of speakers mounted on your bike, then you are okay everywhere. I am not aware of any jurisdiction that bans the use of speakers on bikes for the purpose of listening to music, or anything else for that matter. (Of course, if you’ve got the Justin Bieber cranked to ear splitting levels you may run afoul of local noise ordinances and good sense/taste.) When it comes to bikes and music, what some jurisdictions regulate is the delivery method; in other words, headphones.

A few places have outlawed the use of headphones while biking on public roadways; for example, Florida and Rhode Island. Others have said it is okay so long as you have a headphone inserted in one ear only. California law states, “A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, or earplugs, in both ears.” New York also allows headphone use in one ear only. In many states, it is perfectly legal to wear headphones while biking, such as in Oregon and Washington D.C. In 2011, an Oregon legislator, Rep. Michael Schaufler (D-Happy Valley) proposed a bill that would have made it illegal throughout the state to operate a bicycle “while wearing a listening device that is capable of receiving telephonic communication, radio broadcasts or recorded sounds.” Doing so would have resulted in a $90 penalty. Apparently, he told BikePortland.Org that he got the idea for the bill when he “just saw some guy driving down the street on their bike with their headphones on and thought, ‘He could get run over.’” He explained that to him it was “a safety issue.” The bill went nowhere.

Interestingly, in some places the applicability of headphone prohibitions to cyclists is misunderstood. That is the case in my home state, Illinois. Some well intentioned folks claim that it is illegal to bike with headphones here. For example, the City of Chicago states on its website that cyclists should never use earphones because it “is not only dangerous, it’s illegal.” That’s wrong. Neither city ordinance nor state law ban the use of headphones while riding a bike. The only statute that references headphones (it actually uses the term “headset receivers”) states that, “No driver of a motor vehicle on the highways of this State shall wear headset receivers while driving.” The emphases are mine. Under Illinois law, a bicycle is not a motor vehicle. Therefore, the prohibition of headphone use does not apply to people on bikes.

Perhaps the more interesting question is not whether it is legal, but whether it is wise to bike on city streets while wearing headphones. There are some important reasons not to do so. There are so many things the urban bicyclist must be attuned to while riding in the city: Trucks, cars, buses, potholes, pedestrians, lights, signs, little dogs, the weather, etc. It may be unwise to diminish one of your senses while navigating a bicycle through this gauntlet of hazards and distractions. By plugging your ears and pouring music into your fully occupied brain while biking you might increase your chances of getting into an accident. In fairness, however, I am not aware of any studies that suggest this is true. Our firm has not seen many cases in which the bicyclist’s use of headphones caused or contributed to cause a crash. On the other hand, if you are involved in a crash, particularly with a motor vehicle, and were found wearing headphones you may harm you chances of successfully seeking compensation for any injuries you receive. Certainly, the driver and his/her attorney will try to suggest that your inability to hear contributed to cause the crash and that compensation should be denied or at least diminished. You and your attorney would be best off not having to deal with the headphone issue should it become necessary to bring a claim or lawsuit.

I am cynical about the motives of those who would make biking with headphones illegal, like Rep. Schaufler in Oregon. I tend to doubt that the safety of the cyclist is the motivating factor behind such proposals. I suspect that the real concern is preventing sound impervious cyclists from slowing motor vehicle traffic. In other words, when I honk, get out of my way. Biking through the city should be pleasant, and for many, listening to music is a great way to ride and feel relaxed. Still, the benefits of headphone use are probably outweighed by the risks.
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The Documentarian of Bike Polo: An Interview With Mr. Do

Who are you, and what is Mr. Do Video?

My actual name is not Mr. Do. It is Dustin Bouma; Mr. Do has been my handle ever since I first joined the LOBP, in 2008. I began making polo videos in my spare time in 2009. I’d usually put my polo name at the end of the video, and by the time I felt like I needed a proper logo, the name Mr. Do Video had stuck.

How did Mr. Do Video come about? Why did you start it? 

Dut Polo 07.22.2012My video-making began after I came home from my first tournament, in Madison, WI. I had some great footage from an old Sony Handicam that I owned. I was blown away by the skill of some players, and by the potential that I saw in the sport. I immediately searched the internet for bike polo videos, thinking it had to be full of crashes, goals and sweet passes. I was surprised I didn’t find much, so I decided to make myself a video that I could watch before pickup games, to get myself pumped up to play. I had already been teaching myself to use editing software in order to make better quality home movies of my family/friends. I had all the equipment, so I began making something more exciting; polo videos. At first, it was just for me and my friends to enjoy.

What were some of the early challenges you faced? 

From poor internet connectivity to sheltering gear from the rain, I’ve faced quite a few challenges, not just early on, but continually. And I should say ‘we’, as there have been a number of us who have put forth the effort and time to produce the livestreams, which are improving with each tournament we attend. John Gordon of Minneapolis has been instrumental in making some of our bigger events, like North Americans, include multiple cameras. Zach Woodward airs every livestreamed bike polo tournament, on his website, bikepolo.tv. Steve ‘Machine’ Wilson and Andrew ‘Dr. Chan’ McRae, loan us their talents at larger events, providing play-by-play commentary of the action. Jenn Gallup operates and continuously monitors the feed on a laptop; all of these folks are invaluable to the livestream. As a polo community, we make these livestreams happen as a group; and the biggest challenge, often, is getting people to dedicate so many hours into making them great. It takes a lot of work, and I am thankful for each and every volunteer.

Who watches Mr. Do Livestreams and videos? 

The biggest polo fan is Vanessa Willey; she watches every livestream from beginning to end and is one of our biggest supporters. Otherwise, it’s mostly polo players and their friends or family; folks who can’t be at an event, but want to see people they know playing the sport they love. Many players like to watch themselves and/or opponents, in order to talk strategy and tactics and improve their own game-play. Mrdovideo.com provides an organized way to watch the games from bike polo tournaments that we’ve filmed. Games are categorized by tournament, and are also searchable by team name, or even player name.

How do you think you’ve impacted bike polo? Do you think what you do benefits people outside of the sport or inside of it? 

I’ve only just recently thought about the impact of Mr. Do on the sport of hardcourt. There is definitely a benefit to archiving bike polo games; not only does it preserve some history of the sport, it enables players to level the playing field through film study. Players from around the world can watch games featuring the best players and teams in all of bike polo. Teams and players watch and review past games of themselves and their opponents to help develop strategy, plays, and improve their skills, which I believe improves the sport and makes it even more exciting to watch.

I also hope that outsiders see my videos and are drawn to hardcourt bike polo, because it really is an amazing sport to play and to watch.

Where do you see Mr.Do Video in a few years? Where would you like to expand? 

I would love to be able to step away from the camera and into more of a production role, where I can take more direct control of the entire livestream. Filming polo is difficult, and after nearly 5 years of it, I have a high standard. If we can maintain that standard, while I move into a head producer role, I think that we can create professional-style broadcasts; ones that feature solid and consistent coverage of the entire tournament, while remaining family-friendly and exciting to the general public. I would also like to employ an elevated center court camera, as well as feature other pro sports-like coverage.

How do you pay for all of this? What support are you getting? 

When we began traveling to tournaments strictly for the sake of livestreaming and not to compete in them, we decided we needed help to cover some of our costs. From travel to equipment to internet fees, the cost of producing a livestream is quite large and we are, after all, doing this as a hobby. We held a moderately successful internet fundraiser and we received some support from several polo companies, as well as dozens of donations from polo players, clubs, friends, and family members. Companies like Fixcraft, DZR Shoes, Modifide, and Northern Standard have chipped in; the polo community has done a lot to help make it possible for us to pay the costs of producing tournament livestreams. Ultimately, the donations serve to cover just part of the cost; along with travel and equipment, the hours and hours of dedicated work by the Stream Team are what really make it happen.

Do you find yourself becoming really great at understanding bike polo since you’re basically watching it all the time? 

Dut Polo3 07.22.2012

Ha! Not as much as you’d think!

When I am filming bike polo, I am concentrating on framing the shot; I can barely see the ball in the viewfinder. It’s not until later, when I am editing, that I can watch and really enjoy the game, and know what happened beyond the scores. But by that time, I have a mountain of footage that I need to go through. So I stop enjoying the games and get back to work!

But seriously, I am awesome at polo.

How can people find you online/watch your videos/find out about upcoming livestreams? 

You can find bike polo games and highlights at mrdovideo.com, and you can find us on Facebook and Twitter. We will make announcements there, regarding upcoming livestreams. But rest assured, the 2014 North American Championships will be the best bike polo livestream, ever.

Cycling Legalese: No Ticket, No Compensation?

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

If you’re involved in an automobile/bicycle collision it is in your best interest to call the police and get a report, but how will it impact a potential claim for injury or damage compensation if the police officer doesn’t issue a ticket to the driver on the spot?

Q:After I was hit by a car, the police did not give the driver a ticket. How will that affect my ability to receive compensation from the driver for my injuries?

A traffic ticket issued to a driver for causing a crash may aid a bicyclist’s personal injury case. But, failure of the police to ticket a driver will generally have no impact at all on the cyclist’s case.

Most police officers try hard to do the right thing. But strip away the badge and the uniform and what you are left with is a fallible human being. After a crash, you may know with cosmic certainty that the driver that hit you was in the wrong. Police officers arriving after the fact will not have a clue about what happened. They may have a pissed-off, injured bicyclists telling them one thing, a frustrated, nervous driver telling them another, and a mess of backed-up city traffic. Figuring out what happened and who was at fault may not be knowable, and/or may be the least of their concerns. Sometimes the responding officer will take his or her best guess as to what happened and issue a ticket. Let the judge sort it out. Other times a cop will throw his or her hands up and keep the ticket book tucked away.

To be sure, I sometimes shake my head when the police fail to ticket a driver. It is astonishing when a driver is not ticketed, for example, after dooring a cyclist in broad daylight. Other times I suspect that a police officer holds an anti-bike prejudice. Just the other day, I was in court in a suburb of Chicago defending a bicyclist who was hit from behind by a vehicle whose driver crossed a double yellow line and hit him as the cyclist began a left turn. The officer ticketed the cyclist for failing to signal his intent to turn, even though the officer documented that witnesses reported that the cyclist had indeed signaled. The judge ultimately threw out the ticket, but, sheesh!

When a driver is ticketed after a crash, he or she will generally be given a date to appear in court and enter a plea, guilty/not guilty. It is very important that the bicyclist appear at that court date. The cyclist will be the complaining witness, without whom the prosecution will not be able to prove a traffic violation (assuming the issuing police officer did not actually witness the incident). The officer that wrote the ticket will generally not be permitted to testify as to what someone else said happened. Such testimony is considered hearsay and cannot serve as a basis for a conviction. It is a good idea to arrive at the hearing early so you or your lawyer can seek out the prosecutor and let them know that you are present and ready to testify against the driver. In city traffic court the prosecutor will have about a zillion cases he or she is dealing with at once and will likely appreciate the presence of a complaining witness willing to cooperate and explain what the case is about. Depending on what the presiding judge generally allows, the prosecutor may then seek out the driver in the courtroom and explain their options. Sometimes an agreement to plead guilty will result in a lesser punishment for the driver then a finding of guilt by the judge after a time consuming trial. In my experience, many drivers take that deal. This is important. A plea of guilty in the criminal/traffic case is admissible in evidence as an admission in the subsequent civil/personal injury case. The driver will have a very difficult time wiggling free from a claim of negligence after pleading guilty. However, a finding of guilt (or not) at trial is not admissible in the personal injury case. In most jurisdictions a jury considering the personal injury case would never learn of the earlier verdict arising from the traffic citation.
So, if the driver is ticketed after a crash, great. Go to the traffic citation hearing. If the driver does not get a ticket, do not sweat it.

—Disclaimer—
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
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Cycling Legalese: Reflectors, Lights and Liability

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

Reflector and light laws vary from district to district, but what are the legal ramifications of flaunting them and riding without the legally required lights or reflectors? Find out.

Q:It’s my understanding that reflectors on the wheels and pedals are mandated by law, yet many cyclists remove these items upon purchase or use equipment largely incompatible with reflectors, like clipless pedals. If the cyclist is struck by a motor vehicle, particularly at night, could the driver face less liability if the bicyclist did not have reflectors to the letter of the law?

The law regarding lights and reflectors varies significantly from state to state. Failure to have the necessary lights and reflectors on your bike during a crash may negatively impact a personal injury claim, but will not necessarily bar legal recourse.

To emphasize what I hope is plain good sense, put at least a light on the front of your bike and a red reflector on the rear. Turn the light on at night and in crappy weather. In Illinois, the law requires that bicycles ridden at night “be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet.” A red reflector that is visible from at least 100 feet is also required. A red light may be used in addition to, but not instead of, the rear reflector. Oregon has similar requirements but its vehicle code requires that lights and reflectors be used during all limited visibility conditions, not just at night. The California vehicle code requires more illumination. That state mandates that a bicycle have a white lamp that both illuminates the road to the front and is visible from at least 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bike. The California cyclist must also have a red rear reflector, a white and yellow reflector “on each pedal, shoe or ankle,” and side facing reflectors or tires with reflective properties.
The consequences for not having the required items at the time of a crash will depend on the specific circumstances. The key to determining whether your lack of a light and reflector will bar legal recourse is whether your absence of illumination was the cause of the crash. In many instances lack of lighting will indeed cause or at least contribute to cause a crash. For example, front lighting will undoubtedly reduce a bicyclist’s chances of getting doored while riding at night. A driver exiting her vehicle will be much better able to see a cyclist in her side view mirror if the bike is properly illuminated.

However, lack of bicycle illumination will not always bar an injured bicyclist from recovering against a negligent driver for their injuries. To recover compensation in a personal injury case the injured person, aka, “the plaintiff”, must prove that the defendant (1) owed them a duty of care, (2) breached that duty and as a result (2) caused (4) an injury. For example, all drivers owe a duty to all other roadway users to stop at stop signs. If a driver blows a stop sign and crashes into another driver causing injury then the offending motorist will be found guilty of negligence and ordered to compensate the other driver for their injuries. But, in most states, a jury asked to decide a personal injury case may consider the plaintiff’s conduct as well. Sure, the defendant may have been negligent but the plaintiff may have been as well. The world is messy and complex that way. It is not always the case that person A was wrong and person B was right. Person A and person B may have both been wrong but one was more wrong than the other. In considering a plaintiff’s “contributory negligence” a jury must, as with the defendant, determine whether he or she violated a duty imposed by law and whether that breach caused, or at least contributed to cause, his or her own injuries. In the simple hypothetical scenario presented above, the injured driver also had a duty to stop at all stop signs. If both drivers blew their respective signs the injured party may have his or her monetary compensation reduced or barred altogether if he or she contributed to cause the injury inducing crash. Jurors are generally the ones charged with determining percentages of fault.

Back to the issue of bicycle lighting. It is important to emphasize that a defendant, to establish the plaintiff bicyclist’s contributory negligence, must prove two things: First, that he or she violated a duty either imposed by statute, e.g. the stop sign law, or by the general requirement imposed by “common law” (judge made case law) that all people act as a reasonably prudent person would under similar circumstances. Secondly, that the failure to do so was approximate cause of his or her injuries. A bicyclist riding through the streets of Chicago without a white front headlight and red rear reflector has violated a duty imposed by state statute. However, whether that failure is a cause of a particular crash and resulting injuries will very much depend on the circumstances. I have faced this issue several times in my bicycle law practice. In my experience, whether the plaintiff bicyclist’s lack of illumination proximately caused a nighttime collision with a motor vehicle becomes controversial when the driver hits the cyclist from the side in a well lit area. I have successfully argued a number of times that in that circumstance the cyclist’s violation of the light/reflector law had nothing to do with the crash. If the bicyclist was hit from the side, then a front facing light and rear reflector would not have helped the driver see him or her from the side much better. Also, if the location of the crash was very well lit, then even lacking the required equipment the driver still should have seen the bicyclist. Lack of bikes lights did not cause the crash.

Riding a bike at night without lights is dumb 100% of the time. However, the legal effect of not doing so will very much depend.

—Disclaimer—
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
—Disclaimer—
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Your Polo Update: Calm Before the Storm Edition

As much as it pains me to write it, the end of the 2013 bike polo season is within sight. Disappearing are the days of the 8:30 sunset, the three-gallons-of-water-why-is-it-so-hot playing, and the joys of a full, unknowable tourney schedule. Yes, friends, it seems as though we must soon brace ourselves for the cold, lightless days of winter.

Unless of course you’re heading to Florida in a few weeks.

That’s right: with the end of the “regular season” comes some of the most fun tourneys this side of the sun: Worlds and Turducken.

First, let’s talk a little bit about the biggest of the three and why it’s so very important in the world of bike polo:

WHBPCThe World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship is unlike any other tourney you’re likely to go to during the whole season. For one thing, it’s a great chance to experience what the entire world of bike polo is coming up with: the unique skillsets of players from different continents, the amazing equipment that companies are creating, and the general 100% saturation of bike polo for day upon glorious day. Do you remember the scene from Harry Potter (shut up, you watched it) where ol’ Harry goes to the Quidditch world cup? Well, it’s almost like that (minus the thousands and thousands of spectators, flying brooms, and butter-beer). But that’s not to say there isn’t magic to be had while at a Worlds tourney.

Point in fact, the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship is a great way to size up the health and growth of our sport—both in how many players come in from different areas of the world, and in how much the word’s bike polo players have grown in skill.

Last year the World Championship was held in Geneva, Switzerland, making it rather hard for this humble, poor writer to attend. However, this year it’s held in Weston, Florida. This means that, through the help of Urban Velo and a few kind souls here in Lancaster (my wife), I’m able to travel to the sunshine state to witness the thrilling best-of-the-best competition.

Why is it important? Well, dear reader, add this to the points I’ve already listed: it’s a competition formed by nothing more than the will of polo players. It is one of the purest forms of competition, in that the players who come are doing so for the sake of being hailed as the very best in the world—not for the joy of having a few beers with friends or for the chance to win some polo equipment. This tourney, unlike most any other during the year, is one of champions who are trying to meddle out how far they can push themselves and their teams. If that doesn’t get you pumped up for the sport, I don’t know what will.

Happening in October (16th-20th), this tourney is not one to miss. If you even have the tiniest interest in seeing it, just do yourself the favor and find a way to get to Weston, Florida.

Turducken FlyerSo it’d be safe to say that Worlds is the end of the bike polo season, more or less. Well, if you said that I’d laugh at you once you were far enough away to not hear me laugh. For on November 9th and 10th is the classic…no no…legendary Turducken tournament. This was one of the first tourneys I went to, and it is simply one of the best if you like both extremely challenging games and a Thanksgiving feast at the end of your tourneys.

The thing about Turducken is that it’s a dynasty sort of tournament. You can be guaranteed that the biggest names in bike polo (at least on this half of the country) will be there, and they’ll be bringing their A games. However, that’s not to say that you should feel pressured into not coming out—It’s a blast to go to, a great way to meet folks, and an awesome way to improve your understanding of our sport. It’s also the best way I’ve found to say so-long to the bike polo season, and that delicious food shores you up for the cold lonelies of winter.

So if you’re heading to Worlds, I’ll see you there—and if you’re heading to Turducken, I’ll see you there, too.

Your Polo Update: NA Edition

nahbpc_final small fileWell, friends, the time is upon us once again. Across the entirety of the United States (except for Lancaster, PA, as we are too hipster to go to your mainstream bike polo tourney) bike polo players are checking their spokes, buying a few extra tires, and sharpening their mallet heads for the climax of the 2013 bike polo season: North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship (NAHBPC).

Starting at the end of this week—August 16th to the 18th—the very best players that North America has to offer will join together in Minneapolis, Minnesota to vie for the podium. This is truly where bike polo moves from a fun time to an art form, and if you can make your way out to Minneapolis, I strongly suggest you do so.

No, I won’t be, because I used up all my vacation time on dental appointments and other bike polo tourneys. I’m a bad planner, okay?

Now, if you can’t manage to make your way out to the event, fear not. Everything will be streamed live and free on www.bikepolo.tv , where you can witness amazing bike polo from the comfort of your own living room. Honestly, I’d get your bike polo friends together and make an event of it. If I had friends, I’d be doing that. As it is, I’ll be watching the event from the polo aviary of my third floor, alone save for a bottle of whiskey, as is my tradition.

Naturally, I’ll be rooting for the Eastside teams, though I have found that I don’t have, necessarily, a favorite team to root for. Looking over the list of people who are going, I’m pretty sure I’ll just disintegrate into me squealing at every game I watch and accidentally swinging my polo mallet into a window or something.

Outside of the North Americans, We’ve got the Salt in Your Veins tourney over in the Bonneville Salt Flats of Wendover, UT. To be fair, there isn’t a graphic for this tourney, nor is there any set rules, plans, housing, sign ups, nor confirmed teams. I’m going to say that the boys over in Salt Lake City figured out nobody was doing anything the same weekend as North Americans other than watching North Americans.

 

megaman copy copyHow-ev-er, the weekend after (August 24th) is the POLO BATTLE in Winston Salem, where folks are invited to come out for a grand pickup day, no prizes or anything like that, but a more traditional come-out-and-play bike polo event. Really, it’s a great way to cool down from NAs or just find a place to hang out with a bunch of folks who are having a good time.

 

 

polo22-01That very same weekend is the two day Thunder Bay Bike Polo Invitational. Now in its third year, the invitational seems light on information on the event page, but that’s not to say it isn’t a good time (I mean, would it be in its third year if it weren’t fun?).

 

 

Moving from tourneys, I want to discuss the push for better reffing in the NAH. It’s no surprise to those of you who know me that I really herald the importance of good refs in our sport (and the expansion of our refs, in particular). Well it seems like the NAH has finally listened to me…sheesh….guys…and created a website called ref.nahardcourt.com where you will eventually be able to achieve certification and education. Currently there is a place to take a “rules test” and create a login.

I have no doubt as this initiative progresses, that we’ll start getting some very interested, very dedicate people who are willing to take up the call and become professional refs. I for one am excited by the prospect myself, as I recognize that I’ll probably never make it to Nationals or Worlds on my bike polo skill, but I can certainly make it there based on my ability to recognize illegal play and coach-trot out on the court to place a ball.

I coach-trot like a champion.

Anyway, I wish the best of luck to everyone going to Nationals (both players and organizers alike), and I hope you’ll join me, dear reader, in watching the fun online at www.bikepolo.tv

Cycling Legalese: Alleycats

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

You hear a lot about alleycats here at Urban Velo and beyond… But what’s the legal side of street racing?

Q: I hear a lot about alleycat racing. But aren’t they illegal?

Traditionally, alleycat bicycle racing was meant to replicate what bike messengers do on a daily basis: Quickly and efficiently ride through crowded urban landscapes to deliver parcels. In its purest form, during an alleycat riders are informed of a number of checkpoints they must reach. At each, they receive instructions regarding what to do next, then it’s forward to the next stop. Knowledge of city streets and back alleys, as well as strength on a bike are key components for success. The first racer to travel to all checkpoints and cross the finish wins. The spoils are modest: a smallish amount of cash, a new bicycle or component. The real prize, however, comes from knowing (and letting it be known) that you are the best at what you do. Collecting wins is better than employee of the month plaques, yet not as obnoxiously self-aggrandizing as collecting yachts and sports cars.

Here’s the thing though: Alleycat races are dangerous and illegal. Bike races must be approved by state or local authorities before they may take place on public streets. Generally, approval will not be granted unless accommodations are made so that the event does not interfere with traffic. The point of alleycat racing is to test one’s ability to travel by bike in the city under the kinds of conditions faced daily by bike messengers, in traffic. Obviously, no governmental authority would sanction a race in moving traffic. One significant downside to these races operating outside the law is that they are uninsurable. If a racer is hurt due to a poorly designed or designated course, or some other negligent act or omission by the race organizer, he or she will likely be out of luck with regard to receiving compensation.

Bad things can and do sometimes happen in alleycat racing. In March, 2008 a racer was killed during what used to be the biggest and most important such race in Chicago, the Tour Da Chicago. During the race, several racers ahead of the main pack reportendly approached the six-way intersection of Lincoln-Damen-and Irving Park. As they did, the pace, which had been high, slowed because the light was red. However, one of the racers, Matt Lynch, apparently tried to take advantage of everyone else slowing and shot into the intersection. When he did he was struck and killed by an SUV traveling at full speed. Matt made a mistake and it cost him his life. When deciding whether to enter an alleycat race, the prospective participate should consider the stakes and carefully take stock of his or her ability and experience. Recently, there has been a trend of alleycat races being organized and participated in by bicyclists who are not messengers, riders who may not have the kind of ability and smarts that someone who rides for hours every day on crowded city streets does. A while ago I asked Ben Fietz of the Chicago Couriers Union to offer his insight about alleycat races. He graciously did so. Here is what he wrote to me:

Alleycat races are pretty much always illegal, and can be very dangerous. That said, they can also be a very important part of the messenger community and the biking community in general. It sounds crazy, but I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t participated in alleycat races. In their purest form, alleycat races are a way for messengers to compete against each other and find out who is actually the fastest and who knows the city the best. I have the top spot at one of the best messenger companies in Chicago, and the truth of it is that I got into the company that I work for by racing in alley cats and proving myself about six years ago.

That used to be the main purpose of alleycats. They were races put on by messengers for messengers. But a few years ago, alleycats started to get really popular with city cyclists, and they started entering alleycats, and eventually throwing their own. It got to the point in Chicago where there were more non-messenger thrown races than messenger ones. Of course companies with hip marketing departments became aware of this scene, and sponsorship for the races grew. The early alleycat races usually didn’t have any sponsors at all, they would just be a cash race, winner takes all. It has gotten to the point where people are having alleycat races in cities which don’t even have any messengers in them. I heard about a race in St. Augustine Florida, which seems kind of silly. A couple of years ago, Velocity wheels sponsored and threw an alleycat in the city in Michigan which their headquarters are located. Once again, there were no messengers in the city, but they had an alleycat with a huge prize list, and people came from all over to race.

There aren’t as many alleycat races in Chicago as there used to be. The Sadie Hawkins race in the fall is a yearly race, which has very little involvement by messengers, but it’s a fun race and usually has a huge turnout. A messenger has been throwing a race about once a month downtown. These races are short and fast, and are set up to favor messengers. There are usually a couple of stops in each race that are very hard to find unless you are a messenger. The biggest race used to be the Tour Da Chicago, until Matt’s death.

* * * * *

As far as the safety of alleycats, it is pretty much up to the individual racer to race within your limits. There isn’t really any way to make a completely safe alleycat race. The whole point is that you are racing on city streets with traffic. The difference between a good alleycat race and a bad one is the level of organization and how well the race flows. But how well the race is organized really doesn’t have any bearing on how safe that race will be to enter, just how much fun it will be.

Alleycat racing, if it is to be done at all, should be left to folks who know what they are doing. A group of riders racing through city streets pretending to be something they are not, professional bicycle couriers, is a recipe for disaster. Before deciding to participate in an alleycat understand what you are getting into.

—Disclaimer—
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
—Disclaimer—
Read more →

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