Thousands of us love bicycling in Chicago. It’s great exercise and recreation, the views are spectacular, and it’s an economical way to travel in the city. Unfortunately, there’s also another side to bicycling in Chicago. Only a week after Bicycling magazine named Chicago the “Best Bike City in the United States” in September, the sixth bicyclist was killed on Chicago streets since June. All six crashes involved a commercial vehicle.

At a memorial service for the 23-year-old, bicycling promoter Rebecca Resman said, “We have to make street safety a priority. This isn’t a cycling community problem. This isn’t a problem for the pedestrian community. This isn’t a problem for people that drive. This is everybody’s problem, and we need to work together to solve it.” Ms. Resman is an organizer with Kidical Mass Chicago, the local branch of a national movement that encourages families to ride bicycles for transportation, exercise, and recreation.

The memorial service in September was also attended by hundreds of bicyclists and bicycling safety activists. In response to the recent bicycling fatalities linked to commercial trucks in Chicago, Jim Merrell of the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) writes on the organization’s website, “This troubling trend points to an urgent need to address the disproportionate threat these large vehicles pose to people biking and walking.”

The ATA is circulating a petition asking government agencies to “enhance commercial vehicle regulation, reduce dangerous speeding, restrict right turns in dangerous locations, expand education for all, improve our infrastructure and street design and fairly enforce traffic laws.” ATA communications director Ted Villaire says, “Larger commercial vehicles have more blind spots, making it difficult to see people walking and biking. Also, they are higher up, so it’s more possible for [bikers] to get caught under the tires.”

WHAT IS VISION ZERO?

City officials have reportedly agreed to the ATA petition and will work to reduce the number of accidents by improving the physical infrastructure for bicycling and by expanding safety education as part of Vision Zero, initiated in Chicago by Mayor Rahm Emanuel early in September. Vision Zero is a “data-driven, multi-agency” plan that aims to reduce accidents with the goal of “eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries in Chicago by 2026.”

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Of course, although it seems unrealistic to imagine no injuries or fatalities on Chicago’s streets, that’s precisely the vision behind “Vision Zero.” Originally developed in Sweden, the idea is that zero traffic injuries and fatalities must be the ultimate goal of traffic safety planning, even if that goal isn’t achievable. The plan was adopted in Sweden in 1997 and has subsequently been adopted by Chicago, New York, and more than a dozen other U.S. cities.

WHAT ABOUT THE INFRASTRUCTURE FOR BICYCLING IN CHICAGO?

The city now provides over 200 miles of bike paths when you add up the shared, protected, buffered, and off-road lanes for bicycling, and those bike path miles are increasing as the city moves toward completing the 645 miles of bike lanes called for by the “Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020” issued by the Chicago Department of Transportation back in 2012. Even so, most bicyclists understand that good infrastructure alone does not prevent accidents.

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Far too many collisions with bicycles are caused by truck and automobile drivers who are driving negligently – texting while driving, distracted, failing to signal, drifting into bike lanes, or driving under the influence. If you are injured by a negligent driver while bicycling in the Chicago area, speak at once with experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer Joseph M. Dooley. With more than 25 years of experience fighting for the rights of injured bicyclists and accident victims in the Chicago area, attorney Joseph M. Dooley can provide the frank legal advice an injury victim will need.

WHAT INJURIES DO BICYCLISTS TYPICALLY SUSTAIN IN CRASHES?

When a car, motorcycle, bus, or truck collides with a bicycle, it’s almost inevitably the bicycle rider who sustains the more severe injury. Because bicyclists have virtually no protection, bicycling injuries are often catastrophic, long-term, or permanently disabling injuries. Bike riders must understand that any blow to the head – with or without a bicycle helmet – could mean a brain injury. Immediate medical attention is imperative if you receive a blow to the head in a bicycle accident. If a brain injury is not immediately detected, it can remain undetected and develop into a serious medical condition – weeks or months later.

Bicyclists are also at risk for severe spinal cord injuries and limb injuries that may require amputation. Bicyclists sometimes sustain bone fractures that are only discovered during a medical exam. Even if you do not “feel” injured, if you a riding a bicycle and involved in a crash, have a doctor examine you. If a medical condition emerges later and you need to file a personal injury claim, you’ll need that medical documentation, and getting medical attention is simply the wise choice.

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Every city, of course, should be doing whatever city officials can do to protect bicyclists, but they can only do so much. Motorists need to be constantly aware of bicyclists as they drive, and bike riders need to do their part as well. Bicyclists who violate the traffic laws can be given traffic citations. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 818 bicyclists died in traffic crashes in the United States in 2015. Some of the more noteworthy trends and numbers cited by the NHTSA are:

  • The average age of the bicyclists who are killed in crashes with motor vehicles continues to rise, climbing to 45 years old in 2014, up from 39 in 2004, 32 in 1998, and 24 in 1988.
  • 88 percent of the fatalities in bicycle collisions are males.
  • 71 percent of the fatalities in bicycle collisions happen in urban settings.
  • 20 percent of the fatalities in bicycle collisions happen between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.

If you are injured while riding a bicycle in the Chicago area or anywhere in the state of Illinois, do not agree to any settlement or sign any insurance company document prior to consulting with Chicago personal injury lawyer Joseph M. Dooley. Contact attorney Joseph M. Dooley by email at jmd@josephdooleylaw.com or call 312-236-7282 immediately after any bicycling-related injury.