Both attorneys at Leopold & Associates are avid bike riders who often take Chicago’s Lakefront Trail to get to and from the office each day. One of the best parts of Chicago is the numerous options for bikers to get around the city on beautiful trails along the lake or through some of Cook County’s forest preserves. So we were especially sad to learn of a recent death involving a rider of a Divvy bike-share bicycle in the Avondale neighborhood earlier this month. According to WGN, this death is believed to be the first bike sharing fatality in the United States.
In some ways, it is a testament to the City of Chicago’s bike-friendly approach that there have not been more tragic accidents involving the bike-sharing program. Chicago is in the midst of a massive bicycle expansion. As part of its Streets for Cycling 2020 plan, the city has begun installing more than 100 miles of separate and protected dedicated bike lanes across Chicago. These lanes come after years of planning and input from all corners of the city and aim to create not only recreational trails throughout much of the city’s waterfront and nature preserves but also lanes to be used by commuters that connect to all parts of the city. Studies show that recent installations have increased ridership by more than 60% in some areas with new dedicated bike lanes.
Additionally, over the past year Chicago has significantly and rapidly expanded the Divvy bike-share program. These blue rental bikes are now available at more than 580 locations across the city and the number of Divvy bicycles total well into the thousands. Riders can pay a one-time daily rental fee or buy a low cost membership that gives access to Divvy bikes 365 days a year. Similar to Streets for Cycling 2020, the Divvy program is also in the midst of a large expansion that is extending bike sharing into the Chicago suburbs of Oak Park, Evanston and beyond.
Of course, with such added ridership comes an increase in the number of bicycles on the road and therefore the risk of bicycle accidents. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being involved in a bicycle accident, the most important thing is to stay calm and assess the situation. If you need medical help, seek it as quickly as possible to ensure that nothing is broken or rule out a more serious injury. Similar to an auto accident, if there is damage to a bicycle, car or an injury to a person, call the Chicago police and ask them to fill out a report so that the people involved can exchange contact information to cover any damages that arise. You should also make sure to get the names and contact information for any person who may have witnessed the accident. Photographs by cell phone or camera of the area where the accident occurred, the bikers or vehicles involved and any physical injuries are also helpful information to capture if it possible and safe to do so. Bicycle accidents are handled in a manner very similar to auto-accident and generally involve insurance claims with the at-fault parties’ insurance company to handle property damage and personal injuries.
Finally, there is one last important note about bicycle safety. While it may seem like common sense, all riders should wear a helmet. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that helmets reduce the risk of head injuries by more than 50% and reduce the risk of face or neck injuries by 33%. If you are considering renting a Divvy bicycle, the rental does not come with a helmet; you must bring your own. Similar to driving a car, even the most careful bicycle riders have no control over the thousands of other riders, pedestrians, Segways, skateboards and many other means of travel that traverse Chicago’s bike lanes. Simple accessories such as helmets, reflective clothing or mounted lights can go a long way to protecting your health and safety when an accident occurs.