A normal commute home via the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane by a local cyclist was cut short when he was the victim of a “left hook” collision. This stretch of Milwaukee Avenue is nicknamed the “Hipster Highway” because of the thousands of bicyclists that ride the bicycle lane in this stretch through Chicago’s popular West Town community on a daily basis. The Milwaukee Avenue bicycle lane is the most heavily travelled and well-known bicycle lane in Chicago.
Despite the video evidence and many key Chicago bike laws directly on point, the combination of the cyclist’s severe injuries combined with the driver’s insurance companies arguing who was responsible, the case took years to resolve. However, the end result was very favorable to our most deserving client. In this blog post, I wanted to use the unique set up of the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane to show the dangerous interactions between bicyclists and inattentive drivers.
The Milwaukee Avenue bike lane is one of seven “Spoke Routes” that the Chicago Department of Transportation designated as direct bicycle routes in and out of Chicago’s Loop. The Chicago Department of Transportation states that “Spoke Routes” like the Milwaukee Avenue bicycle lane are designed to “provide a safe, continuous bikeway and connect all areas of Chicago with the downtown. The primary goal of the Spoke Route network is to increase bicycle commuting citywide.” If you’re interested in learning more about the Spoke Route network, check out “Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020,” Chicago Department of Transportation (2012).
This particular stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Carpenter Street and Ogden Avenue is particularly cyclist specific as there is a “bike box” at the intersection with Ogden Avenue and Chicago Avenue. The purpose of a “bike box” is for cyclists to be in front of traffic and clearly visible to oncoming traffic. In addition, there is a curb-assist handlebar for cyclists to use to support themselves when standing at the intersection.
The Milwaukee Avenue bike lane on this stretch is what is known as a buffer-protected bike lane. The lane itself is painted bright green to differentiate the bike lane from other lanes and to warn motorists of the presence of cyclists. This buffer-protected bike lane incorporates vertical bollards to the inside of the bicycle lane which physically separates the cyclists from the motor vehicle traffic. In its “Streets for Cycling Plan 2020,” the City of Chicago set specific guidelines for buffer protected bike lanes.
One of the City’s goals of buffer protected bike lanes is to improve safety by providing extra separation between bicyclists and motorists. The City’s plan highlights that motorists should know to “Use caution when turning across the buffer protected bike lane….” In addition, the City’s guidelines provide that “If a travel lane side buffer is present, it can be used to pass slower bicyclists in the bike lane.” Additional instructions are to “Announce your presence to the slower bicyclists and check over your shoulder for approaching vehicular traffic” and to “Never pass on the right of a slower bicyclist.”
As the video from the cyclist’s helmet camera shows, the crash occurred when the motorist turned left from southbound Milwaukee Avenue across the path of oncoming northbound traffic including bicyclists in the Milwaukee bicycle lane.
The motorist testified at her deposition that she drove southbound on Ogden Avenue past the intersection of Chicago Avenue and then made a left-hand turn onto Milwaukee Avenue. Unfortunately, even though she was aware of cyclists in the area, she failed to see the cyclist and the crash occurred.
Liability: Who Is At Fault?
In this case we argued that it was 100% the motorists fault in making a “left hook” across oncoming traffic – including bike traffic. We further argued that this negligence is particularly pronounced given that the driver admitted she knew there was bike traffic in the area and admitted she crossed three different lanes of oncoming traffic. In fact, this crash could have been entirely prevented if the driver either 1) yielded the right-of-way or 2) used the other entrance to the CVS off of Carpenter Street.
The attorneys hired by the insurance companies who insured the driver of the Lexus SUV retained an expert witness to say that it was actually the cyclist who was more than 50% to blame for the crash. In Illinois, if the party presenting a claim for personal injuries is more than 50% liable then the defendants and their insurance companies are not responsible for compensating them for their injuries. It was thus important to provide strong evidence that the driver of the SUV was not just primarily responsible for this crash, but totally at fault as we sincerely concluded.
Given that this crash occurred at around 5:27 p.m. this was a known time of rush hour, and the traffic lanes and bicycle lanes were full of vehicles. Despite these traffic conditions that were obvious to everyone else on the roadway, the driver turned a massive 2015 Lexus S.U.V. across both the lanes for motor vehicle traffic and the bicycle lane directly in front of the bicyclist. At the time of the crash The bicyclist was approaching on his bicycle with a green light at the intersection ahead. The driver turned left immediately in front of the bicyclist’ path and there was zero chance he (or anyone) could have stopped before impact.
The SUV driver inexplicably testified under oath at her deposition that she was aware of the bike lane, aware it was heavily trafficked by bicyclists, yet she turned across the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane on which The bicyclist was clearly oncoming. She also could not explain why she did not see The bicyclist even though the intersection is very well lit, and she was aware of other bicyclists. In simple terms, there is no law or standard that allows the driver of a motor vehicle to turn across the path of oncoming bicyclists in a marked and dedicated bicycle lane without first being absolutely certain that it is safe to do so.
Bike Laws On Point
The acts and omissions of The driver are a direct violation of several portions of the Municipal Code of Chicago. The driver was required to yield the right-of-way to the bicycle approaching from the opposite direction. As evidenced by the collision and resulting injuries, the motorist clearly violated Section 9-16-020 of the Municipal Code of Chicago. Section 9-16-020 provides:
- Right of way to a bicycle on Left Turn – The driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to a bicycle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.
- The driver also violated Section 9-40-160 of the Municipal Code of Chicago in causing the bicycle crash by failing to utilize due care when operating her vehicle recklessly on Chicago most busy bicycle lane. Section 9-40-160 provides: Drivers to exercise due care – Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian, or any person operating a bicycle or other device propelled by human or animal power, upon any roadway, and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precautions upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway.
- The driver also violated Section 9-40-060 of the City of Chicago Municipal Code by driving across a bicycle lane in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic, including The bicyclist. Section 9-40-060 provides: The driver of a vehicle shall not drive, unless entering or exiting a legal parking space, or stand, or park the vehicle upon any on street path or lane designated by official signs or markings for the use of bicycles, or otherwise drive or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic on such path or lane.
- The overall rights of bicyclists in Illinois are solidified in “Dennis’s Law” which clarified that all bicyclists in Illinois are entitled to all of the rights of motorists. Specifically, this law establishes that bicyclists are equally entitled to the right-of-way. In Illinois, any person riding a bicycle is equally regarded as operating a vehicle. “Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights, including, but not limited to, rights under Article IX of this Chapter, [625 ILCS 5/11-901 et seq.] and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Code.” 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/11-1502. This amendment to existing law went into effect on January 1, 2017, and was the clear law of the land on the date of this crash.
Case Resolves Prior to October 2022 Trial
At the time of settlement a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County was right around the corner. This lawsuit was successfully resolved after two separate mediations with two different judges. It was a hard fought battle over several years involving a total of three separate insurance companies. Yet, the patience through court closings and all the associated delays were worthwhile as it resulted in one of the highest settlements in Illinois history for a male victim of the same age with the same injury. This was a very deserving resolution for a tremendous client who was at motivated to protect the rights of all cyclists as anything else. The cyclist’s commendable mindset and extremely credible demeanor were large factors in such a favorable resolution. Keating Law is extremely grateful to represent this client and proud of the final result.