Friday, January 25, 2008

Bicycles & Legal News

Two news items crossed my desk this morning. Both piqued my interest because of my legal training.

The first, from Florida, involves a legal battle to require the state DOT to put in continuous bike lanes along State Road A1A from Palm Beach to Boca Raton. The case is being argued today at the Court of Appeals. Here's what the sides say:

The Boca Raton Bicycle Club and the League of American Bicyclists contend state law requires standard 5-foot bike lanes, whenever practicable, on new roads and roads that are being refurbished.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos argues that the department has the discretion to make exceptions and variations on adding bike and pedestrian ways in the design of road projects because of safety or operational concerns.

Five towns along A1A — Ocean Ridge, Gulf Stream, Manalapan, South Palm Beach and Palm Beach - intervened on behalf of the state. Residents say widening the road to include bike lanes would mar their small-town character and beauty of the scenic roadway.

I think I got it. The state has safety regulations in place but can ignore them when people complain that they're going to lose some shrubs.

This is one more instance of state DOTs paying lip service to bike initiatives. I'm pulling for LAB on this one, but the smart money is going to the other side.

If you want to read the full story, it's here.

The second story involves the RAGBRAI ride in Iowa. County officials along the route want the state legislature to protect their communities from liability for accidents.

The supervisors were responding to a $350,000 insurance settlement paid to the widow of a RAGBRAI rider who died in 2004. The rider was thrown from his bicycle after hitting a center-line crack on a Crawford County road.

The road was made of concrete and apparently had a joint down the center.

Here are a couple approaches lawmakers are considering, according to this story.

Some lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Clarence Hoffman who lives in Crawford County, said Thursday they want to find a way to reduce counties' liability from bicycle injuries.

Others want to address the problem by simply repairing the roads.

A bill will be introduced soon by state Sen. Bill Dotzler, a Waterloo Democrat who is a passionate cyclist and RAGBRAI rider, that would create a separate fund that counties could use for road repairs.

Specifically, Dotzler wants counties to be able to get grants through a Department of Transportation economic development program called RISE. Counties would pay 20 percent and the state would pay 80 percent, he said.

"These are public right of ways," he said. "We need to make sure the roads are fixed.

As a general rule, it makes no sense to punish a cycling event like RAGBRAI just because a county's road are not in good repair. At the same time, I appreciate the fact the cement road might have been in perfect shape but suffered from a design defect that makes it dangerous only to bicycles. So I understand why folks are looking for a legislative fix.


sharetheroad said...

Interesting stuff, Mike. Regarding the RAGBRAI roads issue, cyclists and our families have to accept that what we do is inherently dangerous. Maybe the "fix" should be making these kinds of lawsuits a thing of the past. Branson

Mike Dayton said...

Share The Road:

Inherently dangerous applies to dynamite and mining operations, not bicycles.

If a bridge that is negligently maintained collapses while a motorist is crossing it, should the motorist be able to sue the DOT? I say yes, and the same negligence principles should apply equally to cyclists.

My two cents.

sharetheroad said...

I agree that it's sad a human being died in this instance. But the fact is he had a tragic problem with a road surface that 20,000 other cyclists negotiated safely that same day. Simply on the face of it, it sounds to me like HE was the problem, not the road surface. Now, that county is out a few hundred thousand dollars and has told RAGBRAI not to come back. Other counties may follow. I don't see how it's a good thing for cycling.

To your other point, an inattentive driver hit me 9 years ago (insert wisecrack here). That's one reason I view cycling as a dangerous sport. I've told my wife on several occasions that if anything ever happens to me on the bike, I was doing what I loved. Next time I tell her that, I will add: if I hurt myself, don't go looking for someone else to sue.

Respectfully- Branson

Mike Dayton said...

The county likely waived sovereign immunity through the purchase of insurance.