One of the most biker-friendly cities in North America is not nearly as friendly as it used to be.
Vancouver, British Columbia has about 150 miles of designated bicycle lanes, as city leaders have made a concerted effort to help people get out of their cars and be more active. Not everyone shares that perspective, and one critic labeled the safety lanes as “big ugly cement barriers that turned our streets into eyesores.”
The cycle-friendly policies began in the 1970s, when activists derailed a planned freeway project through downtown Vancouver; the first bike lanes appeared in the 1990s. Former City Councillor Gordon Price says that after those lanes opened, bikelash followed shortly thereafter. “It’s territorial, it is tribal – it doesn’t matter what the data says,” he opined. Motorists resisted the fact that the bike lanes took away space from cars and gave it to non-motorists, he explained. As the bike lanes expanded, so did the bikelash. Lately, as something of a compromise, city engineers have installed speed bumps and other traffic calming measures to naturally slow vehicle traffic.
According to one study, Vancouver is the safest city in North America for bicycle riders.
Here in the lower 48, cities with lots of bicycle commuters, including San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, are among the safest cities for bicycle riders. Overall, however, the news is not good. In 2016, the number of bicycle fatalities rose 12.2 percent to its highest level in more than twenty years. The number of vehicle occupant fatalities increased as well, although not as sharply. To explain these increases, observers point to:
- Distracted Driving: The actual numbers are hard to track, because distraction-related crashes are largely self-reported. For example, over 90 percent of drivers agree that texting while driving is dangerous, but over 35 percent admit that they do it anyway.
- Traffic Patterns: Since the end of the Great Recession and the decline in gasoline prices, the number of vehicle miles travelled has increased steadily, thus increasing the risk of collisions. Moreover, many of these vehicles are large pickup trucks or SUVs, which limits driver visibility.
- Street Design: Designated bike lanes usually cost well over $4 million a mile, so many California streets still have car-centric wide lanes.
These converging factors create what safety advocate Kate Kraft called “a perfect storm” of unsafe conditions.
Bicycle crash victims are usually entitled to significant compensation for their injuries. These wounds often include:
- Head Injuries: Thin bicycle helmets usually provide ample protection in accidental fall and low-speed collision cases, but do little to protect riders from onrushing vehicles.
- Broken Bones: Due to the extreme force in many collisions, surgeons must normally use metal parts to set broken bones, meaning that the victims also require extensive physical therapy after the metal comes out.
- Biker’s Arm: When riders are thrown off their bikes, they normally extend their arms to break their falls, causing permanent nerve damage to the brachial plexus.
Riders are also entitled to compensation for their noneconomic damages, including emotional distress and loss of consortium (household services and companionship).
Establishing Liability in Bicycle Crash Cases
Most negligence cases begin with the legal duty that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) owes to the victim, and in this context, that duty is normally reasonable care, which one court compared to the Golden Rule that many American schoolchildren once learned.
Distracted driving is a breach of this duty, as is speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while fatigued, speeding, and many other items that violate “the rules of the road.” If that violation caused injury, and the injury was a predictable result of the violation, the tortfeasor is liable for damages.
Normally, only a physical collision triggers liability, because near misses are usually not actionable. However, California has a three-foot law which requires motorists to give bicyclists a cushion. Many times, a driver turns in front of a bicycle rider, forcing the rider into a dangerous evasive maneuver that often results in a crash.
In that situation, even though the motorist did not actually hit the cyclist, liability may still attach under the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) rule, because the motorist violated a safety law designed to protect the cyclist, and the resulting bicycle accident was certainly a foreseeable result of the errant turn.
About the Author:
Curtis Quay is senior attorney at Injury Trial Lawyers, APC, a personal injury law firm in San Diego, CA. He handles all accident matters including bicycle accidents, car accident, dog bites, motorcycle accidents, and more.