Friday, April 19, 2013

how do you sleep when your bed is burning?

A hearing has been scheduled for April 23, 2013 in the Assembly Judiciary Committee for Diane Harkey’s AB 738, which exempts public agencies and their employees of all liability if a cyclist is injured or killed on any street where a bike lane has been painted.

Ohmigosh, April Fools everyone!  I mean who would sponsor a bill which absolves people of responsibility when they kill or maim a bicyclist pedaling along in the bicycle lane.  

Not a joke it turns out.  Read for yourself.  They copied this one directly from the Dutch Highway Manual.  Now I really am kidding.  A bicycle friendly nation would never propose a law whose goal was to ensure that anyone killing or injuring a cyclist could be guaranteed a get out of jail free card.  So what's the deal with this?

Wait I have an idea.  It's the public agency part.  Road workers have a golden track record of not killing bicyclists.  Most public road work is done by people on bicycles and the equipment they operate is all light weight and pedal-powered.  Except that's not true either.  How about:  bicyclists have been assaulting public service workers from their place in the bicycle lane and public service workers encounter lawsuits if they try and retaliate?

You look skeptical.  

Maybe bicyclists have been using the bike lanes for armed robbery?  Drug running?  Those Surly long haul bicycles are just a cover for moving meth around the Bay Area?  No again.

So what's the deal.  We don't know, but we have a few guesses.  The name of guess number one is.....$49,000,000.00.  can you say forty-nine million dollars, friend bicyclists?  I thought you could.  Forty-nine million us dollars.  Most of us agree that that represents a decent chunk of change.  It happens to be the amount of money awarded to a bicyclist who was struck and paralyzed while bicycling in the bicycle lane.  HAHAHA.  JUST KIDDING.  Taking out a bicyclist has close to zero repercussions in this country.  

The 49 million dollars went to two deserving women who were jogging in a bicycle lane and were struck, and apralyzed, by a truck.  Pro-tip for bicyclists:  if you get struck and paralyzed while riding in the bicycle lane, it might be better to tell everyone that you were jogging. The two women, unhappy to no longer be able to move their legs (I know I'd be unhappy) sued.  You might think they sued because an asshat with a truck struck and badly injured them, but they discovered (as numerous bicyclists have discovered before them) that this is a dead-end.  No one cares.  So instead they sued the city because the bicycle lane was overly wide and lacked sufficient bicycle marking and so teh poor car was confused into driving up the bicycle lane and hitting them and can't really be held responsible.

And now the county is out a cool forty-nine million dollars.  It's definitely enough cash to make anyone a little gloomy, or if you are going to be confined to a bed for the rest of your life (both women are now quadrapelgics) it is almost enough to provide for the care you suddenly need and the help required to raise your children.  

What chafes me?

Was the answer to this lawsuit, build better routes for runners?

Was the answer to this lawsuit, mark existing bicycle lanes more carefully?
No again.

Ok was the answer (and I wouldn't like this one in case you wondered) to make bicycle lanes skinnier?

The answer was to suggest AB 738.  A law to prevent lawsuits.  I mean I appreciate that bicycle lawsuits against people who cream them don't generally go very far anyways but to outright ban them?  Really?  REALLY?


But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and this instance is no different.  I've learned that you can actually write a bill forbidding one group of people from suing another, even if they get injured or killed.  No surprise, I have a few ideas for bills of my own!

1.  Exempt all bicyclists from liability or prosecution in instances where they let the air out of the tires of anything with a motor.
2.  Automatically indemnify anyone who exceeds the speed limit.
3.  Assert that passing cars must stop if they see a bicycle with a flat tire.  The driver then must get out of his car and carry the bicyclist home horsie-style.  

Don't worry.  Other ideas will come to me.


  1. This is really interesting (and of course horribly sad for the women involved in the accident). It sounds like the city did a crappy job of marking the bike lane, and was not following the guidance of widely accepted infrastructure design manuals. At the same time, I'm trying to convince the engineers out here to let me build a two-way cycle track and part of their opposition is that cycle tracks can't be safe because they aren't included in traditional design manuals (CROW and NACTO don't count).

    Anyway, my point is that I hope anti-bike engineers don't start using this case as an excuse to not build progressive bike infrastructure like buffered bike lanes and cycle tracks.

    1. You are doing the good work and I appreciate it very much. People who build out bicycle infrastructure save lives.

      It's tiring the way the regulations never seem to go in bike/ped favor. We never say "it's unsafe to bicycle here, let's ban cars that can go faster than 15 mph."