Tribune Blames the Victim of Bike Crash Caused by City’s Negligence

by John Greenfield
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Source: StreetsBlog

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The crash site, Damen and Wabansia. 

Yesterday, the Tribune ran a rather heartless piece about a young man who was severely injured after he rode his bicycle into a collapsed sewer grate, which the city had failed to properly barricade. Reporter John Byrne wrote:

Chicago taxpayers are likely on the hook to pay a $1.5 million settlement to a bicyclist who suffered brain damage and other injuries that left him with quadriplegia when he crashed into a barricade guarding a sunken catch basin in a late-night accident in the Wicker Park neighborhood.

Byrne’s article focuses on the cost of the settlement, and blames the victim. The reporter seems rather callous to the fact that Brian Baker, 23 at the time of the crash, was permanently disabled largely due to the city’s negligence, and will only be receiving a portion of the compensation needed to cover his huge medical bills.

Baker, who had recently graduated from college with a degree in sports marketing, was cycling home on June 9, 2009, at 1:45 a.m. at Damen and Wabansia. He rode into a catch basin which had begun to collapse, leaving a crater in the roadway. The city’s Finance Committee voted Tuesday to approve the settlement, which was expected to pass at today’s City Council meeting.

The reporter made a point of noting that Baker “had been drinking and was not wearing a helmet,” suggesting that the victim was largely to blame for his own injuries. While bike helmet use is certainly a good idea in a city where dangerous driving is commonplace, it’s not mandatory. The city also has the responsibility to keep the roadways in reasonably safe condition for cycling, or at least provide fair warning of hazards.

“Had been drinking” implies that Baker was drunk. While it’s technically legal to ride a bike while intoxicated in Chicago, it’s certainly unsafe and irresponsible to do so. However, many people out on the town on any given night have had a drink or two, but are still capable of safely biking home. Baker’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash has not been disclosed.

more balanced article by the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman shows that Byrne left out some key information. Spielman noted that first Deputy Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling acknowledged that the city had failed to properly barricade the dangerous hole in the street.

“The barricade’s light was not functional,” Darling said. “The barricade was actually in the hole, instead of in front it [where] a bicyclist would be able to see and react to it… The city had two months notice of the condition and had scheduled repairs.” The city had allowed this dangerous situation to exist for an extended period on a popular bike route, so it’s no surprise that a tragedy like this occurred, and it’s only fair that the victim should be compensated.

Byrne also failed to mention that Baker had originally asked for $12 million, so the settlement is just a fraction of what he requested, and it’s probably not enough money to cover all of his long-term health care costs. Meanwhile, Darling acknowledged that the settlement is a bargain for the city. “Due to the catastrophic nature of his injuries, if a jury found in his favor, it’s likely he would be awarded a large damage amount,” she said.


Please, please stop the blathering about what is obviously a problem issue for Urban Cyclists. Yes, the bicyclists was drinking. Yes, lots of his peers make the same foolish mistake and compound it by riding without a helmet. The question is whether you are in the business of helping to prevent further occurrences of this sort of thing or merely trying to trot out the same ‘tired handwringing set of excuses‘ for the umpteenth time. You folks have no problem attempting to justify your actions when crossing on red lights or failing to observe stop signs, by proclaiming that ‘you are the only ones with skin in the game‘. Sadly this report proves just the opposite.

No one wants to see anyone incapacitated for life. But by the same token just because every other bicyclist uses cocaine and lives to ride another day, does not justify the practice or mean that we should turn a blind eye to it. Drinking is a similar issue. You cannot simply continue this co-dependency act and expect anyone to take you seriously.

Stop drinking and driving your bicycle. Yes it is not illegal to do both it and to ride without your helmet. But it is very, very dangerous. How anyone could possibly not wonder whether had he been sober he might have avoided the crash is beyond me. This very situation should not even be tied to the presence of the barricade. In a city with as poorly maintained streets and sidewalks as Chicago you could easily come across a ‘newly minted‘ pothole that no one has even seen or worked on. Riding around drunk just makes it that much more difficult to do what you need to do when it is late at night.

Was the cyclist even using lights? I wonder if a headlamp might have helped. Most of these barricades have reflective striping. So a light might have saved his life. But because he no doubt had impaired reflexes he was unable to ride safely around it.

Lastly, I hope you understand the utter stupidity of your offering this lame excuse:

However, many people out on the town on any given night have had a drink or two, but are still capable of safely biking home. Baker’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash has not been disclosed.

Every single motorist on the planet uses this as an excuse for why they should not be held liable for doing what everyone else is doing (including evidently cyclists). Pull on your ‘big boy pants‘. This was a possibly avoidable situation that became a ‘perfect storm‘ because too many of the right things were simply not done.

Sheesh! This simply cannot be explained away. Cycling and the drinking of alcohol are as deadly on a bicycle as they are in a car (given the right circumstances). As the advertisement for not driving drunk puts it, there is no such thing as ‘buzzed‘ driving. ‘Buzzed driving‘ is ‘drunk driving‘. And countless people whose blood alcohol is below the legal limit for automobile drivers get home safely, many do not. Combine the alcohol consumption with fatigue and sleepiness and you have a perfect storm.

All that your mealy-mouthed blathering is securing, is an excuse for other people to attempt the same behavior with perhaps the same result. What is so very difficult about ‘telling the truth‘ whether it stings or not? Grow a pair. They are not paying you tell white wash the brutal truth. It could help save someone’s life.