As Divvy Plans Expansion, Riders and Motorists Voice Safety Concerns

Divvy, Chicago’s new bike-sharing program, is poised to be the largest program of its kind in North America in 2014. Thanks in part to a $3 million federal grant, the expansion will likely bring bikes as far as Evanston and Oak Park, totaling 475 stations throughout Chicagoland. This growth, while exciting, is also stirring up debate in the city on safety issues and the potentially-catastrophic injuries bicyclists face on the road.

Anyone who has lived in Chicago long enough knows at least one person who has been hit by a car or truck while bicycling through the city. Mayor Emanuel is taking extensive efforts to make the metropolis safer for bikers – implementing protected and marked bicycle lanes throughout downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods, particularly on the often-terrifying diagonal streets, such as Lincoln and Clark.

The safety problems surrounding urban bike-sharing programs are self-evident. Helmets are not supplied, and riders are prompted to read through safe riding instructions on the screen, but rarely are they actually read in-depth, like “Terms of Service” agreements. On top of this, people riding Divvy’s are often tourists, meandering through city streets without definite knowledge of where they’re going or how to best get there.

Divvy is owned and operated by Alta Bike Share, a corporation based in Oregon, which would undoubtedly be named as a defendant should any lawsuits be filed. Divvy stations prompt riders with five safety recommendations before they can rent a bike: to wear a helmet, yield to pedestrians, ride with traffic, avoid sidewalks, and abide traffic laws. Now, the question of whether these tips are enough is stirring in Chicago, as more docking stations are added and extreme weather ensues.

Can Divvy be Sued in the Event of a Crash?

Riders are wondering if they would be able to sue Divvy if they are involved in a serious accident. In the right situation, the answer is yes, a personal injury lawsuit is possible. Since the program is so new, it is yet unclear what amount of liability Divvy is subject to when its customers are hurt while riding. What is very clear is that the city of Chicago will be free from responsibility, per its contract with Alta.

Earlier this year, a bike rental company located on the city’s North Side paid about $350,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who was injured while riding one of its bicycles. The man, Winfield Cohen, was riding in Lincoln Park when he was suddenly “doored” by a parked car (when drivers open their doors into on-coming bike traffic without looking). The company, Lakeshore Bike, did not admit to any wrongdoing in the case, however it was revealed that it failed to provide Cohen with a helmet and any instructions on safe riding practices.

Could lawsuits against Divvy yield similar results? We have to wait to see, but according to an article by Chicago Grid, just seven accidents have been reported since June 2013, when the program launched. This is, of course, great news, as there have been nearly 680,000 Divvy rides to date.

Boston’s bike-sharing program, Hubway, recently announced it will be implementing helmet vending machines throughout the city to solve safety concerns. The helmets will cost two dollars to rent or twenty to purchase, and, thankfully, they will be inspected and sanitized when returned. It will be interesting to see if Divvy adapts similar helmet kiosks.

Bike accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have been working with victims of bicycle and car crashes for over two decades. We are located in downtown Chicago, and many of our legal professionals bike to work themselves, so we are intimately aware of the issues surrounding bike safety and litigation. We are currently accepting cases of bike injury from victims nationwide, and our legal consultations are always free of charge.