Lemonade

Fishing for ideas.

We can cast blame where ever we like . . . But now it is time to make lemonade from lemons. I was thinking about this and something else that has been weighing heavily on my mind and wonder if they can’t be combined . . .

What’s been bothering me lately is that I am going to raise my hourly rates to a particular state school board because their Risk Management Office now requires higher coverage numbers on my insurance. This particular  state agency will now get a “special rate” which will be higher than what I charge everyone else because they are costing me more money.

I know that Florida cities (which are also state agencies) in general have no higher culpability than $200,000 (as of July1, it was $100,000) because of sovereign immunity, but some cities have “done the right thing” and purchased extra insurance. Winter Park is one of those cities, I don’t know about Orlando or Orange County.

I also know that one of the blocks to a lawsuit against a city or county is the fact that “notice” has to be made of the deficiency to the road that caused the crash. There are two types of notice, one is actual, where someone called in a problem and it was ignored and the other is constructive, which has to be based on all sorts of assumptions and what-not. Guess which type of notice plays better to the judge and jury?

Because pedestrians, by law, must use sidewalks  no matter how poorly the condition and now cyclists must also use a designated lane, my idea was to “actually notice” the deficiencies, by sending them a letter. I was think about setting up a website where people could submit info with pictures and then the info would be sent on.

There are several potential problems, but I think they could be overcome.

The idea is that the cities risk management office would be made aware of the situations and lean on the departments to either” fix” it or eliminate it, so lanes could go away.

Maybe by making things expensive, elimination would become the best option.

Prior to this change in the law, the cities could say “Well, they didn’t HAVE to use this unsafe lane.” but now things are different.

This could work to our advantage.

15 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I’ll be happy to contribute photos to any website that supports your concept. There’s bound to be that grey area where some municipality considers the surface to the right of a paint stripe to be a bike lane, but I noted that the statute says marked bike lane. I’m hoping I won’t be dealing with the courts again, so your pro-active approach is encouraging to me.

  2. Eric
    Eric says:

    “I’m hoping I won’t be dealing with the courts again,”

    Fred, I don’t want to get your hopes up. From what I have been able to see, municipalities are risk-averse and will react to pressure.

    But for us to complain, we really need a traffic engineer from Florida on our side. Otherwise, it’s “so what.”

  3. John Schubert
    John Schubert says:

    I guess this means your governor signed the law. Fooey.
    Casting about for ideas, I offer the following: start a new web site titled “Dangerous bike lanes in Florida.” State that the purpose of the web site is to explicitly put all government agencies on notice that they have implemented bike lanes with known design hazards that have produced actual accidents. Put up photos, identifying the place, time and date of photo, the accident cause, and a brief description of an actual accident caused by the rider being in the roadway position that the bike lane directs the rider to be in. (The collection of accident descriptions can be nationwide.) Get photos from as many municipalities as you can. Add all-inclusive disclaimer text: “We are not including all hazardous bike lanes. Florida Bicycle Association will be happy to help you find consultants to do a safety audit of bike lanes in your own jurisdiction.” Bombard mayors and city attorneys with the URL to this. Let the URL leak out to…. personal injury lawyers. (Sorry, but that’s the only arrow left in our quiver.)
    Let me repeat for emphasis: you have to make it v-e-r-y clear to the municipalities where their safe harbor is, because people retreat in irrational directions when they’re afraid of getting sued.
    How effective will this be? Better than nothing, but how much better remains to be seen.
    Prepare for flying mud.
    John Schubert, Limeport.org

  4. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I would suggest that it should not be necessary to have an incident or a crash (not accident) in order to place a photo and location of a dangerously implemented segment of bike lane on the web site.

    Along with the need and value of such photos, I would like to see solid recommendations of those features which make for a dangerously implemented bike lane.

    In the statute, there is the statement referencing marked bike lane, so it makes me wonder if municipalities are going to be putting out the stencils where there were none.

    With specific regards to dangersly implemented bike lanes, it’s going to be an easy task to identify the door-zone bike lanes, but what about the others? I consider myself lucky that there are only a couple marked bike lanes in this area, but they are heavily populated with residential and business driveways and plenty of intersections, and the speed limit along these 48″-to-the-curb-face sub-standard width lanes is quite high, which means that the speeds of the operators of the motor vehicles are even higher.

    It could be considered pedantic to document every intersection and every driveway, but each one represents a danger when used improperly by an inconsiderate motor vehicle driver.

    As a recent convert to safe traffic cycling practices, I’ve been enjoying that additional level of safety that lane control provides. Now I have to surrender it?

    I’m going into this fighting!

  5. Wayne Pein
    Wayne Pein says:

    Yup, you all beat me to the punch. If bicyclists have to ride in bike lanes, then they have to be at least compliant, and we could make the strong case that mere AASHTO minimums are not enough. Most bike lanes conveniently discount the fact that 8.5 ft (10 ft with mirrors) trucks exist.

    If bicyclists have to ride in bike lanes, they shouldn’t have to have expert knowledge in when to move out of them as the exceptions to the MBL state. That would hold bicyclists to a higher standard than motorists. Should motorists know when to avoid using the lane they are in due to potential hazards?

    If any FL bike lane design publication notes how BLs are intended to attract novices, that is damaging evidence. How unethical is it to dupe novices onto substandard facilities or any facility in which it requires more knowledge than normal lanes?

    Wayne

  6. Laura M
    Laura M says:

    First, I absolutely WILL NOT support sending links to personal injury attorneys about the safety of bike lanes and the jurisdictions that provide them. If that happens, I will no longer be affiliated with this site.

    Second, I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. I will speak of Central Florida because these are the local governments I’m most familiar with. What bothers me about this MBL law is that it makes enemies out of our more bike-friendly cities and ‘heroes’ out of those local governments that have been rather flippant towards cyclists.

    We’ve got great trails (and some side paths) throughout Central Florida – built by County governments that don’t want cyclists on roads – local governments that see bicycling as a recreational activity, period. One county does not designate bike lanes. They do so out of liability concerns. They provide a paved shoulder, which I suspect is their strategy of getting around providing a bike lane but not having to maintain it at a level they would if it were designated. Another county is only just now providing designated bike lanes after fighting B/PAC for years to only provide wide curb lanes. One county still refuses to remove dangerous bollards on their trails, places stop signs at every trail crossing, even if the traill has more daily volumes than the road it crosses, etc. and provides lots of trail heads that are really just huge parking lots, because, again, bicycling is a recreational activity, so people will drive to their trails not bike to them.

    Yet, several cities have been attempting to make their cities more bike friendly (e.g. Orlando IS a pretty Bike Friendly city compared to other cities of its size in FL). Yet, the staff and their planners at these cities will get beat up for daring to make things more liveable. While they may be misguided or unaware of the unintended consequences of providing bike facilities, I don’t think threatening them with lawsuits is productive.

    I am SURE that many jurisidictions will LOVE the idea that cyclists don’t want bike facilities. Then they don’t have to do ANYthing to make their communities more liveable. People love their cars after all, and we’re just not going to get people to ride bikes because it’s just too dangerous. That’s the mentality we’re dealing with. I’d much rather work with those jurisdictions that are honestly trying to do good by cyclists rather than give props to the ones that see cycling only as a form or recreation.

    I don’t believe that most local jurisdictions that provide designated bike lanes (and let’s be clear, a paved shoulder does NOT equal a bike lane) are trying to put cyclists’ lives in danger. Quite the opposite. There’s a lot of dialogue about the evil of bike lanes but no real studies to show how/why they’re dangerous or where they’re appropriate as a counter measure. We need to prove to the legislature that the unintended consequences of this law need to be addressed. There are plenty of roadway intersections that are poorly designed and are improved through safety funds and the like. No reason why bike lanes can’t be addressed using those state funds.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Laura, very good comment. Thank you!

      I think that if cities are truly wanting to become more cycling friendly or livable, they should be interested in more than symbolic solutions. Bicycling is far more facilitated (and I dare say more encouraged) by increasing connectivity and lowering design speeds. When I see plan after plan to shoehorn a door zone bike lane, I get a sense that a city is trying to check off a box rather than truly create an environment conducive to enjoyable stress-free cycling.

      When bike lanes are striped to the right of a right turn lane (see Lake Margaret at Dixie Belle) there is no will to fix it. They were told about this when it was done, yet it’s been there so long it still has the HOV diamond symbol in it! That same scenario is repeated all over town. They screw it up, they are told, they shrug it off. We’ll fix it when we resurface.

      Baldwin Park is an example of all the real things that encourage bicycling: short trip distances; street redundancy; low speed roads. But that wasn’t enough, they had to install bike lanes entirely in the door zone of the onstreet parking. So, they’re encouraging biking AND teaching all those bicyclists to ride where they might get killed. That means they haven’t just created risk on the roads in Baldwin Park, they’ve likely extended that risk everywhere for the cyclists who took up riding in Baldwin Park. Best thing they could do is grind off the bike symbols and caution stripe the damned things! Meh, they might fix it when the roads are resurfaced in 10 years. Or the paint crew might screw up then and the cycle will begin again. It’s only bicycles.

      I understand your revulsion to engaging personal injury attorneys (it something I would NOT want to do and this site would not be engaged in it), but OTOH, if cyclists are not going to be blown off about real safety violations, what is the Big Stick?

      And as for the wide curb lanes now being replaced with bike lanes. That’s a tragedy. It’s very much a step in the wrong direction. The county may have been intransigent for the wrong reasons, but I disagree with the BPAC. Wide curb lanes give cyclists a much better level of service than bike lanes. Even with less pavement.

      http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/2008/10/29/leave-wide-lanes-alone/

      The lack of studies is a huge issue! One we hope to rectify in the coming months.

      It’s time to demand more than simple symbolic solutions. And it’s time we refused to accept excuses and inaction when dangerous facilities are created through bad design or contractor error.

      Like Eric, I have been told that bike lanes are optional when I have complained about dangerous designs. They are not legally optional anymore… though they never really were.

      • Laura M
        Laura M says:

        As with all things, context is everything. When a new road is built and there’s enough right of way to install a properly designed bike lane, I have no objection to that. 17′ is a little much for an outside lane (and local jurisdictions would never support it), especially with a design speed of 45 mph or more. Most WCLs that I’ve seen proposed are 14′ wide, not 15′ or 16′ – which gets us into same old battle over taking the lane, which many cyclists won’t do.

        Shoehorning in a bike lane when there’s not enough right of way? no, I wouldn’t support that. B/PAC has also fought against the elimination of wide curb lanes along 17/92 which would have been replaced with a bike lane on a parallel facility.

        At any rate, there is a way to report site specific problems through Metroplan Orlando on the spot improvement form http://www.metroplanorlando.com/site/upload/documents/Bicycle_Spot_Improvement_Report_Form.pdf . Maybe the form could be revised with other bike related concerns. It’s been used in the past to correct improperly striped lanes and other issues.

        We have our work cut out for us, that’s for sure. But like our challenge with critical mass here in Orlando, I think I prefer to work with the City rather than delve into an us vs them situation.

        • Eric
          Eric says:

          Laura,

          It’s like this: When the law was passed in the House unanimously, then in the Senate unanimously, then signed by the Governor the game was changed.

          Nobody called up the FBA and asked them, “What do you think about this?” Can you imagine the legislature passing a law about orange juice without calling Citrus Mutual? Me either.

          They sent us a message which we should now acknowledge, “Message received loud and clear.”

          Let me repeat this for you, in case you didn’t hear it, “THE GAME WAS CHANGED.”

          If you think that going back to them, after they unanimously stated their position, and attempting to change their mind will work, good luck to you and I hope that is what the FBA will do. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Face facts, we are a minority of a minority.

          After observing Risk Management offices, I see that they tend to be like cattle — when one sniffs trouble, they all stampede. Trouble can come from substandard anything. Just the word “substandard” give them the hee-bee-jee-bees. Good on them.

          If they all stampede towards no facilities, then so be it. I would rather see NO facilities than dangerous ones.

          I find it hard to believe that traffic planners that routinely put bike lanes in door zones, can’t conceive of a problem with doing that. Yet Keri and I have spoken to planners that don’t see the problem.

          I would think that a jury could see the problem, but how can we ever know that until a case can come to trial. It costs tens of thousands of dollars, which most people can’t afford, and at least seven years to get a case to trial. You may not like those guys, but let’s face reality, do you have that much money in your back pocket to pay legal bills for seven years?

          If you don’t believe Keri or me, call the planners yourself and find out what they say. You can call “incognito” and just say you are a “concerned citizen.” You don’t have to state what your job is. We have a very liberal public records act here.

          Go ahead and try it.

          The reason that I don’t support Critical Mass is the same reason I can’t be a “bicycle advocate.” I can’t support scofflaws.

          • Laura M
            Laura M says:

            Eric, I am a planner. Maybe you have me confused with Laura H. from FBA. I am not her and I am not speaking for FBA. I butt heads with engineers and planners all the time. Planners don’t design roads, engineers do. Maybe try contacting the public works director or the chief of traffic operations or their equivalent – someone with real decision making ability.

            Planners did not pass this law. Cities didn’t either, nor did law enforcement. Legislators did. Elected officials are not the same thing as civil servants. I work with risk management folks too, and basically, they’d like everyone to wear bubble wrap when out and about. They also use words like ‘liability’ as a way to say no to anything that might be outside the box.

            Filing suit against the cities will not get the attention of legislators. See the ‘good work’ they do every march for evidence of that and how well it helps our local governments. I wasn’t speaking of lobbying the folks in Tallahassee about this law, I was speaking of working with the municipalities to improve existing conditions. Now that this law mandates the use of bicycle lanes, bicycle advocates actually have some ‘teeth’ to compel them to look more holistically at improving bicycling conditions in their cities.

            Contacting a personal injury attorney is darnright slimey if you ask me. Just look at the news today about the LYNX bus crash. LYNX is likely not at fault, but why do you think so many passengers on that bus complained of neck injuries, do you think their lawyers will sue the driver that caused the crash? Doubtful. Talk about a nanny state.

          • Keri
            Keri says:

            I was speaking of working with the municipalities to improve existing conditions. Now that this law mandates the use of bicycle lanes, bicycle advocates actually have some ‘teeth’ to compel them to look more holistically at improving bicycling conditions in their cities.

            I totally agree with this. And those of us who can think holistically need to push ourselves to the forefront of advocacy. I’m hoping the teeth can also be used to get rid of some existing dangerous stuff.

            I also believe it is possible to work with the cities. It is far more productive than working against them.

            We have 2 interests: removing/fixing existing dangerous facilities and influencing new stuff on the drawing board. Both are going to be dealt with more positively with personal attention than threats.

            I do think it’s good to have a central place for the public reporting of dangerous conditions or designs. That increases the power of public input and the pressure to fix things. Note that Primrose bike lane was neglected for years (the turf incursion was almost 2 feet into the bike lane) and Metroplan had told the city about it repeatedly with no joy, yet it was cleaned up and edged a week after I posted photos on CommuteOrlando and our readers called.

            New designs are something we need to pay attention to. There is increasing pressure to make “complete streets” and we need to help define what make a street complete for cycling.

            If we put ourselves out there in a positive way, we may be able to influence the design of new things. Take your favorite city planner or traffic engineer for a ride. Recognize that for every one of us, there are 100 bitchy citizens telling them the roads are dangerous and the city is not cycling friendly. Orlando is a wonderful place to ride a bike, the people who think otherwise are riding in ways that increase conflict. Those are the people for whom crappy, shoehorned facilities get built. They don’t know the difference… a 3 foot bike lane is better than the 18″ gutter pan they were using. Those people have more influence on public policy than we do right now.

            In many other public policy arenas, officials know the difference between a completely ignorant citizen complaint and an informed concern. In bicycling we need to expect that they do not. Our entire culture is ignorant of the best practices of cycling. For American cycling to emerge from the dark ages, we need to lead public officials to the light.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      Hmmm. I am looking. I wish it would, since that would reduce the cost and effort.

      But one thing I wanted to do (and maybe I can by using this website) is put the Cities on notice, not just a complaint, but “Legal Notice” that they are causing a safety hazard.

      I can file legal notice (anybody can) several ways, but in person seems to get the best attention. I used to serve subpoenas, so I know.

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