South Side Dad Says He Wants Justice After Being Right-Hooked on 31st Street

Bike Photo

Andrew Berg with his kids. Photo courtesy of Berg

Andrew Berg, a McKinley Park resident who commutes year-round with his two small children from their home to Hyde Park via cargo bike, is trying to recover damages after being struck by a right-turning driver within a gap in one of the 31st Street protected bike lanes last spring.

On Wednesday, May 25th, Berg was biking home solo in the rain from his job at the University of Chicago. He was pedaling his “long-tail” cargo bike west by in the 31st Street protected lane with a green light when westbound driver Amy Kudlov made a right turn onto Indiana Avenue in her Acura TSX sedan. Berg says Kudlov struck him in a “mixing zone” just east of the intersection, where drivers are supposed to yield to bike traffic while merging across the bike lane. Berg was knocked to the pavement suffering abrasions to the right side of his body, including his elbow, knee, and ankle.

Kudlov, stopped her car, got out, and asked Berg if he was ok, he says. “Initially, I was in shock and concerned primarily with my physical wellbeing,” he said in a statement. “I checked my extremities and did not seem to have any broken bones. Ms. Kudlov apologized repeatedly, saying that she hadn’t seen me, that she saw that she could turn at the last minute and did so quickly, without realizing I was there. She said that she heard me scream and that’s why she stopped.”

Although it was raining at the time of the crash, Berg says he had two lights on in the front of his bike and three in the back, so he should have been easy to spot. Kudlov gave him her name and telephone number and promised to send him her insurance info that evening.

Two firetrucks arrived at the scene and a firefighter put a gauze bandage on Berg’s right elbow. “Because I didn’t feel like any bones were broken at the time, I declined additional medical attention and did not accept an offer to go to the hospital,” he stated.

Eventually, two police officers arrived in an SUV and one of them interviewed Berg in the about the events of the crash inside the vehicle, he says. “He asked if her car struck my bicycle,” Berg stated. “I responded that I didn’t know if it struck the bicycle. I did not believe that it struck my body because I didn’t have pain on the left side of my body, the direction that her car came from, but that I was unclear whether her car had struck my bicycle [causing] me to fall from the bike or if in my attempt to veer so quickly I had fallen. I did say that if she didn’t hit me, she came damn close.”

Due to Berg’s uncertainty in his still-shaken state and the officers’ decision not to get out of the SUV in the rain to examine the bicycle, they decided not to issue Kudlov a citation, according to the cyclist. It was only when Berg was preparing to leave the scene that he noticed that the rotor on the disc brake on the left side of his front wheel was bent, which indicated that Kudlov had struck him from the left. Although the handlebars were also misaligned, Berg says he was able to ride the bike two miles to Blue City Cycles in Bridgeport and drop it off for inspection, and he was eventually told the rim, rotor, spokes, and tire needed to be replaced.

31st and Indiana 2
31st and Indiana, where where Berg says Kudlov struck him in the “mixing zone.” Photo: Andrew Berg

The next day Berg got his wounds treated at a clinic and got X-rays taken of his right elbow, knee, and ankle at the University of Chicago Medical Center to make sure he didn’t have hairline fractures.

Berg says he went to multiple police stations to try and speak with the police officers who responded to his crash and was unable to do so. “The first desk sergeant I spoke to… said, ‘Well, I would never ride a bicycle in the City of Chicago.’ Not helpful.”

According to Berg, Kudlov never responded to repeated calls and text messages. “Since she failed to provide me her insurance information at the scene (promising to do so later) I filed a small claims case against her to recover tangible losses as well as intangible losses due to physical and property damage,” Berg stated. Lawyers for Allstate, Kudlov’s insurance company, filed a motion to have his case moved from small claims to jury and, several motions later, Berg will go before an arbitration panel downtown on November 21.

Via Freedom of Information Act requests, Berg was able to obtain recordings of 911 calls made by a female third-party witness reporting the crash to make sure someone came to his assistance. He hopes that this Good Samaritan, who didn’t provide her name to the authorities, will come forward and testify at the hearing.

While Berg wants compensation for his bike and injuries, he also wants to see the city install truly safe bike infrastructure that prevents this type of crash. “I ride twelve miles roundtrip daily throughout the year with my kids across the South Side because I believe in eco-friendly healthy transportation and see cycling as a key feature of the future of vibrant sustainable American cities,” he said. “Not only do we need more and better-designed protected lanes on the South Side, we need protected intersections and other investments so what happened to me doesn’t kill me or my kids next time.”

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  • planetshwoop

    Best of luck Andrew. I’m glad you and your kiddos are safe and biking again.

  • Pat

    What an unfortunately situation. I wish Andrew all the luck in his claim. Sometimes the adrenaline can blind us to our injuries and the damage to our bikes. And unfortunately, some cops will only do the bare minimum, rather than assessing the situation objectively.

    Every cyclists should read these:
    http://grist.org/living/what-to-do-if-youre-hit-by-a-car-while-riding-your-bike/
    http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/09/news/road/legally-speaking-what-to-do-if-youre-hit-by-a-car_383398

    Never claim you’re okay. Never admit fault. And always have the police come do a report.

  • dubyadubya

    So glad you and the kids were safe! This is terrifying. It’s also pretty disgusting that Allstate and this woman continue to fight what should be such a small, inexpensive matter, despite her clearly being at fault.

    As a bicyclist who has had many close calls on Chicago streets, the city needs to do a much better job at expanding protected bike lanes and educating drivers and bikers (who aren’t always innocent!) on how to share the roads properly.

  • kastigar

    Another instance where drivers don’t realize that bicycles are traveling reasonably fast, and believe they can pass the bicyclist and turn right well in front of the cyclist.

    They can’t. They wouldn’t do that in a two-lane road and try and turn right in front of another car. But they think they can do it when passing a bicyclist.

    Notice in the picture: it’s a bicycle sharrow lane as well as w right turn lane. The motorist should have traveling behind the cyclist and then turned right behind him. Do they teach this in drivers-ed?

  • rohmen

    Not that I disagree that more should be built, but I think it’s important to remember that this happened on a protected bike lane.

    The big issue is a protected bike lane does not protect you in an intersection, at least under the design used on Chicago streets, and unfortunately right hooks are one of the more common accidents to begin with.

  • skyrefuge

    A protected bike lane contributed visibility issues that led to a right-hook crash? I’m shocked! Shocked, I say! Who could have ever predicted such a thing?! http://disq.us/p/1ah7ygb

    I say again, these things are going to be a terrible embarrassment to safety advocates 10 years from now when the statistics are strong enough to show that they did nothing to actually protect bicyclists, and likely made things worse.

    Just give us basic well-painted bike lanes with a door-side buffer, please!

  • Carter O’Brien

    How do you come to the conclusion that the protected lane had anything to do with this? The money quote from above is:

    “Ms. Kudlov apologized repeatedly, saying that she hadn’t seen me, that she saw that she could turn at the last minute and did so quickly, without realizing I was there. She said that she heard me scream and that’s why she stopped.”

    This would appear to be just yet another example of a motorist breaking the law(s), as the “last minute” quote implies she did not activate her turn signal with appropriate distance and she almost certainly crossed the solid white stripe to make that last minute turn.

    I’m of mixed opinions on the “protected” bike lanes. On the one hand, they add a 3-D element and increased visibility from a driver’s perspective. On the other, they’re flimsy as hell, they should be built strong enough to actually damage a car that comes into contact with them.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I hate to say it, but I see motorists acting this stupidly with respect to other motorists all. the. time.

    A more recent arrival in the facepalming champion of moves department is the guy who decides he can make a left turn across a few lanes of a busy street (say, Belmont or Kedzie where I live) by going to the right and around a driver patiently waiting for an actual break in traffic.

    Take it from someone who learned how to drive here – Chicago is a terrible, terrible teacher of driving etiquette. People blare their horns at you when you aren’t being barbarian at the gate level aggressive.

  • Batboy

    Could not agree more. Never refuse medical attention. You’ll lose right there and then if it goes to trial.

  • skyrefuge

    Well, I don’t really “know” that the protected bike lane was a factor in this particular crash, I was really just making a biased bet that it was, in line with my more-confident belief that such a factor will become visible once long-term, broad statistics are available.

    I don’t personally know the intersection, and StreetView didn’t have the new protected lanes, so I didn’t really know the construction until I just looked again and saw that Google’s aerial view is up-to-date. The article oddly didn’t specify if it was curb-protected, parking-protected, or post-protected in that section; turns out it’s post-protected. But it looks like the “mixing zone” (the area where the bike lane slides to the left and the buffer/posts separating it from the car lane disappear) is actually quite long.

    So I would say that if the crash happened quite close to the intersection (in the area included in the photo), then the protected bike lane was likely not a factor.

    But if it happened further back from the intersection, then certainly a contributing factor could have been that effectively a “merge” is happening between the bike lane and car lane, with the bike coming from an area the driver is not accustomed to looking. It’s a lot more difficult for a driver to be surprised by a bike to his right if that bike has been travelling right next to her for a while. Yes, legally, the blame certainly rests on the driver no matter what, but some road constructions make driver error more difficult than others.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I hear you, but that merge of which you speak isn’t unique to protected bike lanes, it’s integral to the entire “share the road” design system.

    I see drivers use standard striped bike lanes as extended right turn lanes all the time, it’s infuriating, and if the flimsy bollards help reinforce that such behavior is unacceptable and some lives are saved, I think it’s a positive, if not 100% successful, sign of progress.

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