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Driver Who Killed Cyclist Hector Avalos Will Plead Guilty at Next Hearing

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Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

At a court hearing last Thursday in the case against Robert Vais, the motorist who struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while allegedly drunk, the defense team announced that Vais plans to plead guilty at the next hearing.

On December 6, 2013, Avalos was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.

Vais was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.118 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. He was charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. Vais recently asked Judge Nicholas Ford for a “402 conference,” a meeting between his defense team, the Cook County State’s Attorney, and the judge, which took place at Thursday’s hearing.

During the 402 conference, the parties met in the judge’s chambers and the prosecutor told Ford why the State’s Attorney’s office believes they would prevail if the case went to trial. The defense also stated their case to the judge. The judge then let the prosecution and defense know what his recommended sentence would be for Vais if he pleads guilty.

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Milwaukee Bike Lane Overhaul Includes Some Concrete Protection

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Concrete curbs will protect a section of the southbound bike lane on Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project.

Chicago’s busiest cycling street is receiving some safety improvements, including a segment of bike lanes with concrete protection. Milwaukee Avenue, nicknamed “The Hipster Highway” due to its high bike traffic, is currently getting upgrades between Elston Avenue and Division Street in River West and Noble Square.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a combination of buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie Street and Elston. The current project includes a similar mix of bikeway styles, plus a short stretch of curb-protected bike lane, as well as a parking-protected lane with concrete “parking caps.”

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Milwaukee from Division and Augusta has been upgraded to a double-buffered bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Contractors working for the Chicago Department of Transportation started construction last week and had completed a significant portion of the new bikeways by last Monday evening. From Division to Augusta Boulevard, existing conventional bike lanes have been upgraded to lanes with a striped buffer on each side. This help keep moving cars further away from bikes, and encourage cyclists to ride a few feet away from parked automobiles, so that they don’t get “doored.”

Previously, the bike lanes disappeared about 150 feet south of Division, but the buffered lanes go all the way to the intersection’s south crosswalk — a nice improvement. The new northbound section is located next to the curb, and drivers are currently parking in it, but adding “No Parking” signs should help solve that problem.

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Strong Turnout Needed for Tomorrow’s Hearing in the Hector Avalos Case

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Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the family

At a court hearing tomorrow morning, Judge Nicholas Ford will likely recommend a sentence for the driver who allegedly struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk. It’s crucial that there be a large turnout of Avalos family supporters in the courtroom to remind the judge that, if defendant Robert Vais is guilty, he must not be let off with a slap on the wrist.

On December 6, 2013, Avalos was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.

Vais was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.118 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. He was charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. Vais recently asked Judge Ford for a “402 Conference,” a meeting between his lawyer, the Cook County State’s Attorney.

The 402 Conference is scheduled to take place at tomorrow’s hearing, according to Avalos family attorney Michael Keating of Keating Law Offices (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor). During the meeting, the prosecutor will tell Ford why the State’s Attorney’s office believes they would prevail if the case went to trial. The defense will also state their case to the judge.

The judge will then give a recommended sentence for Vais. “Whether or not the defense chooses to accept or reject it is their prerogative,” Keating said. If they reject the sentence, the case would proceed towards trial. If they accept the recommendation, and the sentence includes jail time, Vais would be subject to being taken into immediate custody, according to Keating.

Asked whether he would prefer to see Vais accept a plea agreement or have the case go to trial, Keating said, “My desire as an attorney is always to see justice done, one way or another.” He added that all of his employees will be at the hearing in support of their client, Avalos’ mother Ingrid Cossio.

Given that tomorrow is the day that Judge Ford will likely give the recommended sentence, it’s key that there be a big turnout from Avalos family supporters and bike advocates. If there is a strong showing from those who demand an appropriate sentence for the man who allegedly chose to drive drunk, taking another man’s life in the process, that’s sure to influence Ford’s decision.

The hearing takes place tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. at the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California, room 702.

Streetsblog USA
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North Carolina: Tell State Lawmakers Not to Outlaw Road Diets — Today

Raleigh's highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT

Raleigh’s highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT

The language of a bill being hashed out right now in Raleigh could determine whether North Carolina cities have the freedom to redesign streets to improve safety and promote a healthier range of transportation options.

A provision of House Bill 44 — specifically Section 7 — would prohibit reducing the width of state-managed roads to add bike lanes if they:

  • A. Carry more than 20,000 vehicles a day, or
  • B. If projections show the road diet would reduce the Level of Service — an engineering measure of vehicle congestion — below a certain level (D) within 20 years.

According to local advocates the language is the result of a single lawmaker who is unhappy about a road diet in his jurisdiction. That lawmaker was responsible for adding the language banning road diets on state controlled roads into the wide-ranging bill, which includes items such as the regulation of signs, beekeepers, and beaches.

HB 44 passed in both the House and the Senate, but the language of each bill was different enough that additional work is needed before it can proceed. State senators and representatives met in conference committee yesterday where advocates were hopeful a compromise would be hashed out that would eliminate or alter the road diet provision. According to Lisa Riegel of BikeWalk NC, the final decision may come today. That group is urging supporters to contact their elected representatives and urge them to remove Section 7.

“It is not too late,” said Riegel. “The conferees are close, but the bill is not done. We need to urge all that would like to see this provision removed to contact the Senate and House conferees today.”

Don Kostelec, an Asheville-based planner, says some of the road diets the state’s cities are most proud of — like Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street and Asheville’s College Street — would have been prohibited as the bill is currently written. The Hillsborough Street project [pictured above] is used as an example of a great complete streets project by both the North Carolina DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

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Eyes on the Street: The New Normal on Clybourn Avenue

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Bicycle rush hour on a new curb-protected lane on Clybourn. Photo: John Greenfield

The Lakefront Trail. Milwaukee Avenue. The 606. And Clybourn Avenue?

The first three Chicago routes are known for having massive amounts of bicycle traffic during rush hours, and anytime the weather is nice. With the advent of its new curb-protected bike lanes, it looks like Clybourn is joining this elite club.

The Illinois Department of Transportation began building this new bikeway in May, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation. It includes Clybourn from Hasted Street to Division Street, and Division from Clybourn to Orleans Street. Read more details about the project here.

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Photo: John Greenfield

The fact that the state is building it is particularly notable because IDOT previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction roads within the city of Chicago. After cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street, the state announced they would pilot the curb-protected lanes at this location.

The curbs are already largely completed on Division and the northwest-bound side of Clybourn. The southeast-bound bike lane is partially finished. IDOT plans to wrap up the entire bikeway this month, according to a press release.

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Judge in Bobby Cann Case Didn’t Grant SA’s Request to Freeze Proceedings

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A man rides by the memorial to Bobby Cann in a new curb-protected bike lane on Clybourn. Photo: John Greenfield

At a hearing this morning in the case against the driver who killed cyclist Bobby Cann, the judge didn’t grant a motion by the prosecutor to put all court proceedings on hold until the Illinois Appellate Court decides whether homicide charges against the defendant were valid.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street when Ryne San Hamel, 28, fatally struck him while allegedly drunk and speeding. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, as well as misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

At a hearing last month, Judge William Hooks dismissed the homicide charge, agreeing with defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. that the wording of the charge in the indictment was too vague for San Hamel’s team to adequately prepare his defense. However, Hooks dismissed the charge “without prejudice,” which means the Cook County State’s Attorney can potentially re-indict San Hamel with more specificity in the future. Moreover, the aggravated DUI charge carries a potentially stiffer sentence.

At a hearing on Tuesday, Assistant State’s Attorney Maria Augustus told Hooks that the State’s Attorneys Office had filed an appeal of his decision to dismiss the homicide charge. The appeal will be heard by the Illinois Appellate Court. The ASA also told the judge that they had filed a motion to halt all other business relating to the case until the appellate court makes its decision.

At this morning’s hearing, the judge didn’t authorize the stay of business that the State’s Attorney’s Office had requested, according to Active Transportation Alliance education specialist Jason Jenkins, who attended. He added that six Cann family supporters were present. The next hearing was scheduled for Monday, September 21, at 10 a.m. at at the Cook County criminal courts, 2650 South California, in room 301.

The questions remains as to why the State’s Attorney’s Office is appealing Hooks’ decision to dismiss the homicide charge, rather than re-filing charge, and why they have moved to freeze the proceedings. It appears that these motions would delay the case from heading to trial. When I asked about the State’s Attorney’s strategy this afternoon, spokewoman Tandra Simonton said, “We won’t comment on a pending case, except to say that we’re moving forward with it.”

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Prosecutor Appealing the Decision to Dismiss Homicide Charge in Cann Case

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A recent photo of the ghost bike memorial to Bobby Cann at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

At a packed courtroom hearing this morning, Assistant State’s Attorney Maria Augustus told the judge she has filed an appeal regarding his decision to dismiss reckless homicide charges against the driver who struck and killed cyclist Bobby Cann.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking from work when Ryne San Hamel, 28, fatally struck him at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street in Old Town. According to police, San Hamel was driving in excess of 50 mph and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.127, well above the legal limit of 0.08. He was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, as well as misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

At a hearing last month, Judge William Hooks dismissed the homicide charge, agreeing with defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. that the wording of the charge in the indictment was too vague for San Hamel’s team to adequately prepare his defense. However, Hooks dismissed the charge “without prejudice,” which means the State’s Attorney can potentially re-indict San Hamel with more specificity in the future. Moreover, the aggravated DUI charge carries a potentially stiffer sentence.

Last week, a staffer from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Victim-Witness Program said today’s hearing would be crucial, and requested that as many people attend as possible, according to a source. Active Transportation Alliance education specialist Jason Jenkins emailed Cann supporters and urged them to show up. He said there was reason to believe a motion to quash the search warrant used by police to have San Hamel’s blood tested for alcohol content might be on the agenda.

“33 advocates showed up this morning, which pretty much filled up the courtroom,” Jenkins told me after today’s hearing. Three of Cann’s family members came in from out of state to attend. “The judge acknowledged the strong turnout. Bobby’s family appreciated it and [Active Trans] did as well.”

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It Just Works: Davis Quietly Debuts America’s First Protected Intersection

Images: City of Davis

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

The city that brought America the bike lane 48 years ago this summer has done it again.

Davis, California — population 66,000, bike commuting rate 20 percent — finished work last week on a new intersection design ordered up by a city council member who had decided that initial plans didn’t measure up to streets he’d ridden in the Netherlands.

A year later, with the help of Dutch consulting firm Mobycon, Council Member Brett Lee’s proposal for a protected intersection has arrived at Covell Boulevard and J Street. And as the Davis Enterprise reported Sunday, it’s working perfectly:

There were no standing diagrams on the street, no big street signs attached to traffic light poles announcing the difference between a standard American intersection and the Dutch-styled one people were passing through.

Everyone went in blind.

Yet for busy lunch hour traffic — well, for summer — on a Friday afternoon, motorists along Covell Boulevard zipped on through, with bicyclists, pedestrians and skateboarders seamlessly following their paths across the so-called “Dutch junction” — modeled after designs in the bike-friendly Netherlands.

No one died. No near misses. Nothing even close. Just history in the making no one seemed to notice.

It’s exactly what fans of protected intersections would have predicted for a design that arranges traffic so people in bikes and cars can easily make eye contact with one another without looking over their shoulders.

Davis, it turned out, wasn’t alone in its vision. Austin has already built two protected intersections in a still-uninhabited part of a new development and expects people to start using them in the next few months. It’s planning two more.

Salt Lake City is currently building another downtown and plans to open it in the first week of October. Boston and Sacramento are planning their own.

“What did surprise me was how intuitive the intersection is,” Davis bicycle coordinator Jennifer Donofrio said Monday. “Observing people use the intersection, they are able to use it without any sort of education or any sort of guidance.”

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A Key Hearing in the Bobby Cann Case Is Coming Up on Tuesday

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A tribute to Bobby Cann at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

According to a source, a staffer from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Victim-Witness Program said a hearing this Tuesday in the case against the driver who killed cyclist Bobby Cann will be crucial and requested that as many people as possible attend.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking from work when Ryne San Hamel, 28, fatally struck him at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street in Old Town. According to police, San Hamel was driving in excess of 50 mph and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.127, well above the legal limit of 0.08. He was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, as well as misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

At a hearing last month, Judge William Hooks dismissed the homicide charge, agreeing with defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. that the wording of the charge in the indictment was too vague for San Hamel’s team to adequately prepare his defense. However, Hooks dismissed the charge “without prejudice,” which means the State’s Attorney can potentially re-indict San Hamel with more specificity in the future. Moreover, the aggravated DUI charge carries a potentially stiffer sentence.

Yesterday, Active Transportation Alliance education specialist Jason Jenkins emailed Cann supporters with a “special plea” to attend the hearing next hearing, which takes place this Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Cook County criminal courts, 2650 South California, in room 301. “We have received a strongly worded message that it will be a very important hearing and your presence will be extremely valuable in court,” Jenkins wrote.

He added that he believes a motion by the defense to quash the search warrant used by police to have San Hamel’s blood drawn and tested for alcohol content may be on the agenda for the hearing. A post on the “Ride on Bobby” Facebook page for Cann family supporters stated that the motion quash will be argued on Tuesday. However, Kate Conway, an attorney for the family, told me she’s not certain that’s the case. The State’s Attorney’s office did not return a call requesting information on the matter.

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Burke: Don’t Bend Over Backwards to Facilitate Driving at the Lincoln Hub

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Aerial photo of the Lincoln Hub by traffic reporter Sarah Jindra. Compare this with the original plan for the hub below and you’ll see that the plazas at the lower-right side of the photo have been modified to make driving easier.

The Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which created curb extensions and seating plazas at Lakeview’s Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection with posts, planters, and colorful paint dots, has been highly controversial. Pedestrians have said they like how the initiative makes walking safer and more pleasant, and every time I’ve visited, traffic was flowing smoothly. However, the chief of staff for local alderman Scott Waguespack told me the ward has received many complaints from drivers who claim the street redesign is causing traffic jams.

The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, which spearheaded the project, has already worked with the Chicago Department of Transportation to narrow some of the plazas to make it easier for motorists to pass left-turning vehicles. Yesterday, after chamber director Lee Crandell gave a presentation on the Lincoln Hub at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting, I asked him if any more changes are planned. In response, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke made a good argument for why we shouldn’t go overboard with modifying the hub to appease drivers. Here’s a transcript of the discussion.

John Greenfield: I talked to Alderman Waguespack’s chief of staff recently and he said they’ve been getting overwhelmingly negative feedback about the project from residents. It seems like there might be some pressure to further modify the Lincoln Hub to accommodate drivers. Is anything in the works with that?

Lee Crandell: I don’t have anything in the works to share right now. We’ll continue working with CDOT and Alderman Waguespack’s office to review the project and determine if we do have any changes we need to make. We’ve made some tweaks already. If we need to make any additional tweaks, that’s something that we’re very much open to. We want to ensure that it’s a successful project that works for everybody. [Crandell went on to discuss the fact that this is a temporary street redesign, but the chamber hopes it will eventually become a permanent streetscape.]

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