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


View Larger Map

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.

A 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.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Today’s Headlines

|
Citizens Vent About Ventra at CTA Budget Hearing (Tribune, Sun-Times) A Sarcastic Guide to the Benefits of Ventra (HuffPo) Active Trans Leads Study to Improve the Illinois Prairie Path Man dies in Rollover Crash on Dan Ryan at 87th (Tribune) Charges Filed Against Trucker Who Fell Asleep at Wheel, Killing Trooper (Tribune) Vet Stops Woman’s […]

Today’s Headlines

|
CTA Provides a Performance Update on Ventra (Sun-Times, RedEye, NBC) Cubic Claims Ventra Will Be Running Smoothly by End of Year (Tribune) 47th Ward Doing “Block Audit” Survey As Part of Participatory Budget Process (DNA) Motorist Killed in Metra Crash after Driving Around Crossing Gates (Tribune, NBC) Driver Finally Charged in 2012 Death of Cicero […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Free Sunday Car Parking Started Yesterday (DNA) Chicago to Reach 25 On-Street Bike Parking Corrals (Sun-Times) Illinoisans Support Statewide Ban on Cell Use While Driving (Sun-Times) Unlicensed Driver Kills Pedestrian in Romeoville (CBS) Motorcyclist in Serious Condition After Dan Ryan Crash (Tribune) Mailman Charged With DUI After Near West Side Crash (Tribune) CTA Should Choose […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Black Chicago Cycling Advocates Request Fair Distribution of Bike Facilities (People for Bikes) West Side Residents Call for Improving Pedestrian Safety on High-Crash Corridors (Active Trans) UIC Proposal for Obama Library Includes Bus Rapid Transit Line on Roosevelt (Newswise) Fioretti Introduces Ordinances on Potholes, $58 Million Parking Settlement (DNA) Police Officer Injured in 3-Car Crash […]

Today’s Headlines

|
IDOT Finalizing Circle Interchange Plans (Tribune) Report Shows Illinois Bike Trails Bring Economic Benefits (Active Trans) Bicyclist Killed in North Riverside (Sun-Times) CTA Plans to Upgrade Wireless Service in Red and Blue Line Subways (CBS) Family Files Suit Against Officers for Car Chase That Killed Their Son (Tribune) Man Held on $500K Bail for Fatal […]

Today’s Headlines

|
CDOT Announces Bike Share System, Called “Divvy” Will Launch This Spring (Tribune) Illinois Senate Votes for School Bus Safety Cameras; Drivers Whine (Tribune, Expired Meter) Lawsuit Over Fatal 2012 Megabus Crash (Tribune) Ashland Overpass at Pershing Slated for Demolition (DNA) Driver Shot to Death in West Pullman, Crashes Into House (Tribune) Motorist Exposes Himself, Then […]