Bicycles on Sidewalks and Potholes with Weeds, These are a Few of my Least Favorite Things

The personal injury attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer are cautioning Chicago bicyclists to stay clear from the city sidewalks.  Many Chicago sidewalks have hazardous pavement differentials and deep holes, with grass and weeds growing through them, making them difficult to see and avoid.    Quite a few people have landed on the ground after running into such sidewalk hazards, breaking a hand, a leg, or suffering other injuries.

That is not to say that riding on the street is much safer.  Many streets have large cracks and holes, and angry automobile drivers in various stages of road rage, inching a notch at the sight of a bicyclist.  And yet, bicyclists will fare better against the City if they fall and get injured because of a street hole, rather than if they fall over a sidewalk hazard.

The Tort Immunity Act gives immunity to the City of Chicago for negligence, with few exceptions.  One of the exceptions is the requirement for a local public entity to exercise ordinary care to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition “for the use in the exercise of ordinary care of people whom the entity intended and permitted to use the property in a manner in which and at such times as it was reasonably foreseeable that it would be used.”  745 ILCS 10/3–102(a) (2017).

The issue is whether bicyclists cruising on a City sidewalk are permitted and intended users of the sidewalk.  If they are either not permitted or not intended, the City would be immune for injuries to bicyclists that are caused by the condition of the sidewalk.  The City of Chicago has an Ordinance that limits sidewalk bicycle riding on sidewalks, that generally makes bicyclists neither intended nor permitted users when bicyclists ride on a sidewalk in violation of the Ordinance.

Specifically, the Ordinance, 9-52-020, limits bicycle riding upon a sidewalk “within a business district.”  Bicyclists can ride “within a business district” only if “such sidewalk has been officially designated and marked as a bicycle route, or such sidewalk is used to enter the nearest roadway, intersection or designated bicycle path, or to access a bicycle share station.” 9-52-020(a).   The Ordinance also has restrictions for “any sidewalk in any district” even if it is not in a business district.   Generally, anyone that is 12 or above cannot ride a upon “any sidewalk in any district” unless such sidewalk “has been officially designated and marked as a bicycle route, or such sidewalk is used to enter the nearest roadway, intersection or designated bicycle path, or to access a bicycle share station.”  9-52-020(b).  The Ordinance prohibits bicycles on “Lake Shore Drive or on any public way where the operation of bicycles has been prohibited and signs have been erected indicating such prohibition.”  9-52-020(c).

It is important to keep in mind that the law makes a distinction between permitted and intended user.  For example, if the police does not enforce an ordinance prohibiting bicycling on sidewalks against young children, the young bicyclists can make the argument that he or she is a permitted user, but nevertheless the child would not be an intended user.  In Brooks v. City of Peoria, 305 Ill.App.3d 806 (1999), a 7-year-old bicyclist was injured by a residential sidewalk in Peoria.  The City of Peoria argued that the child was not an intended user of the sidewalk relying on the designation of bicycle routes as evidence of its intent that bicyclists ride on streets instead of on the sidewalks. The appellate court disagreed and looked to two ordinances, one of which specifically exempted “junior bikes” and bikes with tires less than 20 inches from the prohibition of riding of bicycles on the sidewalks, while another ordinance contemplated the use of bicycles of the sidewalks and found that the child was both intended and permitted user.  Plaintiffs in other cities did not prevail absent specific ordinances exempting young riders.  Plaintiffs in the City of Chicago may argue that the ordinance contemplates use of sidewalk and specifically limits people above 12 years of age.  However, the Chicago Ordinance does not specifically exempt young riders from the prohibition.

In Lipper v. City of Chicago, 233 Ill.App.3d 834, 837–38 (1992) the court found that an adult bicyclist was not an intended user of the sidewalk because the Chicago Ordinance prohibited bicyclists over the age of 12 from riding on the sidewalk.  Similarly, in Garcia v. City of Chicago, 240 Ill.App.3d 199, 201–04 (1992), the court found that a plaintiff who was over 12 years old was neither intended nor permitted user of the sidewalk.

The relationship between bike riders, municipalities, and sidewalks has a layer of complexity that needs analysis of the facts and laws that apply to the area.  If you need assistance with a bicycle injury case, contact our office.  We have prosecuted many cases involving bicycles and can review your case to see how we can help.

And then we hope you won’t feel so bad.