Bicyclists’ rights advocates felt optimistic in April when the Illinois senate passed the Bicycle Safety Restoration Act by a vote of 54 to 0. But last week the measure died in the Illinois house’s judiciary committee, which deadlocked on the bill and prevented it from moving forward.
Illinois bicyclists haven’t had liability protection since 1998, when the state supreme court ruled against Jon Boub, who was severely injured when his bike wheel got stuck in the planks of a Du Page County bridge that was being repaired (a case I wrote about here on June 19 and November 20, 1998, and on March 30, 2001). A bicyclist injured by a road hazard–unlike a motorist injured by the same hazard–now can’t sue the city or town that’s responsible.
The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and the League of Illinois Bicyclists have been pushing for a change in the law. “We had a bill that, after a ton of work, overwhelmingly passed the senate,” says Randy Neufeld, director of CBF. “But in the house we got caught in partisan cross fire and cross fire between town officials and trial lawyers.”
Towns wanted to minimize their liability. Trial lawyers didn’t want to give up options to sue. Democrats more than Republicans wanted to pass a compromise that would restore some degree of protection for cyclists. But the members of the house committee were unable to agree on language, and they voted along party lines, with six Democrats supporting the bill and six Republicans opposing it.
“It’s a shame,” says Ed Barsotti, LIB’s director. “Across the state–on the Grand Illinois Trail, for example–local government agencies have shelved bike-signage projects and other road improvements because they lose their immunity if they take steps to accommodate cyclists.”
Neufeld insists the status quo can’t stand indefinitely, pointing out that no other state discourages bicycling the way Illinois now does. But no one’s sure when legislators will again tackle what’s become known as the “Boub problem,” because redistricting is on their agenda this fall and budget battles will loom next year. Bicyclists may have to wait until 2003 or longer for a basic right to be restored.