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Monday, March 19, 2007

Guest Author on The Amazing Shrinking Man

Welcome John Forester, the author of Effective Cycling and a cycling safety advocate to The Amazing Shrinking Man Blog. Welcome, John!

The California Association of Bicycling Organizations Supporting David Prokop's Legal Case

Byline: John Forester

Thirty years ago, California enacted Streets & Highways Code 890 and
following. These defined the three classes of bikeway for
transportational purposes, giving each a technical name and a popular
name: Class One, or bike path; Class Two, or bike lane; Class Three,
or bike route. This statute required that each class have safety
design standards prepared, and required that all bodies that created
bikeways conform to these safety design standards. These standards
now appear as Chapter 1000 of the California Highway Design Manual.
The national standards named the Guide for Bicycle Facilities of the
Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials,
and the standards of those states that chose to create their own, all
stem from the California standards.

There is a respectable body of law, both statute and case, that
immunizes the owners of unimproved property from liability when they
allow members of the public cross these lands for purposes of
recreation, as on dirt trails over unimproved land. A person who had
an accident caused by the condition of the trail would be unable to
claim damages from the owner of the land. In some California cases
(and maybe also elsewhere) bicyclists were the claimants, and the
judges quite correctly ruled against them. However, because the
injured person was a bicyclist, some judges called these facilities
bike paths. This was entirely incorrect, because the Legislature had
already defined a bike path as a facility that had to be built
according to specified safety design standards -- in short, like a
miniature highway -- but because there was no argument about bikeways
in these cases nobody noticed and the effect was unimportant. Then,
another court, dealing with a case in which the accident had occurred
because a real bike path had violated the required safety design
standards, applied to a real bike path the law that previous courts
had applied to dirt trails across unimproved land, because both
courts used the same name, "bike path." This has occurred now in two
real cases, and will continue unless the problem is corrected. One
would think that such a silly mistake would be easy to correct, but
in the legal world nothing is easy. The legal world operates on the
basis of words rather than facts, so as long as the words fit it
thinks that the facts must fit.

There is no question but that the conditions designed into the Los
Angeles River Bike Path violated the standards and that these
violations combined to cause David Prokop's accident, although this
will finally have to be judged in a trial court. Cyclists have
managed to get the current case into the appellate courts to get the
immunity ruling corrected for this and all future cases. In short, to
reinstate the legal requirements for bike paths that the Legislature
enacted thirty years but that courts have mistakenly invalidated in
recent years. David's injuries, while significant at the time, do not
warrant money damages sufficient to pay the cost of getting this case
into the appellate courts. The cost to date has been something over
$100,000. The California Association of Bicycling Organizations
collects money for this case; CABO is a registered 501(c)3 charitable
and educational organization.

Money should be sent to: CABO c/o Alan Forkosh, 33 Moss Ave #204,
Oakland, CA 94610.

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