Repost: GRID Bikes Come to Phoenix

This is a re-posting of an article I wrote for the Law Offices of Michael Cordova.  On their blog, I discussed liability issues with the new bike sharing program that has come to Phoenix, known as GRID.  I decided to re-post this on my own blog because I think this is a unique issue, and I wanted to expand on it a little further:

At the beginning of the year, Phoenix contracted with CycleHop, LLC., to institute a bike share program across the city. The program included 500 GRID bikes in the city of Phoenix alone. Tempe and Mesa are said to follow. But, with beginners and novices swerving into traffic without helmets, or an understanding of Phoenix bike laws, is bike sharing the safest route possible for commuters on any set of wheels?

Phoenix Makes a Commitment—Sort of

The city of Phoenix was fully committed from the onset. Once the contract was accepted, Phoenix promptly made changes to the street grid. Mostly, this came in the form of adding bike lanes. But, these commitments do fall short. Instead of adding a real bike lane, where there is added space to the furthest right-side car lane, Phoenix instead chose to just add bike lane markings to already existing car lanes. Thus, this lane operates more of an interchangeable lane, where cars and bikes both ride in it. This is a stark difference to many bike lanes found in other metropolitan areas like Chicago or New York, where the bike lane is separate and apart from a car lane to ensure the safety of the rider.

The Numbers are Good

Arizona is relatively late to the bike sharing program. Indeed, the first bike share program started in 2007, while most other major metropolitan areas had one by 2013. However, that is a good thing. With Arizona cities as late entrants, previous cities have provided enough information to show if the bike share program really is safe. Using New York as a guide—known for their mean streets—perhaps proves that safety is attainable. There, after nearly 10 million rides, New York’s bike share program has yet to mark a fatality; however, 40 riders have been injured resulting in medical attention. Nonetheless, those numbers are low. What’s lower? How about no fatalities across the entire U.S. since the beginning of the program (2007), which has chalked up a total of 23 million rides! Those numbers are nothing to balk at, and, oddly, do not reflect the same kind of safety expected by non-bike sharing riders.

Nevertheless, Phoenix might find itself on a different page. Again, other metropolitan cities like Chicago and New York built bike lanes separate and apart from a car lane. Phoenix, however, built bike lanes right into a car lane, where the lane can be used interchangeably [for both bikes and cars]. Without question, the safety of the rider in this scenario is at greater risk than a rider who has the benefit of using a separate bike lane.

GRID bikes provide ease and convenience for the city commuter, or for local errands and coffee with friends. Even with this convenience, riders should be prepared to know the laws governing bike riding in that city. Moreover, bikers should utilize all proper protective equipment.

As the article discusses, a large part of the liability questions arise in two areas: (1) Phoenix failed to protect a rider adequately by using interchangeable lanes, instead of lanes dedicated to bicycles, and; (2) should the bike share company be furnishing the riders with proper protective equipment.

An article in the New York Times answered both of these in the affirmative.  The article interviewed lawyers practicing in Chicago–another city with a robust bike share program.  The lawyers came to a collective conclusion: a city would likely be named a defendant in an accident involving a bike from a bike share program.

It is important to note that Chicago’s bike lanes are different than Phoenix’s bike lanes; Chicago uses dedicated bike lanes, opposed to Phoenix’s interchangeable system.  Nonetheless, however, Chicago does have a helmet law, and they have essentially violated that law by contracting with a corporation to setup bikes across the city, where that corporation does not furnish a helmet to the user.  Therefore, both the city and bike share corporation could be named defendants, and be held liable for injuries sustained in an accident involving a bike from a bike share program.

As an analogy, imagine a city allowed/licensed a corporation to rent vehicles; however, the vehicles rented out of said corporation does not come equipped with seat belts, and the city is aware of this.  Thus, during a users regular rental, an accident occurs, where head trauma is sustained due to the absence of a seat belt restraint.  Could the city and the corporation be held liable?  The answer, here, is likely yes.

Because the city licensed a corporation and allowed it to do business, where the city had knowledge that the corporation was in violation of city and/or federal statute(s), but failed to act, the city would likely be hailed to court.

Scottsdale has seen the real life consequence of making the decision to license, instead of regulating.  Here, hordes of bicycle taxis, also known as pedi-cabs, came to Scottsdale to usher the late-night evening crowd around town.  Scottsdale, quick to realize the trend, decided to enact a statute requiring pedi-cabs to be licensed.  That statute also required pedi-cabs to be used like a vehicle; that is, to be driven on the road.  Note: pedi-cabs do not have seat belts, little, to no, lights, nor are they likely to go above the speed of 15 mph.  In short, be nothing like a car, except ride in a street lane.

Consequently, Scottsdale has been hailed in court after a pedi-cab with passengers was crushed by a vehicle going the speed limit.

As cities deal with the sharing economy, and other unique niche economies that grow within their confines, many cities jump on the opportunity to reel in revenue.  Instead, a city’s first step should be toward safety: how can we, the city, make this safer for the consumer.  Without safety for the consumer as the first step to dealing with ever-changing, and complex economies, cities will need those extra revenues they opted for to fight law suits.

Authored by: Jonathan J. Cianfaglione