Bike photos by Steve Magas, a race in Walnut Hills, a bike rack at Ride Cincinnati, A ghost bike dedication ceremony and a beautiful bike bell

Protecting The Rights Of Those Who Ride

Steve Magas is Ohio's Bike Lawyer. He has written about Ohio Bike Laws, bike crashes, bicycle advocacy and court cases for some 30 years. Soon we'll be adding a series of features about your favorite Ohio bike shops.

Everything Changed in 2009… I Wonder Why…

Pedestrian crashes SEEM to be in the news a lot… it SEEMS like there’s a bunch of them, right?

Well… the data confirms that.

The GHSA looked at the data. First they compared 2008 to 2017. They found that overall traffic deaths were 6% LOWER in 2017…but… pedestrian fatalities were up a whopping 35%! So while all the Car Safety Experts are walking around patting themselves on the back on their success in reducing fatalities, the MOST VULNERABLE users of the road are experiencing more terror and mayhem now than they did 20 years ago…

What’s going on?

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[h/t to Richard DeLombard for this link to a case I’ve been following from afar.]

A cyclist was killed in a Boston Heights, Ohio car/bike crash and the motorist was charged with vehicular homicide. Yesterday [1/14/2019] he plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter.

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As folks who read here regularly know, I’m a numbers guy. I got a Math degree WAY back in 1979 [I think we each had to buy an abacus] and planned on teaching Math [and coaching baseball and volleyball] before making a right angle turn into law school. I have always enjoyed looking at the statistical side of things. For the past 20+ years I’ve looked pretty hard a cycling statistics, and crash statistics, in Ohio and throughout the US. I’ve also reviewed the stats historically, and taken  Deep Dive into every fatal bike crash in Ohio in recent years. Unfortunately, the early 2018 statistics indicate that Ohio cyclists had a pretty lousy year on the roads.

Over the past 20+ years in Ohio we’ve averaged around 15-16 fatal crashes annually in 1500 or so bike crashes that are reported by police. Given that Ohio is the 7th largest state, with 11.7 million people, that is a remarkable safety record.  However, our last few years have seen an uptick in fatal crashes. Our 25 year average annual fatality number is now 17.0 –

The past 25 years of basic Ohio bike crash data looks like this:


Reordered to from least fatalities to most the data looks like this:


What’s the reason for the recent uptick? Is it even an “uptick” or are the numbers so small here that we can’t really draw any conclusions from a change of a couple either way? When your sample is 17 or so and the numbers vary from 9 to 25… and the events are…sort of random.. you’ve got to wonder what slight ups and downs mean. The average is 17 cycling deaths in Ohio now,  and the median is 18.

The last 4 years certainly look like a bit of an “uptick” in cycling deaths – 25-18-19-21.  Is  this related to an uptick in bikes on the road – a byproduct of the recent Bike Boom? An uptick in distracted driving? An uptick in dumb motorist/bicyclist behavior? An uptick in “infrastructure” or other bike “facilities” that often seem to put cyclists in a lousy position? An uptick in speeding [or a downturn in speeding enforcement]? An uptick in drugged up driving?

I don’t have answers… only numbers. In a later post we’ll do a Deep Dive into the fatal crash details…

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I’ve often said that these goofy “Bike Law” issues which take up just about my entire law practice will  not be litigated through traffic tickets in traffic court but in cases of severe injury or death, because that’s where the money is… on both sides… the victim is seeking big damages, and the defense team is well-funded by insurance companies and hyper-analyzing the law to find ways to pick apart [some might say screw over] the cyclist’s claim…

I found a very interesting case today in a unique manner. A client sent me a link to a news report from Dayton, Ohio. The City is paying $150,000.00 to a cyclist who was hit by a Dayton Fire Department vehicle. I thought… hmmm… that’s neat… and dug into it.
Turns out that the most interesting details in the case were buried in the court case records which I dug up on the Clerk’s website and have to do with the Ohio Constitution, ORC Sec. 4511.07, Home Rule and the power of cities to pass their own local bike laws…
A Constitutional Bike Case?? Who Knew???

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Remembering TOM SMITH

Something came up a few months ago and I went down one of those internet rabbit holes… looking for one thing online which led to another and another which led to wonder about what ever happened to my former boss Tom Smith… I was very sad to find his obituary, one which was reposted today in the current Cincinnati Bar Association monthly magazine.
Tom’s obit reads very dryly- as most obviously do- he served in Korea, Captain in the National Guard, returned to go to UC law school – worked in private practice and served as an Assistant US Attorney here – well known and accomplished trial lawyer, especially in the area of white collar crime.
Tom was so much more – he was a trip- so much litigation experience thanks to his work with Lisa Bragança representing whistleblowers which was wrapped up in a friendly, funny and very smart guy. He was constantly chiding me to write and edit and edit and edit and CUT OUT THE LEGALESE CRAP. He reminded me that we represented real people – that “The Law” wasn’t just a set of old books but the system that real people use to solve disputes. He also taught me, and reminded me, of the business side of a law practice. Unlike the court, where i could dig forever on an interesting issue, real lawyers in real firms had to get paid too! 🙂

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Granger Township Logic Makes No Sense…

In September, in little Granger Township, Ohio, the folks at Bike Medina County presented some bike safety concerns to  Township Trustees.

“Members of a local cycling organization approached the Granger Board of Trustees with some concerns and a proposed solution at the board’s meeting Sept. 24.

Beth Schnabel and Lynne Nawalaniec, of Bike Medina County, a group that advocates bicycle safety, discussed the lack of safe cycling routes in the county and expressed their concerns about the conditions of the township’s roads and trails for bikers. They pointed out many county roads are very heavily traveled with no safe routes marked for biking.”

 They had a generous donor who was willing to pay some $8,000 for 100 signs reminding motorists about Ohio’s 3 Foot Passing Law for bicycles. The Township folks took it under advisement…

On October 25, it was reported:

The Granger Board of Trustees revisited a previous proposal to reinforce bicycle safety this week.

At the board’s Oct. 22 meeting, Trustee John Ginley said he contacted Medina County Engineer Andy Conrad about a proposal presented at a previous meeting regarding the addition of signs enforcing a 3-foot passing law for vehicles passing bicycle riders on Granger roads. The idea was presented by two representatives of Bike Medina County, a local group that advocates bicycle safety.

Ginley presented several points given to him by Conrad, explaining not all township roads have center lines and the white lines on the sides of the roads are often very close to the edges. He said due to the hzards presented on township and county roads, including motorists who speed or text while driving, he believes the addition of such signs would draw more cyclists to the streets, but also present them with a false sense of security.

Ginley also pointed out it would cost more than $500,000 per mile to widen roads for bike paths. He said he will call the representatives of Bike Medina County and explain the township will not add such signs at this time.

Soooo… I’m clearly not following the township logic here…

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Helmets and Helmet Laws- Should MOTORISTS Be Required to Wear Them?

Carlton Reid nails it here, in his new piece in Forbes called “I Don’t Wear A Bicycle Helmet.”

“Let me qualify that headline: I do wear a helmet when mountain biking. But I don’t wear one when the sidewalk is icy – yet I could slip when walking and split my skull.I do not don my bike helmet when I jump in the shower, despite the fact falling and hitting my head while covered in suds is far riskier than you might think.Scooping leaves out of high gutters requires a ladder climb, and is decidedly dicy, but before I ascend to the residential roof I do not strap on a lid.Why do I do all of these dangerous things without even giving a passing thought to protecting my brainbox with a helmet, yet I am said by some to be naked if I ride my bike without one? It’s illogical.”

I don’t care what you decide to do. Wear one – don’t wear one.

It’s YOUR job to be personally responsible for your own safety. It’s OK if you do… it’s OK if you don’t… I won’t shame you either way.

NOBODY should be shaming anyone for ANY thing they use or wear on their bikes… JUST RIDE THE DANG BIKE…

100s of millions of people ride bikes in the USA… EVERY DAY…,  MANY do not wear helmets. 99.9+% of those rides do not result in death or maiming or head injury …

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Remembering Emilee Gagnon – After Her Killer Manages To “Seal” The Record

Emilee Gagnon was a 21 year old woman from Holliston, Mass. In 2013 she left Holliston for a solo cross country bicycle trip. She was riding to raise money to benefit people who have MS. On September 23, 2013, at 7:20 pm, Emilee was killed when motorist Lynne Smith smashed into Emilee from behind on State Route 163 near the quaint Lake Erie town of Port Clinton, Ohio. Smith claimed she “couldn’t see” Emilee because the setting sun was in her eyes…

Smith was charged under Ohio’s Vehicular Homicide statutes. She cut a deal with prosecutors in which she plead No Contest to Vehicular Manslaughter, a second degree misdemeanor under Ohio law. Smith was found guilty and given the max sentence- 90 days in jail, fine, license suspension. Judge Hany did not order ANY jail time – rather he held that over her head in the event she did anything else wrong. So she got, in essence, two years of being able to do whatever she wanted to do without restriction so long as she kept her nose clean & stayed out of trouble.

Fast forward two years… To her credit, Lynn Smith kept her nose clean and stayed out of trouble. The Court determined that she had “paid her debt to society” and terminated her criminal case.

Now… this is NOT a post about lousy driving, criminal laws with no teeth, crappy sentences for convicted killers or stupid motorist excuses like “I was driving west, towards the setting sun and I couldn’t see… but I kept moving a dangerous two ton machine forward at 50mph…

No… that’s all for another day…

Rather, this is a post about hiding criminal records… specifically Lynne Smith’s criminal record. You see, in June 2018 Lynne Smith filed a Petition to Seal the record of her conviction – to box it up, shutter it up, pull it off the InterBlawg, and hide it from everyone that she was a convicted killer!

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ROAD RAGE – Personal & Professional Consequences

Sometimes very ugly behavior by a motorist DOES have consequences…personal and professional.

In 2015 a Columbus cyclist was riding along. From his testimony, he was riding to the right of a line of cars stopped by a garage truck.  This apparently enraged a motorist who was stuck in line. The cyclist testified that he made a turn, and the motorist followed him, passed him VERY closely and then slammed on the brakes in a classic “brake check” maneuver, causing the cyclist to hit the back of the big black Mercedes.  The Mercedes driver recalled it differently, claiming the cyclist smacked his car while passing on the right and suggesting that he followed the cyclist because he thought his car was damaged. He claimed the cyclist intentionally ran into the back of the car.

… and THEN… it got crazy…

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Negligently Designed Infrastructure- Can you “Sue The State” or City?

In Portland Oregon a cyclist was hit by a car at 60 mph! He lived, but suffered very serious injuries, incurring medical bills in excess of $350,000.
Not surprisingly, he sued the driver. However, because he hired a law firm that really looks hard at bicycle cases, a couple of additional claims were filed against the City of Portland and the State of Oregon.
Jim Coon, who is a partner with long time cycling lawyer Ray Thomas, sued the City and State alleging that the design of the bike infrastructure was part of the cause of the crash. Those in the bike lane must cross over an area of roadway which is set at 45mph, but at which traffic routinely travels 50-60 mph. Here the cyclist claims that he looked back and saw a truck- he estimated that he had enough time/room to cut over the lane… however, the defendant zoomed around and passed the truck, and slammed into the cyclist.
These photos, from the Oregon Live page, show a bit of the problem…

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