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Thread: Municipal bike-ped website - liability risk?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Municipal bike-ped website - liability risk?

    We're working on a climate action plan in the community I plan for, and one of the draft recommendations that I proposed for the plan would be for the municipality to create a bicycle and pedestrian web page that would contain recommended bike routes on low traffic streets, point out areas with sidewalks, and have information on the health and environmental benefits of walking and biking.

    I presented this concept to my planning director and was shot down on account that such a website would create a potential liability for the municipality - reason being that if someone were to get hurt while following one of the recommended routes, the municipality could be subect to a lawsuit. Is there a way to do this while reducing the lawsuit risk, or is the only way to pull this off to create a full-blown bike/ped plan with screenline counts, consultant engineers, and the works? Thanks, everyone.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Wait for the PD to move on. The false fears of your PD would still be there with a $200K study. I once had a staff person suggest that I not identify distressed neighborhoods because it would depress housing sales.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Wait for the PD to move on. The false fears of your PD would still be there with a $200K study. I once had a staff person suggest that I not identify distressed neighborhoods because it would depress housing sales.
    Yes, exactly. Nothing you can say or do will cure this ignorance. Consolidate your feces and have everything ready to go when they leave.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Okay everyone - so it sounds like your take is that this is not a resolvable issue and that I should shelve the concept and move on. The PD has been here for 5 years and has no plans to move on in the foreseeable future. She is very much a 'think like a lawyer' type of planner and I probably shouldn't be surprised at the reception I received.

    Given this reality, It sounds like I should probably be the one preparing to leave at the next opportunity, rather than she. I worry that this type of risk-aversion and narrowing of horizons is antithetical to what I believe a planner should be.

  5. #5
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    You can be sued for anything. If you live by that mantra, you will never get anything accomplished. Does she really expect to not create documents that people might follow for fear that they might use them for evil?....
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    Okay everyone - so it sounds like your take is that this is not a resolvable issue and that I should shelve the concept and move on. The PD has been here for 5 years and has no plans to move on in the foreseeable future. She is very much a 'think like a lawyer' type of planner and I probably shouldn't be surprised at the reception I received.

    Given this reality, It sounds like I should probably be the one preparing to leave at the next opportunity, rather than she. I worry that this type of risk-aversion and narrowing of horizons is antithetical to what I believe a planner should be.
    Planning is not exempt from having co-workers subject to the human condition and frailties. Sometimes you wonder how some places get anything done at all.

    Nonetheless, if the public demands such a service and if electeds pressure staff, I'm sure a directive can come out of it, regardless of the inability of some staff to determine value.

    This is not to say you shouldn't always be looking for greener grass.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    How can a piece of paper or even a website cause physical harm? A paper cut? Blinding colors on a computer screen? I'm not an attorney, but that seems pretty frivolous. Assuming there are many other travel routes not to mention an infinite number of other reasons why the plaintiff chose the same route you recommended (which could be purely coincidental) I think the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff.

    Bad design and use of materials could lead to an acciddent, but that has nothing to do with your recommended PLAN. Unless you were killed or seriously injured as a result of bad design, I imagine it would fall into the same category as a slip and fall, which is very difficult to prove in court.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    We too were weary of this issue, but wanted to provide something that could be useful in showing safe routes. Here are examples of maps that show 'bicyclist travel information' without recommending routes.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Would some disclaimer satisfy her such as "Of course, while these maps are intended to show safe bike routes thoughout town, please always follow safe riding practices, follow the rules of the road . . . blah blah blah?" In some cases lawyers are already be looking to sue the town anyway if they can blame an accident on poor sightlines, road geometry or signage.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I would think with some kind of disclaimer, like what Seabishop suggested, you should be fine. I fail to see how this kind of information is in any way distinct from either the kind of updated car traffic info many cities have or simply the publishing of a bike map. If a bike map puts you in danger of a suit, we might as well just pack it up now and go home. I mean, seriously...

    Depending on your relationship with the PD, could you ask if it could be forwarded to the City lawyers for review? If it comes back with an ok, that should be enough to persuade her. But I realize, depending on your working relationship, this may not be plausible.

    You could also contact other sites with similar sites and ask someone there if they addressed liability concerns (which is I guess sort of what you are doing here...)

    Again, if an updated car traffic map/site doesn't get you in trouble, I don't see why a bike or ped map of the same type would...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  11. #11
    We get sued for accidents in the rights-of-way all the time as it is, and the vast majority are judged to be without merit. I fail to see how a jurisdiction would assume greater liability by publishing recommended routes. I guess using Detroit's facilities sans recommendations would be a way to play it safe.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Countless state and local governments do this, either in web or print formats. Frankly, I can't see there being any difference between providing a map with recommended routes, versus placing "bicycle route" signs on designated streets. I suppose one way to address this would be to produce a map showing designated routes (green) and routes not recommended for bicycles (red) and leave the remainder uncolored.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Surely the replies above are brimming with common-sense solutions. One wonders whether the PD is immune to reason.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    We get sued for accidents in the rights-of-way all the time as it is, and the vast majority are judged to be without merit. I fail to see how a jurisdiction would assume greater liability by publishing recommended routes. I guess using Detroit's facilities sans recommendations would be a way to play it safe.
    Hey by bolding me you're going to give people the impression that we care about other things than moving people by car. You want me to lose my job?
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  15. #15
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    This is great stuff, people. The question is one of process, I think. If someone were to get hurt while following a route that we recommended and we hadn't done any screenline counts to provide evidence that street X is a low traffic street, or if we don't have our bike route documentation stamped by a PE, then we could be screwed in the event of a lawsuit. I mean, I could work with our local environmental committee myself and put the site together rather easily, but she would argue that to do so without putting together a full bike/ped plan with consultant support would fail to provide us with sufficient legitimacy to be air-tight in the event of a suit. It sucks that we have to be this paranoid, but even the threat of a suit would be enough for the municipality to pull the site down and make it all for nothing. That's just the zeitgeist here, so to speak.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    That's just the zeitgeist here, so to speak.
    Ah. Thus the reason for polishing the resume.

    Ugh. My condolences.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    but would argue that to do so without putting together a full bike/ped plan with consultant support would fail to provide us with sufficient legitimacy to be air-tight in the event of a suit. .
    People will sue for anything, frivolous or not. True, some consultants might have a more specialized niche or someone on their team with years of experience (public and private) that could battle it out better than the client. I hope I'm wrong, but it sounds like the manager has to hide behind a consultant to get the job done.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  18. #18
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    This is great stuff, people. The question is one of process, I think. If someone were to get hurt while following a route that we recommended and we hadn't done any screenline counts to provide evidence that street X is a low traffic street, or if we don't have our bike route documentation stamped by a PE, then we could be screwed in the event of a lawsuit. I mean, I could work with our local environmental committee myself and put the site together rather easily, but she would argue that to do so without putting together a full bike/ped plan with consultant support would fail to provide us with sufficient legitimacy to be air-tight in the event of a suit. It sucks that we have to be this paranoid, but even the threat of a suit would be enough for the municipality to pull the site down and make it all for nothing. That's just the zeitgeist here, so to speak.
    Our maps do not do anything more than give a range for traffic and provide detail about if a wide shoulder exists. Traffic is always variable. Even a road that has 5,000 cars per day will have times where it is operating closer to capacity than others.

    Review the qualifiers in our legend.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    sounds like the manager has to hide behind a consultant to get the job done.
    I don't know what your political will is, but sometimes the councils like mine prefer consultants over staff because the council thinks staff will be "too biased" or try to hard to change things, like our council believes. Case in Point, i approached our PD about updating our design review manual. He had thrown around in meetings that we should get a consultant on board. I thought between myself and our interns we were perfectly capable of doing it. He agreed, however political will in the City isn't there to let staff do it, plus if things go afoul who better to throw under the bus?
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    I thought between myself and our interns we were perfectly capable of doing it. He agreed, however political will in the City isn't there to let staff do it, plus if things go afoul who better to throw under the bus?
    Two stark realities in this passage: the skilled interns doing this sort of work (budget constraints) and lack of leadership (cojones constraints). Too bad we don't train leaders anymore, eh?

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    Two stark realities in this passage: the skilled interns doing this sort of work (budget constraints) and lack of leadership (cojones constraints). Too bad we don't train leaders anymore, eh?
    Skilled, well they are good, but i did these type of plans as a consultant/pm so i would be the pm for the crew here, as for lack of leadership? Um, he has been here for a while and has navigated a very picky council for so long, he is just playing the game, oh well.


    Back to topic, I hate to chime on this, but shouldn't a comp plan already show where existing/proposed bicycle lanes/routes are? And if so, why not take that work, verify in the field and you have yourself a bicycle/walking plan.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    I can only speak for our comp plan, but proposed bike lanes and the like are the type of fine grain detail that is a bit beyond what the plan touches upon. The plan certainly does propose that the community 'make efforts to promote biking & walking as an alternative to vehicle usage wherever possible' but that's about as far as it goes.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    You better tell your planning director to let Mayor Bloomberg know he may get sued:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bic...bikemaps.shtml

  24. #24
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    Provide the bikes and the people will work it out for themselves! F#*K the plans and respond to peoples' need by allowing them to create the sort of transport enviroment they want. You don't need routes and maps to get people on bikes, they just need bikes. No responsibility for planners and no lawsuits for your precious 'lawyer PD'.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    You better tell your planning director to let Mayor Bloomberg know he may get sued:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bic...bikemaps.shtml
    FYI I do not work for the City of New York. NYC is sui generis in this region as far as their work on bike/ped stuff and even they are having to tread more and more cautiously on their initiatives as of late.

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