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Paralyzed Bicyclist Sues City, Saying Lakefront Trail Dropped Nine Feet

Paralyzed Bicyclist Sues City, Saying Lakefront Trail Dropped Nine Feet

By Ted Cox on December 30, 2014 12:13pm 

 Jennifer Kraft was left paralyzed from the chest down. Jennifer Kraft was left paralyzed from the chest down.
Jennifer Kraft

THE LOOP — A 34-year-old schoolteacher is suing the city over a bike accident last year on the South Side's lakefront trail that left her paralyzed from the chest down.

Attorneys for Jennifer Kraft, a teacher of high-school chemistry, said in a suit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court that the city and the Chicago Park District were responsible for her falling nine feet when the trail "abruptly ended without warning" at 37th Street.

According to the suit, the accident took place April 25. Kraft was northbound on the bike trail when it ended, and she fell nine feet onto concrete. "While Jennifer’s helmet saved her life, she remains in a wheelchair as she fractured three neck vertebrae, both shoulder blades, and punctured her spine at chest level," according to a statement issued Tuesday by the Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard law firm representing her.

Kraft is paralyzed from the chest down, according to the firm, and the suit charges the city and the Park District "carelessly and negligently designed the trail by failing to warn bicyclists of an abrupt drop-off on the trail."

"Jennifer's life has been forever changed because of this unsafe trail," said Patrick Salvi, managing equity partner at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard. "Not only does the trail design concern us, but the trail has no warning signs, railings, lights or other safety protections — not then, not now."

The suit seeks unspecified damages for personal injury.

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I'm assuming maybe the part of the trail that leads straight to the lakefront, where perhaps in theory if you weren't cautious you could "leave" the trail and go onto the concrete and drop several feet to more concrete.  This is a very sad story regardless of how, where, when, etc. 

That's not the LFP and there are breaks all along the lake front for harbors and have a set up for wheel chair access it's not meant for bike riding. It's a terrible accident, lord knows I've been lucky!

But there are places where it's unprotected and abrubtly ends,what next a wall 3 feet high all along the lake to keep people from accidents,riding into the lake or not paying attention? 

Way to slide down the slippery slope...  She is only asking for signs on her change.org page. Doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

From a building code standpoint, if there is a 30" or more drop from one surface to another, a 42" guardrail is required. I don't know who is the Authority Having Jurisdiction in this situation. It may be the Army Corp of Engineers or the Chicago Building Department. Not up on my break water design these days.

 

I ride that way all the time.  Her claim is extremely misleading.

 

As noted, the trail doesn't drop 9'. That's a picture of the break water.  The slippery slope argument is compelling.

It's not part of the LFP. At around the curve near Oakwood (approximately 3900 S), there's a path leading away from the main trail that leads to the top of a storm wall where, apparently, Jennifer had chosen to bike. It's clearly not part of the "Lakefront Trail" - despite having ridden around that curve hundreds of times over several years, I had to pause and look for the path she must have followed to get to it. It's not hidden, but it's also not something I've ever accidentally gone down. And no cyclist with any sense would ride on top of it, being too narrow and pedestrian-heavy (in moderately pleasant weather) for safe travel. She basically rode off where there's a break in the wall.

She (with her lawyers) has been running this publicity campaign for months. I'd guess it's designed to pressure the city into a settlement, since the facts make her look pretty reckless. I'm not sure why the journalists suckered into this scheme haven't taken a moment to actually visit the trail or the spot where she fell, but they apparently aren't doing so.

I don't want to be too harsh about it, because what happened to Jennifer is a life-changing tragedy, and I'm sympathetic. But her accident was her fault, not the city's.


Nikul Shah said:

This sounds awful. Anyone familiar with this section of LFP?

I have to agree with you Simon, she will have a hard time collecting any settlement. On a brighter note, the foundations and supports have been completed on the LFP flyover crossing the river near Navy Pier. I'm anxiously awaiting the completion of that project. The junction of the 'path', if you can even call it that, is particularly hazardous at Illinois Street and Grand Avenue. I've had several close calls there myself. Not hard to see, given the confluence of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists funneled together near the largest single tourist attraction in the state. Now that's an accident that's waiting to happen.

Simon Phearson said:

I don't want to be too harsh about it, because what happened to Jennifer is a life-changing tragedy, and I'm sympathetic. But her accident was her fault, not the city's.



There are other similar locations like this.  Riding southbound on the Lake Front path as you approach Belmont you can continue south on the path, or you can make a sharp left turn, ride along the boat loading structure and continue south directly along the lake.  Eventually you'll rejoin the LFP around Fullerton. 

This is far more scenic and attractive and usually has fewer cyclists but lot of pedestrians.  It takes longer and it has several up-and-down ramps and drop-off.  It isn't intended for bicyclists. 

Recently I had a visitor from Germany and we rode down to the Field Museum.  I took her along this path and she really appreciated the view of the downtown area.  I did give a mild warning about looking down at the ramps instead of looking up at the downtown buildings.

No signs are needed along this route because it's pretty obvious you're following a route not intended for bicycles.  You have to go out of your way to get there.

I've always thought these areas are precarious and perhaps in certain situations are dangerous. I think if it happened to me or someone I am very close to I would feel the same way she does. Personally I am always extra careful and look for danger even in seemingly benign places and events but some call me obsessive. I think that a handicap ramp should have side rails and restrict traffic to pedestrians and wheelchairs only. It doesn't seem like an appropriate (or even fun) place to ride a bike.

Mike Zumwalt said:

That's not the LFP and there are breaks all along the lake front for harbors and have a set up for wheel chair access it's not meant for bike riding. It's a terrible accident, lord knows I've been lucky!

But there are places where it's unprotected and abrubtly ends,what next a wall 3 feet high all along the lake to keep people from accidents,riding into the lake or not paying attention? 

I think they're doing a disservice to viewers when news outlets like NBC show video of the 4-step stone revetment and describe it as the lakefront bike trail. Deepest sympathy for her regarding her accident on these stone steps. At 41 seconds, you can see where she fell: 

http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Woman-Sues-City-After-Paralyzi...

They could install reflectors at the edge but that's only helpful if you have a light.

My own brush with OMG I almost hurt myself was riding East on Chicago ave. I hate the bridges that are open grates because of the slippery tire movement so I went up on the sidewalk.

OOOOPS! the other side of the walk past the bridge is 3 steps, luckily I was on my Mt. Bike and improvised very fast and rode down the steps. WHEW!

Now had I been riding fixed I'd be layed up somewhere eating through a tube.

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