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Old 02-21-04, 09:55 PM   #1
BackInTheFold
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County tells bicyclist thanks, but stop plowing trail

Normally I would link the following story. As I fear it will quickly disappear or the URL will become invalid (it's my first post here, but not on other forums) I'll risk quoting it in it's entirety. With proper credit given, of course.

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County tells bicyclist thanks, but stop plowing trail
By Garrett Ordower Daily Herald Staff Writer

Posted February 21, 2004

By day, Dave Peterson works with diagnostic multiplexers and beam shakers to maintain the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory's antiproton source.

But at dawn and dusk the Geneva resident drags a homemade snowplow behind his daughter's Pacific Electra mountain bike, clearing a 16-inch wide section of the Fox River Trail as he rides to and from work in Batavia.

Because he rides at a time when few are watching, he's become something of a local legend the last two winters, a Bigfoot.

"It's one of those weird things that has touched a nerve with a lot of people," Peterson said.

A whole lot. In fact, many of the path's regulars have come to expect it to be clear - and that has put Peterson's plowing on hiatus.

The county has asked him to stop because if there's an expectation that the trail will be plowed, there's a greater chance for litigation, said Kane County Forest Preserve District operations supervisor Pat McQuilkin.

"If a person falls, you are more liable than if you had never plowed at all. Crazy world," wrote AnnMarie Fauske, the district's community affairs director, in response to a letter to Peterson. "Unfortunately, the times we are in allow for a much more litigious environment than common sense would dictate."

Peterson started commuting to work on the trail nearly 20 years ago from his Geneva home.

His bicycling saves Peterson 3,500 miles of driving a year. But it's more than that. He's seen large wading birds like the Egret and Great blue heron return to the river's edge. He's also come close to getting run over by a deer, had a goose fly into the side of his head and seen the temperatures dip to 12 below.

Still, he hasn't missed a day of biking in 2® years, Peterson said.

"Riding to work is much more enjoyable than (driving) on Kirk Road. It's so much more peaceful to do that," he said.

Peterson got the idea of a bike plow this winter when snow forced him to ride along Route 25 and "scurry like a scared rabbit."

He started with a baby-stroller-like push plow, but that proved too labor intensive so he eventually worked out the riding plow.

Its V-shaped body rolls on three wheels while a scraper gets to the snow below it, clearing most of the path.

Although compelled to work on the bike plow for his own use, Peterson also wanted to find a way he could help the public good.

Peterson regularly sees people using the trail, such as factory workers riding on the path from Aurora to their jobs in the Tri-Cities.

"There are people out there who need to use sidewalks and bike paths, people who have no alternatives," Peterson said.

Peterson recently noticed a strange wheel track in the snow, and finally figured it was made by a homeless person pushing a shopping cart.

"There is something I can do here," Peterson said. "I can use my skills as an engineer to make life easier for the little old ladies who walk on the path."

But the forest preserve worries that if they take a wrong step and fall, those little old ladies might decide to sue.

McQuilkin noticed the path being cleared during his trail inspections and told his workers to look out for whomever was doing it.

When two maintenance workers saw Peterson this week, they told him he needed to stop.

A shocked Peterson wrote a detailed letter to forest preserve president and county board member John Hoscheit, explaining the importance of the trail for commuters and his situation.

The forest preserve quickly replied that, while a "wonderful gesture ... your act of kindness may also be open to legal issues should someone fall after your care."

Lawsuits along trails are not unheard of.

The district was sued by Janet Mull after a September 1999 fall on a rut in the Great Western Trail. Though she won at trial, the verdict was reversed the state's Second District Appellate Court in March 2003, largely because of a state statue that says "neither a local public entity or public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of ... any hiking, riding, fishing or hunting trail."

For now, Peterson said he'll have to quit plowing.

"It's disappointing," Peterson said. "I think the county has knocked down the hornet's nest. I'm not sure what's going to happen."

Plow: Man says he'll stop
If there's already "a state statue that says "neither a local public entity or public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of ... any hiking, riding, fishing or hunting trail."" to protect them from litigation, along with a precident from the Second District Appellate Court, why are they so opposed to a cyclist clearing the trail. Especially if the government won't do so?
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Old 02-21-04, 10:48 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BackInTheFold
If there's already "a state statue that says "neither a local public entity or public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of ... any hiking, riding, fishing or hunting trail."" to protect them from litigation, along with a precident from the Second District Appellate Court, why are they so opposed to a cyclist clearing the trail. Especially if the government won't do so?
Completely ridiculous! Not only do they already have the disclaimer in their statute, but tell me when they think people are most likely to fall and injure themselves! If somebody can sue the council on a ploughed trail, surely they could just as easily (if not moreso) sue on an unploughed trail. The only difference is, the latter scenario is more likely to occur, given that injuries would (I presume) be more likely if no work had been done.
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Old 02-21-04, 10:51 PM   #3
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Gak.

Just the sort of thing that puts me in the mood to make a semi-coherent tirade full of sweeping generalizations about lawyers. I'd probably use the word "infested" more than once, which is a sure sign of ranting, so I'll skip the whole thing.

Except to calmly note that the county officials have gotta be exposing themselves to a much higher risk of litigation by publicly admitting that they told some guy NOT to do a minor good deed that could have prevented injuries, than they ever would have by just letting the whole thing slide and finding something a bit more useful to do with their time...
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Old 02-21-04, 11:09 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by BackInTheFold
...why are they so opposed to a cyclist clearing the trail. Especially if the government won't do so?
Because it makes them look bad.
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Old 02-21-04, 11:32 PM   #5
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I think its just the flip side of judicial activism. This is what we get when judges stretch the law to meet a percieved need and the attorneys build the new right or entitlement into a "mother lode" and mine it for all its worth. Time was when lawsuits like this had no traction & would be summarily dismissed. Don
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Old 02-21-04, 11:43 PM   #6
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Having been a former employee (okay so it was a college internship) at Fermilab and user of said trail for commuting to work when I lived in Naperville, I welcome Mr. Peterson's generosity. I think the community (both cycling and local) should all be thankful and contact the forest preserve on his behalf. Hopefully that article will prompt exactly that and I'm glad it has brought his work to some attention.

BTW, Fermilab is a wonderful place for cyclists. The many bike trails that access the lab are great and the lab itself has miles and miles of bike trails in it. And as anyone who has ever had to commute to Fermilab can tell you, it is much much quicker to take the trails than it is to fight the traffic on Rt. 59 for instance.

A really cool thing to do is ride the roads that sit over the main accelerator rings. I also remember seeing plenty of cyclists use the roads that ran along the side of the linear collider section for time-trial training. Bicycle trails are also handy for those who don't work in the main building (Wilson) where the main cafeteria is located. The lab grounds are very big but all the buildings were easily accessable by bike... especially from "The Village".
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Old 02-22-04, 06:26 AM   #7
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So what happens if Mr Peterson continues to plow the path? Will the county sue him?
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Old 02-22-04, 08:40 AM   #8
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Sounds like time for a backlash. Cyclists are taxpayers, too. Their commuting routes should be plowed, just as streets are. If the county is falling down on that job, it has no business preventing citizens from self-help. Dave Peterson cleared his own commute. That others were also helped was a sociable secondary benefit.

Are there any bicycling advocates there to organize some constituent-rousing at the county seat?
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Old 02-22-04, 10:29 AM   #9
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I haven't seen anything specifically that identifies the forst preserve as the entity that could be sued. The lawyers might think the person doing the plowing could be sued, and once a lawyer starts an action, they would not hesitate to redirect toward the individual.
Regarding the Apellate Court ruling, I think that it could be that plowing the trail changes the condition of the trail in the negative. It's actually easier to slip and fall on the trail with just a lights layer of snow/ice, than it is when there's more snow.
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Old 02-22-04, 01:50 PM   #10
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To me it seems the county figures if the trail is not cleared it won't be used.
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Old 02-22-04, 01:59 PM   #11
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To me it seems the county figures if the trail is not cleared it won't be used.
Then they'd be wrong. I remember seeing a fair number of people on snow covered sections of the trail there.
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Old 02-22-04, 02:43 PM   #12
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This seems silly. If the trail goes completely unused, then perhaps it is safer than otherwise when snow covers it. But in the real world, a trail of any significant traffic (including pedestrian traffic) will become packed down. It's been a long time since I've seen real snow, but doesn't packed snow run a risk of turning to ice?

Isn't it better to plow, even if it's not a professional job? Heck, people shovel their driveways. Does the county also want them to leave the sidewalk covered in snow?
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Old 02-22-04, 02:48 PM   #13
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Why doesn't the county just plow it and be done with it?
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Old 02-22-04, 03:46 PM   #14
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All hiking boots shall come with a health warning
"Do not walk over the edge of cliffs in these boots - the manufacturer accepts no liability for walkers in breach of this condition"

Breaking news.... Mrs J. P. Cootsnorgle has is suing hiking boot makers J Bean for $23m after falling over a cliff. "I couldn't read the warning when standing up looking down at my feet", she stated. Her lawyer, Ms Sue Grabbitandrun said that it J Bean's thoughtlessness in not printing the warning in 96pt typeface (bold) was "...a gross neglect of their responsibility to their customers. It is unreasonable to expect them to read the packaging on the box or the instruction leaflet which comes with them".

In an unrelated story, a cyclist is suing city hall after skidding on some de-icing salt.
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Old 02-22-04, 03:58 PM   #15
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"If a person falls, you are more liable than if you had never plowed at all. Crazy world," wrote AnnMarie Fauske, the district's community affairs director, in response to a letter to Peterson. "Unfortunately, the times we are in allow for a much more litigious environment than common sense would dictate."

Following the same logic, it would seem then that they should also stop plowing city streets and discourage homeowners from shoveling sidewalks and driveways.

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Old 02-22-04, 05:38 PM   #16
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I commute across the George Washington and they rarely if ever the path for cyclist. It gets packed down, icy, and extremely dangerous. If they would plow it at least it would melt sooner rather than having a ski slope for weeks on end when the road right next to you is bone dry. Why don't we sue the DPW for NOT doing their job?

Makes you hate the stupidity of it all...
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Old 02-22-04, 11:32 PM   #17
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OMG you yanks are out of your minds with lawsuits (Waits with flame retardant blanket) I mean! This is going too far! The smacktard that got money from McDonalds should have been given the money but then told that as she is so stupid as to not know that HOT coffee can burn you then you must be in the company of an 'Adult' whilst around the house and out and about for a period of 18 years. Neither can they drive or buy any substances or OTC medications that may cause them injury.

Rant over!
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Old 02-23-04, 03:31 AM   #18
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Umm, following the same logic the county should do their best to make the trail totally inaccessible. And I mean totally. Perhaps they could plow on both sides of the trail, piling a high snow bank on the trail itself? Or how about building some obstructions, fending the whole thing and letting a pack of rabid dogs loose inside the fence?

This is starting to look like the Stella awards. An individual gets hit by a lightning. An act of God? No, explains this individual's lawyer: "That would be a lot of people's knee-jerk reaction in these types of situations." Knee-jerk reaction, formerly known as "common sense". Sigh.

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Old 02-23-04, 06:50 AM   #19
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The real problem is that the local government is doing what too many companies do: using a phony threat of liability as an excuse to not do something they didn't want to do in the first place. The officials have a clear statute and appellate caselaw protecting them from liability. They don't have a legal-system problem. They have a stupidity problem.

And I hear complaining about "Yank" lawsuits? Ever see the utterly inane libel actions filed in British courts? They'd be laughed out of court in the U.S. At least you have to be injured to win a lawsuit here. Even the coffee lady had third degree burns requiring skin grafts. If I were in Britain, the local governemnt officials could sue me over the last sentence of my first paragraph.

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Old 02-26-04, 09:46 PM   #20
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So they've only 'asked' him to stop. If there's nothing illegal about it, why should he comply? What could they do to him?

The argument could be made here that anything a government agency does could leave them open to litigiation, and if they chose to hide their head in the sand by doing mothing rather than risk a lawsuit, then why do we need them at all?
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Old 02-27-04, 07:18 AM   #21
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oaxacarider writes:
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I live in Batavia and use the Fox River and Prairie Trails year round, I used the trail the Mr Peterson plowed this winter and didnt know who had done it, but it was nice to ride on it. Its sad the county had to stop him from doing it.
oaxacarider,
Write and call the people named in the article. If you Google them, you will get their business addresses and phone numbers. Tell them what you told us. Since you are a constituent, they might actually listen to you. If they donít, go up the chain to the elected officials overseeing them. You can also write a letter to the editor of the paper that published the article.

I had a problem with a traffic sensor that did not detect bicycles. It took only one e-mail to the city to get them to fix the problem. Most politicians really do want to keep their voters happy.
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