In July 2014, a cyclist was attacked in a road rage incident in Sunset Hills, Missouri. The cyclist, Randy Murdick, alleged that after the driver had yelled “Get off my roads!” he swerved into the cyclist, knocking him off his bike. The cyclist was injured and his road bike was damaged in the incident, which went viral when it was further alleged that the road raging driver was Mark Furrer, then-Mayor of Sunset Hills.
But despite the shocking nature of the attack, the Mayor’s alleged road rage was clearly out of step with city governments across the state, which are increasingly passing strong measures to protect cyclists from harassment.
Recently, I caught up with attorney Vance Preman of Bike Law Missouri and Bike Law Kansas; we had the opportunity to chat about this incident, as well as other issues, and the state of cycling in Kansas and Missouri. Despite one bad incident making the national news, the good things happening in Kansas and Missouri bicycling are clearly the real news. Like anywhere else, there’s still plenty of work to be done, but if, like me, you want to know what’s really happening in Kansas and Missouri, read on, as Vance Preman gives us an insider’s perspective on the law, advocacy, and lots and lots of bike riding.
Bob: Hi Vance, it’s great to talk again after the Bike Law Summit.
Vance: Likewise Bob. I considered the first annual Bike Law Summit a great success. Sharing ideas from lawyers on a nationwide basis has already helped me in my practice. The synergy and enthusiasm was contagious. I consider all these great lawyers to be personal friends and a wonderful resource.
Bob: And now that resource just became even more accessible to cyclists across the country, as the Bike Law Network and the League of American Bicyclists have partnered to create a nationwide directory of Bike Law attorneys. After the Bike Law Summit, and with the League’s National Bike Summit coming up, what are your thoughts on this strategic partnership?
Vance: Bob, at the Bike Law Summit, bonds and ideas were generated which help cyclists on a nationwide basis. Our pool of expertise is second to none. Many of us, on a daily basis, are active in local and state advocacy issues. The synergy created with the League gives us a nationwide perspective. Andy Clarke is a visionary. I think many of us see this as a movement and the strategic partnership furthers this goal. I would like to see LAB membership swell to give us all a stronger voice.
Bob: Yes, the energy at the Bike Law Summit was electrifying, and as the League’s National Bike Summit approaches, that energy holds great promise for cyclists nationwide. Changing direction a little, all of us in the Bike Law Network are cyclists. Can you tell me about your background as a cyclist? What got you interested in cycling?
Vance: As a child some of my fondest memories were on a bicycle. Unbeknownst to most people, I started the concept of mountain biking. I took my three speed Raleigh pride and joy all over mountain and hill trails of western Maryland, my home. I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a heavy duty bike with gears. Maybe Gary Fisher had a similar thought (chuckling).
In college I rode around campus, then put the bike away for many years as I built a law practice and raised a family. The kids and I rode in their early years.
Seven years ago, I saw a sign advertising the local Kansas City MS 150. I wondered if I could do it. I was thirty pounds overweight and a twelve-mile bike ride was a stretch.
I’m proud to say, that I completed it, in spite of four broken rear spokes and a wobbly wheel. I have participated every year since.
Since that initial ride, I have completed a full RAGBRAI, a partial RAGBRAI, Hotter than Hell 100 twice, Levi Leiphheimer Fondo (midi), Vino Fondo twice, Lake 100, SEO Outreach 100, Colorado River ride and countless local rides. I was a sponsor to Tour de Bier, and Tour of Kansas City, and have been a Board Member of KC Metro Bike Club. I have toured the Katy trail and ride constantly with a local club, the Good Time Gang.
Bob: I can relate- my college years were spent riding an old beater cruiser. But unlike you. I didn’t invent mountain biking, although some of my youthful escapades do involve some rough terrain. So after college, we both went on to law school, and eventually, to representing cyclists. What got you interested in representing cyclists?
Vance: There have been so many cases that its hard to say. Perhaps, after seeing a a big bruise on a fellow’s face while on a social ride, I asked him what happened. He told me his bike front wheel got swallowed up by a drainage grate and he had a violent crash. I sued the Missouri Department of Transportation, made a recovery for him and the grates were removed and replaced. The social architecture felt good. My entire social scene is centered around bicycling, so representation of cyclists was a natural fit.
Bob: Your Bike Law practice represents cyclists in two states, Kansas and Missouri. How are these two states similar for cyclists? And how are they different?
Vance: The states are very different, Bob.
Kansas is a 50% fault state. If plaintiff is 50% or more at fault no recovery. Pain and suffering is capped at $275,000 since July, 2015 (for 20 years it was $250,000). The conservative nature of the state makes representation of cyclists and plaintiffs in general, a challenge. A civil jury requires 10 of 12 jurors to reach a verdict. Civil jury instructions are more advisory.
In Missouri a recovery can be made if even up to 99% fault. Damages are reduced by the amount of fault. There are no caps on damages (except for carved-out exceptions, i.e. Governmental liability exceptions). A civil jury requires 9 of 12 jurors to reach a verdict. Civil jury instructions are mandatory.
While the states share a common boundary, the laws and attitudes are very different.
Bob: What kinds of differences in attitudes do you see?
Vance: In Kansas, plaintiffs in general have been treated as second class citizens due to restrictive laws as previously mentioned. In rural areas, cyclists are often viewed as a obstructive. Interestingly though, Kansas has a 3 foot minimum passing law. Events like the Dirty Kanza are being well received and miles of gravel roads are bringing people to cycling. In Missouri, the economic benefit of cycling seems to be on people’s minds. The new Rock Island trails will have a huge impact on riderage throughout the state. It remains to be seen how shakeups within MoDot will impact the cycling community.
Bob: Have you seen any changes in the biking environment in Kansas and Missouri?
Vance: Absolutely. Kansas City B-cycle racks have sprouted all over Kansas City.
Dedicated bike lanes are becoming more prevalent. I see bike racks on cars everywhere. Overland Park Kansas, a large suburb of Kansas City has announced its intention of implementing bike lanes within its transportation plans.
Bob: Can you tell me about some of the bicycle advocacy organizations in Kansas and Missouri? What organizations are out there? What are they working on?
Vance: On a statewide level, Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation and its leaders are tireless in their efforts of advocacy.
In Kansas City, the good folks at BikeWalkKC work their magic at promoting safe streets and were instrumental at passage of anti-harassment ordinances. I recently participated in a b-cycle bike build organized by Bikewalk. It was great fun fueled by pizza and suds.
Randy Rasa with Kansas Cyclist keeps cyclists in the know with his updates and information flow.
KanBikeWalk has statewide efforts to promote bike advocacy.
Bob: You’ve recently been appointed to a couple of positions at MoBikeFed. Can you talk about your work there?
Vance: I was recently appointed to the Leadership and Legislative advocacy section of MoBikeFed and am a “Yellow Jersey” Fellow. I was pleased to come on board. MoBikeFed is a diligent watchdog for cyclists and pedestrians alike. Squeaky wheels get grease, Bob.
Bob: Ya, they sure do, and it’s great that you’re in there helping to get those wheels greased! I’ve noticed that in Missouri, in particular, there have been several communities that have passed anti-harassment ordinances, and there seems to be some good momentum building for a statewide anti-harassment statute. One thing that I’ve noticed that is different from anti-harassment ordinances elsewhere (particularly in California), is that these ordinances make harassment of cyclists a criminal offense, as opposed to grounds for a civil suit. Can you talk about these ordinances?
Vance: The cities that have passed such ordinances have worded them so as to make a “free speech” argument and challenge less viable. It remains to be seen how prosecution of such cases will go. It’s a step in the right direction. I am not aware of anyone charged under such laws.
Bob: While we’re on the subject of cyclist harassment, there was an incident involving the Mayor of Sunset Hills allegedly running a cyclist off the road. What’s going on in that case?
Vance: As of December, the Mayor has been indicted by a St Louis grand jury and charged with two felonies.
Here in Johnson County Kansas, the state has charged Paul Henley with felony assault after he used his vehicle to strike a cyclist whom I’m representing. A preliminary hearing was set for January 27, 2015.
Bob: How did that go? Are there any new developments in either of those cases?
Vance: In Henley, a preliminary hearing was set. When all subpoenaed witnesses were present, the defendant wisely waived the hearing. The matter has been set for another status conference. I believe ultimately, a plea will be entered. Kansas follows a sentencing grid so its hard to call an outcome until the moving parts stabilize.
Bob: Sometimes these shocking kinds of incidents can dominate our perception of cycling, and of course, when our justice system fails cyclists, that perception can be reinforced. But as we’ve seen with the prosecution of Mayor Furrer and the spread of anti-harassment laws, positive change is possible. Things can get better. And things can change for the better in other ways too. Can you tell me about the movement to expand trails from old railroad right of ways?
Vance: Ameren utility company recently announced that it will railbank 145 miles of Rock Island trail corridor, creating a 210 mile trail across Missouri and interconnecting with the Katy trail, creating a 450 mile interconnection which crisscrosses Missouri.
Bob: That’s fantastic! There are other great recreational opportunities as well. What is BAK? Can you talk about that?
Vance: Sure Bob. BAK (Bike Across Kansas) started in 1985. This year it will be held June 6th through the 13th. It is quite a tradition with riders here in Kansas.
Also worth mentioning are the Cottonwood 200 which is held on Memorial Day weekend and is a 3 day ride through the Flint Hills. By the way, Kansas is not flat.
A newcomer in its third year is the Kandango ride which will be held June 4 through the 7th. This is a 3 day ride through the Smoky Hills region of Central Kansas and boasts a wild west theme.
Cyclocross and gravel riding are alive and well in Kansas. The Dirty Kanza 200 is a premiere ultra endurance race from Emporia, Kansas.
Bob: Are there similar recreational opportunities in Missouri, for example, with expanding trails, or with rides similar to BAK and these other rides you mentioned?
Vance: Yes. An upstart is called the Big Bam – Bicycle Across Missouri. This ride has a music theme along the Katy trail and runs June 21st through 26th, 2015, and is sponsored by Missouri Life magazine.
As previously mentioned, the Katy trail provides an abundance of recreational activities from bicycle tourism to wine tasting and fine dining. In the KC Metro area there are social rides for all levels throughout the year. The KCMBC sponsors five group ride including the wildly successful Ride the Fountains in Kansas City.
Bob: Any last thoughts?
Vance: Bob, bicycling has become my joy and passion. It’s a sport, lifestyle, and recreational pursuit that can be enjoyed by all ages. I practice bike law which is easy since my avocation becomes my vocation. Thanks and best regards.
Bob: Thanks Vance!
Bob Mionske is a former U.S. Olympic and pro cyclist, and a nationally-known bicycle accident lawyer based in Portland, Oregon, and affiliated with the Bike Law network. A prolific advocate for the rights of cyclists, Mionske began his advocacy on behalf of cyclists with his Legally Speaking column in VeloNews. In 2007, Mionske continued his advocacy for the rights of cyclists when he authored Bicycling & the Law. Two years later, Mionske launched his Road Rights column in Bicycling magazine. This year, Mionske has returned to his Legally Speaking roots at VeloNews, where he continues to advocate for the legal rights of cyclists.