The Road to Success is Paved with Potholes: Pittsburgh Bike Share Lawsuits are (probably) in the Pipeline.

This past weekend during the Open Streets event in Downtown Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Bike Share launched Healthy Ride.  With thousands of people flooding the streets from Market Square to Lawrenceville, and with hundreds of cyclists racing along the North Shore, the kickoff event was, by all accounts, a success. While the bike share may have won the first battle, it has not yet won the war.  And if history does repeat itself, there will be a war.

For example, NYC’s bike share program was embattled from its inception in 2012.  The city’s comptroller warned that the city could face a pile of lawsuits from accidents involving shared bikes.  With 10,000 shared bikes hitting the streets, NYC was concerned that its $10 Million insurance policy wouldn’t be enough to cover potential exposure.  Indeed, probably the most high profile personal injury lawsuit involving the NYC bike share includes a claim for $15 Million in damages by a 73-year-old plaintiff who suffered a head injury and nerve damage when the front wheel of the shared bike hit a barrier used to prevent cars from backing into the bike share docking stations.  Accidents happen.  And sometimes the best we can do is evaluate risks, minimize potential liability, and buy insurance. (Aside: Call Attorney Rick Holzworth at Fox Rothschild for advice on evaluating risk and navigating liability insurance issues).

Other than the inevitable personal injury lawsuits, the NYC bike share also faced stiff legal challenges from stakeholders who did not suffer any physical injury.  Despite polls showing huge support for the general concept of the bike share program, NYC residents and business filed at least four legal challenges to the placement of bike share racks in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  The suits made various arguments, including claims that the racks took up too much space in a small park and that a bike docking station did not qualify as “parkland use” because the bike share program serves “commuters” and not “pleasure riders.”  The Plaza Hotel even filed a lawsuit to have a bike share docking station removed on aesthetic, preservationist, and environmental grounds, arguing that it was blight on the landmark hotel.

While the lawsuits contesting the location of bike share docking stations have been largely unsuccessful in NYC, the Pittsburgh Bike Share must be prepared to deal with similar legal challenges, as well as other potholes in the form of commercial contract disputes (like this one) that tend to threaten the long-term success and vitality of such programs, even if the opposition actually supports the bike share concept.

For specific questions or concerns regarding legal challenges to the Pittsburgh Bike Share, contact Rick Holzworth at rholzworth@foxrothschild.com.

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