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Willamette Week: Woman sues for over $100,000 after dooring incident

Posted by on July 10th, 2009 at 11:26 am

door zone warning stencil-10

A DIY warning.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The Willamette Week’s “Juicy Suits” column reports a lawsuit filed by a woman who crashed into a car door while riding her bike in Southeast Portland.

According to the WWeek, Kristin Ragnarsson alleges in the lawsuit that she was riding eastbound on SE Stark just past the intersection of SE 28th when a woman in a car opened a door in her path. Ragnarsson seeks over $12,000 in medical bills and up to $100,000 for pain and suffering.

Story continues below

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In Oregon, there is a law (ORS 811.490) that specifically prohibits opening a car door unless it is “reasonably safe to do so.” Local bike lawyer Ray Thomas has written an article on this topic where he states that, “Fortunately, this is one of those areas where the law is on the side of the bicycle rider.”

“Fortunately, this is one of those areas where the law is on the side of the bicycle rider.”
— Ray Thomas, lawyer and bicycle legal expert

However, as anyone who has taken a bike-related traffic incident to court can attest, there’s the law and then there’s a judge and jury. Thomas says in his experience with dooring cases, “the motorist is primarily at fault,” almost every time, but that doesn’t mean the bike rider can expect to receive full judgment in their favor.

In part because the judge and jury are likely to be unfamiliar with what it’s like to ride on city streets, they often side with the motor vehicle operator’s point of view. That point of view, Thomas writes, often turns into the person in the car blaming the bike operator for going too fast and/or not paying close enough attention to avoid the door. That being known, Thomas has this advice:

“It is essential in every case that the bicyclist carefully remember and reconstruct the scene of the accident to demonstrate that there was not enough time to take necessary evasive action in order to avoid hitting the door.”

Of course, if you were riding way too fast and weren’t paying attention, you probably shouldn’t take the incident to court to begin with.

Read more about the lawsuit at WWeek.com and learn more about dooring law from Ray Thomas’s article.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

48 Comments
  • mark July 10, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I’ve narrowly avoided some of those incidents. The facts of the case are not clear so I have no opinion about who should win the case. I would say, though, that a rider always loses in this situation. The rider is the one that hits the door regardless of who is at fault. Whether you are compensated or not, you’re the one who lives with the consequences. So, ride as if every single vehicle is likely to make a mistake.

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  • Disastronaut July 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    What kind of “right hook” and “dooring” laws do they have here in Oregon?

    I hear about people getting killed by right hooks a lot but I was surprised to read how many cyclists are killed by drivers opening their doors on them.

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  • steve July 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    A few complaints with word choice, if I may.

    “…filed by a woman who crashed into a car door while riding her bike in Southeast Portland.”

    The door was thrown into her path of travel, the wording in your post makes it sound as if the door is a static object. And as such, somehow avoidable.

    “Of course, if you were riding way too fast and weren’t paying attention, you probably shouldn’t take the incident to court to begin with.”

    The only way a rider would be going ‘way too fast’ is if they had breached the posted speed limit. Your wording implies that speed is some arbitrary construct, needing to be discussed, rationalized, and defended. There is no need for that, as we conveniently have posted speed limits. The rider would either be speeding, or not. The term ‘way too fast’ is emotional and wholly unnecessary.

    Including the ‘paying attention’ bit is a little much as well. It implies a burden on the cyclist that should instead be placed on the person opening the door. A burden that the motorist has implicitly stated for them in Oregon law.

    This entire post seems rushed and poorly worded.

    Honestly, I am a bit surprised you didn’t mention her helmet usage, or lack thereof!

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  • Phil B July 10, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    get money!

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  • john.king@360.net July 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Steve is right on!
    I would like to add that I hope that the lady with the lawsuit WINS!!!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 10, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Steve,

    thanks for your feedback. sorry you don’t like my word choice. sometimes perhaps I try so hard to use neutral language that I overcompensate and end up getting it wrong.

    i’m very sensitive to word choice and i appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I’m going to go back into the story and possible do some edits.

    As for your comments about my paragraph with “way too fast” and “not paying attention”. .. my intention with that line was to share that it would be much more difficult to win the case (regardless of the law) if it could be shown that the person on the bike was indeed riding fast and/or was distracted with headphones, etc…

    thanks.

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  • steve July 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    No worries, Jonathan. I think you normally do a fine job with wording. In this instance, I was left feeling like I should have simply read the original article at WW.

    This piece seemed to have an unusual tone for this site, hence my chirping in. Anyway, thanks for always being so responsive to feedback! It is one of the many things that make BikePortland such a wonderful news source.

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  • martina July 10, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Being doored is one of my biggest fears. More that the pain of being hit by the door and falling, I fear that the car behind me won’t be able to break.

    I wish people getting out of their cars of would think about that possibility.

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  • April July 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    What I think is so insane about “dooring,” is that back in the day when I drove a car, I *always* looked before opening my door, if I was parked on the street. I still do, if I’m a passenger and my door is facing the road.

    And it wasn’t to look out for cyclists back then–although I would have seen them, too. I was afraid of a passing *car* whacking into my door!

    I am just amazed that people don’t look before opening their car doors.

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  • patrickz July 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Hard to conclude as to who is at fault. In 26 years of bike commuting I’ve never been doored, may be by sheer luck or because I’ve always kept an eye on the row of cars by the sidewalk. Most of the time, I see people on NE Broadway -for example- do a very thorough job of checking before opening doors. I’ve felt like thanking them as I go by. The one thing I learned ages ago, before bike lanes, was to keep an adequate distance and to check ahead for movements inside parked cars. I wish the article gave more details.

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  • Schrauf July 10, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Steve, I disagree with your speed limit comment. There is a basic speed law that applies to cyclists as well as motorists. The posted speed limit is the maximum, but conditions may require a lower legal limit if necessary for safety.

    A cyclist traveling 25 mph in a 25 mph zone, but in a bike lane easily within easy range of potential doors, would be a good example of conditions that require a lower speed. 25 mph may be fine – but just get the hell out of the bike lane, as we are allowed to do in Oregon to when necessary to avoid unsafe conditions.

    Sure, this may lead to pissy motorists (screw them), or cops who stop you and don’t understand the bike lane laws, but that is the tradeoff for wanting to ride 25 mph in such conditions.

    Have said that, the door opening motorist is usually at least mostly at fault, and we need to have some examples made of them.

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  • JAT in Seattle July 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Predictable comments over at Willamette Week including some skepticism that a cyclist could suffer a compensable permenant injury in such a collision. Odd, considering how often the motoring public spouts the meme that cyclists should stay off the road since in any conflict with a big heavy car the bikes lose…

    Not to get too deeply involved in the helmet / no helmet religious war, but if, as asserted above, a cyclist’s outcome in court is determined by a judge and jury’s attitude about cyclists, seems to me that wearing a helmet is only going to help your case. Same goes for obeying posted traffic signs fotr that matter…

    I’m just sayin’

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  • Jeff Ong July 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Schrauf, I have to disagree with your assertion that the possibility of a motorist wantonly flinging open their door constitutes “unsafe conditions” and warrants a lower speed for cyclists. There is always the chance that someone will do something stupid — but that doesn’t put the burden of responsibility on others. “Unsafe conditions” would be slippery road surfaces, reduced visibility, etc. — not the chance that someone else will break the law.

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  • El Biciclero July 10, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    “I am just amazed that people don’t look before opening their car doors.” –April

    They may well be looking, but to them, cyclists are either invisible, or “static objects” that door-openers can’t imagine will be even with them faster than you can say “one Mississippi”. To quote Doc Brown from Back to the Future, “You’re not thinking four-dimensionally!”

    It’s the same problem that contributes to a lot of car-bike crashes every day, and the number one best excuse a driver can use to get off the hook after running over a cyclist: “I didn’t see him! He came out of nowhere!” Except for unlit cyclists at night, I fail to understand how “I didn’t see [a cyclist]” is consistently translated as “[The cyclist] should have made himself more visible”–implying no responsibility on the part of the motorist to “see” more diligently. “I didn’t see him” should always be answered with “Well, you should have been watching what you were doing.”

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  • todd boulanger July 10, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    This issue used to be addressed by many communities in code by requiring the driver to exit out the curbside (passenger) door.

    I know that the days of bench seats are long gone (bucket seats rule) but perhaps this law could be updated to require loading unloading from only curb side when parked along a bike lane…that drivers would take full responsibility for actions with in the bike lane if they proceeded to load unload in the traffic lane (bike or car). This is more important for bike lanes along arterials with 85th pecentile speeds over 30 mph.

    My 2 euro cents… from Den Haag NL. (Off to Texel NL next.)

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  • BURR July 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    The easiest way to avoid a ‘dooring’ is to not ride in the ‘door zone’, every bicycle safety fact sheet I’ve ever seen says this. Despite this, I see scores of cyclists every day ignoring this simple advice.

    That being said, where’s the education aimed at motorists informing them of their responsibility to check for cyclists before opening a car door into traffic and thier liability under the law if they fail to perform this duty as a motorist????

    Or the education aimed at motorists that informs them that the correct place for cyclists to be riding on the street is outside the door zone???

    IMO, the lack of this last piece of motorist education is responsible for a widespread misconception among motorists (and unfortunately among the police as well)that a properly positioned bicyclist is actually ‘impeding’ traffic.

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  • Dan July 10, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I just pretty much assume any door could open at any moment, and try to ride defensively based on that. Yes, I do leave the bike lane quite a bit around parked cars.

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  • pdxrocket July 10, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    If she receives $100,000 for suffering than justice will certainly NOT prevail. She deserves something, but not that much…this is the reason our insurance costs go through the roof all the time.

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  • El Biciclero July 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Regarding the “Basic Rule” as applied to bikes:

    I agree that there are certain conditions that make it “reasonable and prudent” for a cyclist to maintain a speed lower than what would be considered “reasonable and prudent” for a car: wet weather or general braking limitations of bikes, for example. What I would question is how many other conditions are imposed by a system that is auto-centric. Conditions ranging from psychological conditioning not to look for bikes, to bike lane conditions or expected routes (MUPs) that make it impossible to travel at a speed comparable to motor vehicles, even if a cyclist is capable of those speeds. It’s a bit like telling a kid not to run with scissors, and then telling him he has to carry a pair of scissors around wherever he goes.

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  • resident July 10, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    “Way too fast” is the biggest load of crap statement out there, typically coming from the driver of a car, which by the way travels much faster.

    I agree with pdxrocket, no $, just a couple days of jail time for the door swinger. That would change behaivior!

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  • Esta Nevando Aqui July 10, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    It’s also important to note that, under a fair reading of Oregon law, you’re not required to ride in a bike lane or, where there is no bike lane, as far to the right as practicable, if that requires you to ride in the door zone.

    All those bike lanes that are in door zones, and there are tons of them in this town, are strictly optional.

    This and the right hook are the two biggest design flaws in bike lanes. No bike lane should ever be placed immediately adjacent to parallel parking spaces.

    The law does not require bicyclists to put themselves in danger due to the incompetence of PBOT/ODOT engineers.

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  • Zaphod July 10, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Riding in the door zone is a game of statistics. Best to avoid it where appropriate.

    It would be nice if road markings were based on a new formula. If the road is too narrow, apply sharrows. If it has the width, move the bike lane out of the door zone, stripe the door zone area and ticket vehicles that protrude into that space. I know, budget woes and all… but it would be nice.

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  • David Guettler July 10, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    There are too many ways of getting hurt out there. Please people, don’t be afraid to slow down and help keep yourself safe.

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  • Shawna July 10, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I was doored last summer, and it was a horrible experience. Fortunately, I was riding pretty slowly (end of a long, hard day at work, and I was really just trudging home), and also fortunately, I was far enough from the car door that only the far corner of it nicked my foot and caught the pedal once I was almost past the door. Still, it basically was like being knocked off balance by a swinging baseball bat, and I careened wildly into the middle of the street and crashed. Hard. I won’t even go into how horrible my interaction with the driver was. But I will say that you can’t always tell if someone is simply sitting in a car. I’m damn near obsessive compulsive about checking for people in cars, and I had my eye on this car for a full 30 seconds or more as I approached it after waiting at a stop sign for other traffic to pass. Nobody got in or out, no lights were on, no movement at all. The woman was literally sitting in her car for a few minutes going over a grocery list or something and just “popped out” when she realized she’d forgotten something. But she was short enough so that the headrest on her seat obscured my view of her completely. What really maddened me about it was that she wouldn’t have had to look around a bunch to see me. I was almost past her when it happened, so she would have only needed to look up, period. But I see drivers every day looking down, or at something in the passenger seat, WHILE they are simultaneously opening the door.

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  • Noah July 10, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Speaking from experience being doored sucks, I got doored on 26th and Clinton but it had more to do with the scenery outside the bar across the street. When it happened I was so angry and then realized I was riding to close to car doors and not paying enough attention, which I find to be a common problem here in Portland. I travel everywhere by bike and notice a ton of close calls whether with cars, pedestrians or other objects. I believe its because Portland is so “bike friendly” that people take certain things for granted, just because the city is friendly to bikes doesnt mean that the masses that have never ridden a bike understand anything about how a bicycle operates. Just last night I had a guy run a stop sign flying down hill and almost ran me down while I was on foot in the crosswalk. If all cyclists were super aware all the time and followed traffic laws alot of these incidents would’nt be happening as much. But dont get me wrong I love to blast some Jamiroquai from my speakers and gallabant around town with the best of them.

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  • BURR July 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    It used to be pretty easy to check to see if a person was sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked vehicle, just by looking through the rear window of the parked vehicles you were about to pass.

    Not anymore. The advent of high headrests and tinted windows has put an end to those days.

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  • Steve Brown July 10, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    The litigant may stand a better chance in the eyes of the court as looking before one opens a door into any type of traffic is required, regardless of the presence of a cyclist. Even as an observant driver I am always scared making a right turn across a bike path. One of my pet peeves is the need to change to the California system. Regardless, I hope she wins. If you are too lazy or stupid to look before you open a car door in a bike lane you are both dangerous and negligent and need to be responsible for your actions.

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  • tonyt
    tonyt July 10, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    “Of course, if you were riding way too fast and weren’t paying attention, you probably shouldn’t take the incident to court to begin with.”

    Jonathan, I must say that I’m really surprised and disappointed by the tone of this editorializing. Steve thinks it sounds like the WW, I think it sounds like the O.

    Given that most streets around town are AT LEAST 25 mph, what exactly is “way too fast?”

    Sounds like something that would come out of the mouth of Lt. Kruger (ouch) in one of his infamous “blame the cyclist” post-accident press statements.

    Weird. First thing I did when I read that paragraph was look to see whose name was in the byline. Didn’t sound at all like you.

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  • peejay July 10, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Steve Brown:

    If by “the California system” you mean the right/obligation of the driver to obstruct the bike lane prior to making a right turn, no thanks. It’s not proven to reduce crashes, and, very often, merely leads to blockage of the bike lane. I see this frequently in Beaverton and other suburbs, and I respond by a quick slap to the right mirror, and a “GET OUT OF THE BIKE LANE!”

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  • buzz July 10, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    The thing that freaks me out so much about getting doored (thankfully I never have), is that it seems like you almost have to pick your poison: Do I slam into the door or do I weave out in traffic and run the risk of getting hit?

    As far as “take necessary evasive action in order to avoid hitting the door,” I guess the thing about getting doored is that I am not going to have time to peer over my shoulder and see if there are no cars coming.

    However, any driver that regularly parks a car in that area of SE should no better to make sure there are no bikes coming. I do hope she wins and there can be some precedents made from this.

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  • peejay July 10, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    As for the WW article, go and read it. Classic case of car/bike war instigation. Aren’t they tired of that yet? It’s just as bad as the w*btrends ads.

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  • patrickz July 10, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I’m with buzz (#30) in hoping that there will be some outcome that sets a precedent. Up to now, dooring _or not_depends mostly on luck, and there are too many of us on the roads for that to continue unmet and not formally dealt with.
    Otherwise, be safe everyone.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 10, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    “Jonathan, I must say that I’m really surprised and disappointed by the tone of this editorializing. Steve thinks it sounds like the WW, I think it sounds like the O.”

    I must say folks, I’ve never gotten this much flack over one sentence. It is just one sentence. I would think regular readers would know more about where I’m coming from than to get so hung up on it.

    But that being said, I understand and respect the concerns with it.

    Keep in mind too that because of the volume of stuff (emails/stories/phone calls) I deal with on daily basis, I turn stories around very quickly. I don’t have an editor or anyone that reads my work before I hit “publish”.

    I realize that’s not an excuse, but just wanted to give some background on my world.

    I think what happened with that line is that I felt by referring to Ray Thomas’ article — wherein he says that cars are always to blame and assumes the bike is totally guilt free — I wanted to counter that tone by putting out there that it is possible for some blame to go to the bike if the person on the bike was riding erratically or in a way that was not safe.

    Just trying to explain myself a bit here. hope that helps.

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  • tonyt
    tonyt July 10, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Jonathan,

    I suppose in a way that it’s a compliment. That the sentence struck a number of people as being so strange speaks to your otherwise very consistent and laudable tone.

    Happy Friday!

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  • joey July 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Sue the city for putting the bike lane in the door zone and creating this unsafe situation to begin with.

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  • jacque July 10, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Yes, do what joey said.

    And Jonathon… I winced when I read that sentence too. It sounded crazy, coming from your finger tips. 🙂 happy mmr friday!

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  • jacque July 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Ah poop, don’t do what joey said… there’s no bike lane there is there? Why was she so close to the parked cars? She didn’t have to be… this complicates things

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  • Vance Longwell July 10, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Say, I think too it is relevant to mention that loading, and unloading a vehicle, via a passenger door, from a roadway, is illegal in Oregon as well. Leastwise I think it is. I usually look it up, sorry but the thread is too old.

    Pretty sure though, and this is a source of a lot of peril for bicyclists.

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  • old&slow July 10, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    It has been said ad nausium but why ride 2 feet from parked cars? Really, this is Darwin at work here. It is just a white line, whenever I ride next to parked cars (everyday) I ride far enough away not to be “doored”.
    It isn’t rocket science.

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  • Drew July 11, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Recently read something about how in Germany, if you take a driving test, and (while parked) you use the hand closest to the door to open it, you fail.
    The action of using the far hand turns the body around and encourages the operator to look at what’s behind.
    They also automatically take away the driver license when you turn 75.
    Never been there, but if this is the case, they sound way ahead of the US in car safety.

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  • Keith Morris July 11, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I can’t believe how many people just accept the possibility of getting doored which can result in serious injuries or death. Riding around a city I take the lane (if there’s more than one in the same direction I stay in the right one to let drivers by) and the chance of getting doored is magically gone. Guess I just value my life more than letting a motorist shave a few seconds off their drive. If you choose to drive behind me, you chose to be slowed down.

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  • John Peterson July 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    My door avoidance strategy is taking the lane and staying out of the door zone…not weaving in and out of door zone that’s probably worse and more dangerous…just staying out there whenever passing a line of parked cars.

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  • john.king@360.net July 11, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    “If she receives $100,000 for suffering than justice will certainly NOT prevail. She deserves something, but not that much…this is the reason our insurance costs go through the roof all the time.”

    RIDE A BICYCLE!

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  • jim July 12, 2009 at 12:55 am

    It’s interesting that a car is not suposed to pass within 3 ft of a bicycle, however a bicycle can pass within 3 ft of a car. Who is putting themselves in danger? At the same time you don’t really want to ride too close to the traffic lanes either or your going to get hit by a truck mirror

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  • jJohn in NH July 12, 2009 at 7:07 am

    I found this a major problem when riding in Leeds UK on roads with no cycle lane. I was mere inches from their door in a lot of cases because if I was not I was going to be run over by a bus a lorry and 3 cars (pretty much at the same time) it was not a big road, just a normal 35mph 2 lane but major commuter road, lots of cyclists as well, but the cars were residential parked cars on the morning commute side so usually the person coming out of their house could be seen and they would wait for me (or others) to pass before opening. The commute home side was car free on the shoulder so less problems. I cam close to being doored once in London on a small narrow street, thankfully I knew there were no cars behind me so was able to swerve, but man I think being doored scares me the most when cycling with traffic

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  • TS July 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I had the experience of nearly door-ing a cyclist a while back. (The cyclist had to take evasive action.) I felt terrible about it.

    I’m hardly careless about opening a car door — both because of the risk to the car (from other cars) and who/what I might hit with the door. In this case, I glanced behind and checked the rear-view mirror. Nothing there. Yet I was inches or milliseconds away from hurting a cyclist.

    I was driving a small vehicle, and a large vehicle was (parallel-)parked behind me. It’s poor infrastructure design, but sometimes cyclists really are invisible, even to an attentive motorist who’s looking. Really, I’d like to ban on-street parking altogether. If it’s not doors from parallel-parking, it’s people backing out blind because it’s literally impossible to see around the other cars.

    And an aside to @Steve Brown (#27): Have you lived in California, under the “California system”? It’s horrible — worse than Oregon (and that’s from my personal experience). Please don’t advocate for Oregon, or anywhere else, to copy CA in that regard.

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  • KWW July 13, 2009 at 12:20 am

    The doors, they chase me in a night terrors…

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  • Sarah O July 20, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    In this hot weather, I’ve seen a lot of people on my commute home up N. Williams sitting in their car, on the right-hand side, with their DOOR HANGING OPEN IN THE BIKE LANE. Just sitting there, completely blocking the lane, while waiting outside a bodega for their friend to come out, airing out their hot car! During afternoon rush-hour traffic with an unbroken line of cars to the left of the cycling lane, this is unbelievable to me that so many people could be so clueless. I find myself fantasizing about a high-powered air cannon mounted on my handlebars, ready to blast the door blocking my path clear off its hinges.

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