This is BP subscriber John Liu’s second article. The first one was about right-hooks.
This series of posts is meant to share riding skills for people who want to take extra precautions against drivers who are distracted, careless, aggressive, inexperienced, or simply fallible humans and for drivers who don’t ever want to hurt or kill a cyclist through poor driving.
Don’t read this post if you want to know a cyclist’s or driver’s “legal responsibility” or you want to know what cycling “should be” like in an ideal world. As bicycle operators, we can ignore everything I write about here, and we may still be legally “in the right”. And dead.
About me: 40+ years of riding bikes in cities, 30+ years of driving in cities, 10 years year-round bike commuting in Portland, licensed driver with motorcycle endorsement, zero bicycle-car collisions as either a cyclist or a driver.
What is dooring?
A dooring is when the occupant of a parked vehicle opens the vehicle’s door into the path of a passing cyclist. In the typical dooring, the vehicle is parked in the curbside parking lane and the door is opened into the face of a cyclist in the bike lane painted alongside the parking lane. That’s why we call these “door zone bike lanes”.
Why do doorings happen?
This is a common type of collision. Some studies find 8% to 12% of urban cycling crashes are doorings.
Drivers and passengers sometimes throw their vehicle doors open, without looking for cyclists approaching from the rear. The cyclist collides with the suddenly opened door, crashes trying to avoid the door, or is forced to suddenly swerve into traffic.
How to protect yourself against dooring
The basic precaution is to ride at a safe distance from parked cars and watch for opening doors.
Ride at least three feet away from parked vehicles.
In a door zone bike lane on the right-hand-side of the road, the Defensive Rider will ride on the far left edge of the bike lane. Given a standard bike lane five feet wide and a car parked tight to the curb, a suddenly opened door shouldn’t quite reach her. (If in a left-hand-side bike lane, then ride on the far right edge of the bike lane.)
When riding in a street without a bike lane, if the Defensive Rider can lean over and almost touch the parked cars with her fingertips… that’s too close.
Watch for car doors starting to open. Look through the rear window for signs that the vehicle is occupied – bodies, heads, or movement. Other warning signs include a car that just parked, taillights or interior lights “on”, or windows rolling up.
Two cyclists shouldn’t ride side-by-side if one of them will be close to parked cars.
If the bike lane is very narrow, if your bike is wide (cargo bike, etc), if parked cars are partly occupying the bike lane, the Defensive Rider will slow down and ride with extra caution – or ride in the travel lane.
Even the Defensive Rider will sometimes still have car doors opened in her path, but instead of a bad accident, she’ll continue safely on her way with an extra burst of adrenaline from the close call. It’s okay to swear.
How drivers can protect against dooring
Before opening the vehicle’s door, the Responsible Driver (and Responsible Passenger) will look over his shoulder and make absolutely sure there is no bicycle approaching. A glance in the side mirror is not enough.
Reach across your body with your right hand to open the driver’s door. The “Dutch reach” — opening the door with your right hand instead of your left — makes it natural to check over your left shoulder.
Don’t park your vehicle where it encroaches on the bike lane. Park tight to the curb, especially full-size vehicles with long doors.
Tell your passengers to look before opening their doors or to exit curbside.
When driving, leave room for cyclists to ride at safe distance from parked cars.
Variations on dooring
Drivers walking to their car will sometimes step into the bike lane and open their car door, without looking. The Defensive Rider watches for persons walking between parked cars or standing next to a parked car.
Cyclists can also collide with vehicles pulling out from a parking space, if the driver hasn’t checked for bikes before pulling out. Drivers in diagonally parked cars sometimes cannot see the bike lane behind them due to other parked vehicles. Watch for taillights and reverse lights, for heads and movement.
Some bike lanes are “parking-protected”, placed between the curb and the parking lane. Stay alert, cyclists can get doored on the passenger side of a car just easily as on the driver side.
Okay, that’s what I have to say. Any other Defensive Riders want to chime in? How do you stay safe on the imperfect streets where we live?
— John Liu, BikePortland Subscriber (Want the ability to post stories? Support BP and join our community today.)
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