Setting Bruised Egos Aside

Summary

It’s been my policy to view the Internet not as an “Information Highway,” but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.

— Mike Royko

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The “Tips On Avoiding Door-ing” thread took a turn for the better this weekend. That is a good thing and something that everyone can build upon. This wonderful tool that we have (electronic networking) can either inspire or confound us. It seems all too often people decide to get territorial and then recalcitrant as they attempt to defend something they might have said in a hasty moment.

Devoid of body language and facial expressions written communications are tough to interpret. You can sound pompous when you do not mean to and arrogant when you are trying to impart wisdom. It just depends on the recipient’s state of mind or perhaps even yours.

This thread like so very many on the ChainLink can turn on a dime to a diatribe against automobiles. It is always reminiscent of sitting at a table with a half dozen divorcees who are discussing their “ex-husbands” and by extension men in general. If you are a single woman looking to get married this could be the wrong place to be in short order.

Nothing turns off the would be cyclist like listening to “urban cyclists” dissing them without their critics realizing what they are doing. Most potentially new cyclists are probably motorists at this point. So wading through thread-after-thread about the evil and malevolent motoring public is something of a turn-off if you were thinking about setting aside the family automobile in favor of riding to work on your bike.

But aside from the “hatin’ on motorists’ that ChainLinkers love to do, there is also the inadvertent “scaring the crap out of me” tales of near misses and actual collisions and descriptions of photos too graphic to share with the forum. It must be like this when you as a coop wannabe sits down at the table with a group over luncheon when they start comparing scars, lost limbs, blinded eyes, destroyed joints and autopsy photos while gaily asking when you plan to enter the academy.

If you spouse were to be sitting at that table you can imagine what their reaction might be. Not a day goes by when a cops wife or fire fighters husband does not dread the ringing of the telephone or the knock on the door that reveals two fellow officers. The same can be said of the spouses of combat soldiers who suddenly look up from the table to see a chaplain and a squad commander exiting a vehicle and heading for their door.

We as cyclists need to think long and hard about how we deal with our fears and loathings and how they affect others. Cycling here is not quite like what you see taking place in Amsterdam. We are dealing on this side of the pond with hand-me-down ideas about bicycle infrastructure. We are like teenagers who are so green around the gills that when a couple of Peace Corps members show off a decades old X-Box game station to us we are literally wetting ourselves with joy. Little do we know how ancient this system really is and how much more impressive an up-to-date unit would be.

But we cannot afford even this ancient unit given the poverty in our village. So we are happy beyond belief and envied by our peers to have what little we can get.

In the pictures linked to above you see images that are really quite foreign to Chicago for the most part. We come close when you consider the Chicago Lakefront Trail perhaps. But none of these pictures looks even remotely as threatening as Milwaukee Avenue or any of the very busy thoroughfares on the north side of the city during Rush Hour. These images are truly of Bicycle Heaven.

The Dawning of the Enormity of the Door Zone Problem

Reply by Thunder Snow 4 hours ago
Ah, thank you Kevin, Cameron & Peenworm, now I get it. I’ve been thinking of dooring as only coming from parked cars on my right while you guys got doored by cars pausing in the travel lanes, and got slammed from the left.

That seems even more problematic as, presumably, it isn’t the driver with a rear view mirror at hand who’s jumping out, but it’s rear seat passengers in a cab or car, who don’t have mirrors, possibly kids without much sense of what could happen. That’s one ugly situation.

Reply by Kevin C 2 hours ago
My adjustment has been to ride more slowly in areas where I have stopped vehicles on both sides that don’t provide me with a safe zone for avoiding “the door zone.” Sometimes it’s on both sides, and sometimes the only “safe” course of action is to be prepared to stop.

Reply by h’ 36 minutes ago
I think reducing speed and being prepared to stop in situations as you describe would also be my top “tip” for avoiding dooring.

Evidently it has begun to dawn on the thread participants that door-ing is more pervasive than they had originally conceived it to be. You are likely not just to have to keep an eye out from doors opening from the right (as you ride alongside them in the bike lane) but cars to the left can also have exiting passengers who of course have no mirrors whatsoever and are likely to be children or elderly parents or distracted business travelers coming in on the “Red Eye” and trying to hurry into their hotel for some much needed rest before a stressful and career changing presentation.

In short these nasty vile motorists could be our parents or offspring or even us. It all depends on circumstances. Nobody is trying to door us for the fun of it (despite the silly and vulgar rantings of sports talk show hosts). More than likely these humans are as clueless about what just occurred as we might be in the same situation. But despite our intentions someone is lying on the pavement and we immediately understand that this situation is not going to go away easily.

Things might be beyond the point of saying “Oops! My bad” because the person is lying lifeless on the pavement. Cops are already on the scene and we may have come from a dinner where we had a single glass of Merlot, but who knows what the cops are going to make of that.

Cyclists are unfortunately often in the habit of basking in victimhood. That absolves us (in our own minds) from having to take ownership of any blame. But as the last of these thread entries indicates we need to rethink our approach to dealing with dangerous situations. Some of the respondents have had multiple involvements with cars:

Reply by Anne Alt 8 hours ago
I talk about some near misses, when I need to vent a bit to work through it. Sometimes I share with my husband, sometimes with friends – depends on the timing of the incident and where it is.

When my dad was still around, I didn’t talk to him about near misses after my summer of disaster back in 2000 (2 doorings and an endo) left him more than a bit freaked out. I made a point to tell him about the fun stuff after that and leave out the scary stuff.

All we know about cars and bicycles and pedestrians is that they tend to have some very nasty altercations with one another and themselves from time-to-time. The entire purpose for the science of Traffic Engineering is to help eliminate these negative interactions by making them less likely. But short of segregated bicycle lanes there is very little chance that we are likely to see parents toodling along with babies in their bakfiets along Milwaukee Avenue during Rush Hour. It is simply too dangerous.

We must not be ashamed or fearful of admitting that we are sometimes afraid of what we endure each time we enter traffic. It would be downright stupid for a soldier to deny the possibility of meeting an untimely death on their next patrol around Kandahar. Likewise if you find yourself refraining from telling a loved one about the near misses you have encountered that should tell you everything you need to know about your deepest and most sincere thoughts on the safety of cycling.

Urban Cyclists are often aware that they lives are as fragile as those of cops on patrol or firefighters answering the bell that summons them to a raging inferno. Trying to wish this away because of some notion of increased ridership seems a bit silly. Why?

Well think if it this way. If you increase the number of people riding bicycles on the roadway, you also increase the likelihood of accidents. Over time as motorists become accustomed to seeing more cyclists the accident rates subside. But it should not be surprising that there is a spike in the short term until both cyclists and motorists are acclimated to the new reality of greater numbers.

But as the numbers of cyclists goes up there is a corresponding increase in bike-on-bike interactions as well. And eventually you could reach a situation where the accident rates start to climb again. This is essentially what has happened in Amsterdam and Copenhagen of late. They are experiencing bicycle rush hours and increased congestion due to the number of bicycles. Their success at increasing ridership has become something of a burden.

It is of course not necessarily an insoluble problem. There will have to be adjustments to the timing of traffic signals and perhaps the widening of bike highways and such. But eventually it can be anticipated that if the right changes are made things can get better. But sometimes getting what you wish for has its own problems.

In the meantime is would be nice to build on a more humble set of assertions about cycling and what might be done to make it safer for everyone.