Bikers beware of ‘dooring’ — a hot topic in big cities with new bike-share programs

By Margaret Haberman,
on July 03, 2013 at 8:00 AM, updated July 03, 2013 at 7:49 PM

Source: The Oregonian

A common safety tip for cyclists: Keep vigilant to avoid "dooring" -- when motorists fling open doors in their paths. Many Portland bike lanes are designed wider and with buffers for that very reason. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

A common safety tip for cyclists: Keep vigilant to avoid “dooring” — when motorists fling open doors in their paths. Many Portland bike lanes are designed wider and with buffers for that very reason. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

The phenomenon is so common that it’s become a verb: “dooring.”

It describes when a car door springs open as a bike passes. Most cyclists know the pain of a direct hit or at least the rush of adrenalin that comes with making a rapid-fire swerve to avoid impact.

My first close encounter with a car door came early: When I was a kid in Nebraska and a neighbor clipped me while I was riding my hand-me-down Huffy. The scar where the door caught me on the hand faded after a few years.

As the nation’s biggest cities launch bike-sharing system, dooring has hit the headlines.

Chicago recently doubled down on fines for people who commit dooring — just in time for the kickoff of its Divvy rental bike program last week. Now it’s a $1,000 ding when a bike crash results from a dooring and $300 for leaving a door open in traffic. (The city also bumped up fines for bike riders who ignore traffic laws — from $25 to a range of $50 to $200 depending on the transgression.)

Chicago logged more than 250 dooring accidents last year, according to the mayor’s office. That included the death of a man on his way to work who was killed when he swung into the path of a semi-trailer truck to avoid an open door.

The city also began an awareness campaign for its 7,000 taxicabs, with stickers on the rear passenger windows that warn: “Look! Before Opening Your Door.” The stickers were designed by the Chicago studio where the dooring victim, Neill Townshend, worked.

In a story about bike safety shortly after New York’s Citi Bike kiosks opened for business, The New York Times noted that drivers in the Netherlands learn to open car doors with their right hand, reaching across their bodies. That forces them to look over their shoulders for their country’s ubiquitous bikes.

The Toronto Star last month sounded off about its city’s hidden dooring problem.”

In Portland, the city collects bike accident stats, but doesn’t keep track of individual dooring crashes.

But the Portland Transportation Bureau is well aware of the problem and addresses it through education (with bike maps and bike safety tips) and bike lane design, says spokeswoman Diane Dulken.

“We actually have gone a long way in preventing that kind of incident that other cities are experiencing,” Dulken says.

Many Portland bike lanes are wider and some have some buffers between the lane and parked cars (though some of the older lanes don’t), she says.

Even so, it behooves cyclists to practice defensive riding. When Dulken rides, she keeps an ear out for the creak of an opening door and an eye out for people sitting behind the wheels of parked cars.

“You have to be aware,” she says.

Here’s advice from the city’s “A Guide to Your Ride“:

“It is illegal for a motorist to open a car door if it interferes with the movement of traffic or leave a door open for a period of time longer than is necessary to load or unload passengers. When riding next to parked cars, particularly in heavily used parking areas, be alert to car doors opening suddenly in front of you. Scan ahead to see if driver or passengers are in the car on the street side. Give yourself a buffer by riding a little farther away from the ‘door zone.'”

— Margaret Haberman