- The Chicago Bicycle Advocate: Defendant, Chicago Police Officer’s Claim To CBS News That Bicyclist Did Not Have The Right Of Way Is Nonsense (PDF)
On Saturday, CBS Chicago reported on a lawsuit our firm filed on behalf of Tina Danzy who was doored by a Chicago police officer. Somewhat surprisingly, the officer involved gave an interview to the CBS reporter claiming that Ms. Danzy “did not have the right of way.” We were not contacted to comment on the story.
The collision occurred on April 10, 2014 at around 4:50 p.m. The weather was clear and pleasant. The sun was still shinning. Ms. Danzy, a very experienced city cyclist, was riding her bicycle in the clearly marked, dedicated bicycle lane southwest on South Blue Island Avenue. When she reached 1412 South Blue Island, the police officer who had parked her vehicle along the curb to the right of the bike lane suddenly opened her door into Ms. Danzy’s path. The door sprung opened so quickly that there was nothing she could do to avoid it. She sustained a deep facial laceration requiring sutures and injuries to her tailbone, thigh and right hand.
The idea that Ms. Danzy “did not have the right of way” is nonsense. Bicyclists have the right to travel along the right side of roadways in Chicago and utilize the bike lanes provided for that purpose. Drivers on the other hand have a duty, under both the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Municipal Code of Chicago to look before opening their doors. The Municipal Code states:
No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
Police officers have the same duty as the rest of the citizenry to follow the law. The officer who injured Ms. Danzy failed to look for bicycle traffic in the bike lane which she undoubtedly knew was immediately to the left of her vehicle. As a result, she caused the crash and the resulting injuries.
As noted, we have filed a lawsuit against the officer and her employer, The Chicago Police Department, and intend to get our client compensated for the harms inflicted upon her and losses she has experienced, including the medical bills she has incurred and cannot afford to pay.
A new study has found that buffered bike lanes are better than conventional bike lanes when it comes to encouraging bicyclists to ride outside the door zone. The study draws its conclusion, in part, based on a test done with bike lanes in Chicago.
The study, recently published by the Transportation Research Board, concludes that wider but un-buffered bike lanes aren’t necessarily better than narrower lanes in encouraging bicyclists to ride outside the door zone. If there’s enough space to make a wider bike lane, the authors conclude, that extra space should be used to install a “narrower bicycle lane with a parking-side buffer,” which “provides distinct advantages over a wider bike lane with no buffer.”
Researchers reached their conclusions after observing thousands of cyclists using various bike lane configurations in Chicago and Cambridge, Massachusetts. On one Chicago street, for example, few bicyclists rode outside the door zone when the bike lane had no buffer, then after a two-foot buffer was striped, 40 percent rode outside the door zone:
That’s because the door zone is four feet wide, and riding in the center of a six-foot-wide bike lane still doesn’t give a cyclist enough clearance. The Chicago Bike Map itself recommends riding four feet away from parked cars, well outside the center line of even a six-foot-wide lane.
The on-street tests demonstrated that a six-foot-wide bike lane offers no advantage over one that’s five feet wide, or even four feet wide. Regardless of the width, bicyclists still ride in the center of the lane — within the radius of a typical car door swinging open. Dooring crashes are common in urban areas like Chicago: In 2012, the last year for which data is available, 18 percent of reported bike crashes were doorings.
Chicago has several six-foot-wide bike lanes, including those on Elston from North Avenue into the far northwest side, Division Street through Wicker Park, and Milwaukee between Division and Elston. The on-road test, using temporary bike lane stripes, took place on Division Street near California, and on Clark Street near Schiller. Both streets did not have bike lanes before, and then bike lanes of varying widths were installed, culminating in the buffered lanes that exist at those locations today.
The researchers were studying different types of bike lanes, and how people use them, in order to refine recommendations in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ “Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.” The guide recommends five-foot-wide bike lanes and says four-foot-wide bike lanes can be used in other situations — but it was based on trial and error, not scientific research.
While protected bike lanes weren’t studied in this research, the authors’ observations show how proximity to moving traffic contributes to doorings. For instance, the study concluded that, “as traffic volume increases, bicyclists move away from vehicles in the travel lane and position themselves closer to parked vehicles or the curb.” Researchers observed the same response as truck traffic increased in the travel lane. This puts bicyclists in the door zone — but with protected lanes, cyclists don’t have to ride next to motor vehicle traffic, and this isn’t a problem.
Chicago has been installing protected and buffered bike lanes across the city, and adding buffers to many conventional lanes. Those conversions are especially needed in locations where well-used conventional bike lanes have faded away, like along Division Street through Wicker Park and 18th Street through Pilsen. Whether those original bike lanes were six or five feet wide, their vanished lane markings now provide bicyclists with zero clues about how to keep comfortably away from moving traffic and outside the door zone.
Urban Cycling Is In That Awkward Teenage Phase
We are steadfastly against being told what to do. And yet we demand protection from the very automobiles that this video shows us to be unafraid to ride too close to and at too fast a pace. And make no mistake the rider in this video is experienced.
The law as it is currently written is lagging in its recognition that we know far more about designing streets than ever before. But cyclists are sometimes unwilling to step up and own their part in keeping the streets a safer place. We like our automobile driving counterparts are hitting pedestrians (who are in our full field of view) and killing them. And just like motorists we claim that the ‘accident‘ was unavoidable.
Being on the roadways takes full-time attentiveness. Motorists who ‘text‘ are not paying attention. Cyclists who ride too close and too fast to parked cars are not paying attention. The onus for our personal safety lies not in some law or getting a settlement but rather avoiding the problem in the first instance.
We need to be trained. We need that as part of a licensing protocol that drills into our minds the utter danger we are in all the time. Part of my dislike of videos like the one above is that it lulls the viewers into a false sense of confidence when they are on the streets. Notice how he rides between cars at speed with absolutely no room for a bailout should he need it.
Many of the urban cyclists that pass my parked car are exactly like this cyclist, but with half his God-given skills and reflexes. And that is why attempting to change the equation for mere mortals is important.
But no street redesign will ever take the place of prudent and judicious employment of your noggin and a healthy respect for your limitations.
What separates the cyclist in a Door Zone Collision situation is that he is the only one with a clear view of the playing field at all times. As with a Right Hook Accident there are moments when a cyclist (who should know better) allows himself to lose visual contact with the driver. When that happens death often results.
It is not important at that moment who is at fault. Once you are dead or severely injured you have gone past the point of it being possible to undo things. So in advance of that moment it is always prudent for the cyclist to assume that a driver getting out of a car is unaware of your presence and likely unable to see you despite taking the time to try to.
Modern cars are still relying on decades old side view mirrors. It is not universally the case that drivers side mirrors come with a convex secondary mirror, they should. But even if they did it does not relieve me of responsibility to assume that the driver is probably impaired in some way and the timing of my approach is all wrong for best dealing with a sudden opening door.
Buffered Lanes Are Better
The current designs (clearly the one being used in front of the police station where this accident occurred) are woefully out-of-date. They should be changed to reflect the current thinking about how best to train a cyclist to stay alert and at a safe distance. Again what the driver emerging from the car can or cannot see changes with each passing second. Having a mirror or mirrors on a given side of the vehicle does not mean that a driver can see me.
In fact, because most of the riders I know use a helmet mirror they could attest to the fact that it does not guarantee that you can actually see what is going on behind you. In most instances you have to turn your head to ‘scan‘ the area behind you. And even then the situation could change momentarily.
This is not unlike the problem with approaching an intersection and looking both ways to only discover that in the moment you began to move a fast moving bicycle or car or even a jogger could emerge from around the corner and suddenly you are either being struck or striking someone else.
The real ‘secret‘ to the buffered lane is the position that it trains the ride to choose. When riders on Jackson Blvd come past my vehicle they actually brush my left mirror. And in some cases they are clearly moving fast enough that my first glance rearward does not disclose their presence because they are too far away. But by riding alongside vehicles at that close proximity it means that even pedestrians who step out from between two parked cars are likely to collide with the fast moving cyclist.
Moving to the left and keeping your eyes on the passengers seated in their cars is the best strategy. Of course it does mean that you the cyclist also need to keep an eye on the traffic approaching from behind to your left. As I said being on the street with a bicycle is a ‘full-time job‘. Cyclists who lose concentration or travel too fast are the ones who end up colliding with car doors.
Door Zone Collisions and Right Hooks Are Preventable
Assigning blame will be the job of the judge who hears the case being brought. But that is small comfort to your family if you are dead or seriously injured. So rather than focusing on who is responsible, it is far better to simply ‘own your job as a self-provider‘.
Never assume anything. There are no situations where you can avoid having to be careful. It might mean traveling at a slower pace but that is what is often required if you cannot ride far enough to the left of car doors.
Likewise if you are crossing and intersection alongside a truck or bus, assume that the driver is distracted or unable to see you. In fact never try and approach an intersection when there is a chance that a vehicle might be turning.