Doors make better windows

A commonly shared fear of the cyclist in the city is the ubiquitous driver's side car door. My recent run-in (literally) with one such door indicates that my fear is not unfounded in New West.

A commonly shared fear of the cyclist in the city is the ubiquitous driver’s side car door. My recent run-in (literally) with one such door indicates that my fear is not unfounded in New West.

City cyclists share a common fear of being 'doored' (accidentally crashing into an open car door). Photo: Wikimedia Commons
City cyclists share a common fear of being 'doored' (accidentally crashing into an open car door). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

From a cyclist’s perspective, the car door is an unpredictable hazard—every parked car we pass may contain a driver (or passenger) with one hand on the latch and the other grabbing keys, parking meter change, wallet, purse, badminton birdie, etc. In that crucial moment our safety rests in the hand on the latch, depending on a message from a pair of eyes that shoulder check, or at least check mirrors, before giving the all clear to swing an anchored, edgy steel object into our narrow path of travel.

There are measures bike riders can take to protect themselves. Visibility probably has the most impact (in preventing the most impacts). Bright, flashing, headlights work well at night, as does reflective and brightly coloured clothing. Bikesense.bc advises: ride in a straight line, stay alert and ride no closer that one metre from parked cars.

Section 203 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act states: A person must not open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.” This information has value to drivers, who may not know that the law is not likely to favor their decision to open a door that in turn meets a conveyance. I compare this to a rear-ender: generally, the courts will rule that a vehicle that rear-ends a vehicle in front is 100 per cent at fault. In our scenario, the door is the rear-ender.

My collision resulted in some scrapes and bruises and the cost of a new bike wheel. If I had been moving faster it could have been much worse. What I’ve taken from this is that a degree of my safety lies in the hands of my fellow citizen, and that I can only control my own actions. I wanted to raise this discussion with drivers, not because I blame drivers for being irresponsible or inconsiderate of cyclists, but because cyclists rely on you to take that extra effort and time to check. I wanted to remind cyclists that caution is your best defence and that drivers are human. I’m sure few of us cyclists who are also drivers can guarantee we made a full shoulder check before opening every door in our driving history.

Both parties benefit from considering of the situation of the other, so next time your hand is on the latch, please remember the cyclist. When biking: stay alert and visible, use the one metre rule, slow down when passing parked cars, take the lane when needed (there is less risk of collision and injury if you signal and move safely into the car lane, than riding too close to the parked car because the street is narrow) and be aware that the law may protect our rights, but cannot remove the risk of injury.

Travis is a bicycle mechanic for New West Cycle and an advocate for bike riding as exercise, green transportation, and fun.

Travis Fehr

Travis Fehr is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

12 comments

  1. Thanks, Harry. I appreciate your recognition of the importance. The "door prize", as it's known among cyclists, can be very serious, even fatal. It's good to know that at least one driver is taking it seriously.

    Since I don't do a lot of driving, unfortunately I don't think I'm qualified to blog about traffic laws, or at least not with any sort of authority. The government of B.C. has a video on the subject at http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/popular-topics/roundabout….

  2. I've been a serious cyclist for 28 years. I have yet to be "doored". Many close calls. I've always assumed I was %100 invisible.

    You must be in an insect-like state of awareness at all times. You really have to anticipate that every single door wants to hurt you.

    Be invisible in your mind but visible as possible. Anticipate EVERY door opening. Listening drivers? It takes only a few seconds to look. You could save someone some very expensive dental work that ICBC is very reluctant to pay for. Yes, a collision between a bicycle and your car can cost you a lot of money on insurance premiums.

    I'm off to buy me a new helmet…

  3. Excellent article! I normally check in my mirror before opening the door, but it seems to be more important to do so than I thought. Thanks for adding to my driver’s safety.

    This reminds me of the lack of experience many locals have with the “new” roundabouts — another “I didn’t realize that” scenario. Anybody who learned to drive in Dawson Creek (or any other fine city with a major roundabout) was probably taken through one as they did their road test for their driver’s license. You very quickly learned how to yield to oncoming traffic.

    Here, on the other hand, the small size of the roundabouts makes it feel like the yield signs don’t really apply. I understand the mentality of drivers who honk at vehicles already in the roundabout for not yielding to them, but what I don’t understand is how a person who is unfamiliar with the laws at such places will decide to voice (with the horn) their uneducated opinion out in the open.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been any education after they went in. How about an article?

    Harry.

  4. My dad used to put on bicycle safety workshops for kids in my elementary school (and naturally I attended at least one of them). I was shocked as a young adult to read a book on bicycling suggest that cyclists could ‘claim’ the space between parked cars on the right and the white line as ‘theirs’ – precisely because of the danger of dooring.

    As a cyclist I’ve always been extremely wary of riding near parked cars. As a driver, I’ve realized the main benefit of those automatic door locking devices is the ability to get quickly out of a situation where you’re essentially playing in the traffic as you fiddle with the lock. Much to my chagrin, I once flung a cyclist into a snowbank when getting out of a cab. I of course had no reason to expect that a cyclist would be riding in the space between the cab and the curb on the right – and no access to mirrors to check – it was totally his fault, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

    I agree with you totally that the safest thing to do as a cyclist is to take the lane on the left (after signalling your intent to do so!). Cyclists who obey the rules of the road do get the respect they deserve from drivers. Unfortunately, I think for most of us, when we’re getting out of our cars we’re in a bit of transitional limbo between driver and pedestrian and aren’t necessarily thinking in either mode.

  5. “Travis is a bicycle mechanic for New West Cycle and an advocate for bike riding as exercise, green transportation, and fun.”

    I like that little line at the end of your well-written article as I recently had to transition, out of fear, from riding to commute to just riding for fun. I’m a very experienced commuter cyclist who rode every day without incident for years. Eventually, my work situation changed such that riding was not viable anymore.

    Recently, I changed jobs and could start riding to work again. Joy, right? Only one problem: riding a stretch of Byrne Road in SE Burnaby. This road is inundated with large trucks (most of whom are very courteous of cyclists), many commuters in a hurry, and shoppers going to the new Market Crossing.

    The day after “Bike To Work Week” was over, I was run off the road into a construction zone by a little old lady (who must not have seen my fluorescent green jacket and two flashing lights), accelerated at and deliberately terrorized by a guy at a 4-way stop (it was my turn to go and he thought squealing his tires and driving straight at me would be funny), and subsequently screamed at by 2 folks in an SUV (who told me to “get off the f**-ing road!”).

    After that day (about 2 weeks ago now) I decided my commuting-by-bike time had come to an end. Riding, for me, was always a time of hyper alertness to dangers, but also a very calming, soothing way to de-stress from my work day. That one incident sort of ruined the whole thing for me.

    I now ride 3 mornings a week along 7th Ave here in New West for exercise and fun and then return home for a hot shower and a safe(r) car to drive to work. I get the same awesome rush of the wind in my face and I’m still alert to cars (and their doors!), but on a street where cyclists are expected to be seen, I feel safer.

    I guess I’ll have to save the environment in other ways!

  6. Thanks everyone for the tips and discussion!

    @Chelle

    Thank you for the kind words! It’s disappointing to hear that your commute was ruined by drivers exhibiting such bad behavior, but good to hear that you still ride for fun and exercise—I admire your adaptability.

    I also had an experience with a driver yelling “get off the f**-ing road!” (must be taught at Troglodyte High). My response when catching up to the driver at the next intersection was “Screw you, I have the same right to be here that you do”. The irony was that it happened on Columbia St. before the addition of the bike lane. I guess the city of New West proved me right. I often wonder if he still drives that road and savours the bitterness!

    Overall I think our driving culture needs to change in the same way that public transit does. Bicycles need to be more than permitted, but actively and overtly welcomed.

  7. Chelle, my humble opinion as a regular bike commuter.

    You were bullied and assaulted. You should not have to change your perfectly legal behaviour because of bullies. Every car has a licence plate for a reason: to make drivers accountable for their actions. Look at their face (so you can identify them in court) and memorize the number. Call the cops. It is your duty as a citizen.

    Think about how we teach our children to deal with bullies in the school yard. If no-one reports the bullies, they are rewarded for their bullying behaviour, and that behaviour gets worse, until someone gets hurt or (in the case of car vs. bike) killed.

  8. That video is so cool! It’s all so matter-of-fact, it makes it hard to imagine why the rest of the world doesn’t do the same.

    Oil spills, greenhouse gas, peak oil…if every city looked like Utrecht, those problems would be so reduced. Every day it seems more bizarre that we still drive cars so much.

  9. Great video. Makes me want to move there… would I have to learn Utrechtian to get a job? Love the Dutch rail blue and yellow bike at about 1:46, there were hundreds around Richmond at the Olympics, but we as a city, province, and country, couldn’t figure out a way to take them as free gift… I lament lost opportunities.

  10. @ Pat:

    You're quite right. I did try and snag the license plates but, in all cases, by the time I recovered and got myself out of harm's way, the wee numbers were speeding away in the distance. My kingdom for something better than 20/20 vision!

    I did write a rather thorough letter to the City of Burnaby, however, to strongly suggest a bike lane on Byrne. Why go to the time and expense to widen that section of the road and not put in a bike lane? Doesn't make any sense.

    We'll see what happens.

  11. Chelle,

    Sorry, benefit of hindsight, I might have written tthat to sound critical of you. I didn’t mean it that way. I know how hard it is to deal with jerks looking for conflict. Especially when you just want to go for a bike ride.

    good move to chat with the city, I agree that location is a little silly in design, one of our endless laments: bike routes are rearely as connected as we would like, and the transportation planners do the best they can, but don;t see how a little gap in the chain makes the entire route sketchy.

    enjoy your rides!

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