Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Door Dodging

As you may recall, last week we talked about cyclists getting "doored." We also talked about reckless cyclists, painting things bright colors, and why these two people should never reproduce. And I don't mean with each other. I mean either of them, with anyone, ever, for fear of perpetuating their preternaturally stupid dispositions through the haplessly tainted genes of their lineage.

No one wins when a cyclist is doored. Not only can a cyclist be terribly injured or killed in the event of a dooring, but much more importantly the motorist could get a small scratch on the door of his BMW:

I legally parked on a street corner not far from M street and Wisconsin in Georgetown, Washington DC yesterday, and made sure there's nothing coming from either direction before opening my car door to get out. Just when I opened it half way, a man on a bike came from around the corner and collided with my car door. He fell, and my car door is damaged by the collision. Who's fault is this? I would not be able to see his coming from around the corner. Also there is barely a scratch on the surface of the door, but it won't close properly and the warning light is always on. 

The above is a query posted on "Bimmerfest.com," which is dedicated to bringing the douchebag community together. The post is an amazing example of someone who has completely convinced themselves that there was nothing they could possibly do to stop themselves from opening their car door in front of a cyclist rounding a corner.

"Just when [he] opened it half way," a cyclist rounded the corner. Unfortunately for the cyclist, BMW's now have a standard feature that forces you to finish opening the door all the way once you have started, or it will enter self-destruct mode.

"Who's fault is this?" the poor BMW owner cries, lamenting the damage to his car door, which alone is worth many times more than the combined value of the cyclist's entire extended family's worldly possessions.

Well, obviously it must be someone else. I mean, if you looked both ways before you opened the door, that's pretty much all you can do. It's not like you could actually watch the door open, like, the whole time you are opening the door. That's impossible; no one can exert such a tremendous display of focus on such a complex mechanical process.

The first fellow douche to offer comment had this to say about his comrade's predicament:

You were not operating the vehicle, so you have no control over the actions of the bicycle driver, this is not your fault.

Wow, he was not operating the vehicle? Incredible! I guess BMW's are completely automatic now, and they even open their own doors without any input from the motorist. Either that, or someone else opened the door (I'm guessing it was...the cyclist?).

It also falls under the Comprehensive area of your Insurance, which is the same as vandalism, storm damage etc, so your deductible should be lower, and also will not effect your insurance rate or driving record.

He has pretty good insurance if obstruction of traffic is covered by the "comprehensive area" of his insurance. I guess when you own a BMW, you need insurance that is so good you can actually break the law and it will not "effect [sic] your insurance rate or driving record."

The driver is from Washington DC. Let's review DC traffic law 2214.4:

No person shall open a door of a vehicle on the side where traffic is approaching unless it can be done without interfering with moving traffic or pedestrians and with safety to himself or herself and passengers.

Doesn't all that legal mumbo-jumbo just make your head spin? I'm not even sure what they just said! Fortunately, it doesn't matter at all if your sweet law-defying insurance lets you ignore the rules of the road with impunity from behind your fully-automatic self-opening BMW doors.

Yes, dooring a cyclist is a tragic event for BMW owners indeed. However, as hard as this is to believe, it is typically even more tragic for the cyclist. The most dangerous consequence of colliding with a car door is sometimes not  the impact with the door itself.

After crashing, the cyclist usually falls away from the car, into what is in most cases a lane of traffic. This is the cause of most dooring fatalities--the cyclist crashes into the door, falls into live traffic, and is struck by another vehicle. This phenomenon is demonstrated in the following video:

The video is pointlessly accompanied by the Rolling Stones song, "Paint It, Black." In retrospect,  the lyrics should probably have been changed to say, "I see a red door and I want to paint it orange."

This easily preventable death trap has become an unfortunately all-too-common scenario all over, as cycling becomes a more popular way for people to get around in urban settings where bicycle infrastructure is an afterthought.

The noble bike lane, marking off a safe chunk of the road for cyclists of all skill levels, is unfortunately predisposed to a fatal (sometimes literally) design flaw: all too often, the lane is sandwiched between rows of cars. On one side, cars zoom by terrified cyclists at a desperate pace, and in the other they park and their doors automatically self-open.

This puts the trajectory of the opening door squarely in the bike lane.

As a cyclist, you are being very foolish if you expect all people to remember to look where they are opening their doors. There are far too many people driving around completely oblivious to their surroundings to expect that level of foresight and planning from every driver you ride past.

The plain and simple truth of the matter is many people forget to look when they open their doors. No matter who you want to blame it on, it's a fact. People park their cars, their journey is over, and they sort of forget that traffic continues on without them. They collect their things and expel themselves from their vehicles into the outside world, ready to venture out bravely on foot. Sometimes they forget to look.

Yes, you are supposed to look. Yes, it's the law. Blah blah blah. All of those things are very nice to think about. However, the law will not actually protect you from a car door as you crash into it, here on this physical plane of existence we ride in. If you want to ride safely, unfortunately it's up to you to protect yourself.

As a careful cyclist, it's wise to ride well outside the boundaries of the "door zone." You should pretend that every single door you pass by is going to swing open right in your face. Ride far enough out that if a door did open, you wouldn't even have to swerve out of the way to avoid a collision.

This puts you right near the outside perimeter of the bike lane. This is the safest place to ride.

This may seem counterintuitive to new cyclists, as it puts them significantly closer to cars that are actually moving along at a decent clip. However, the truth is most road users are better able to avoid you when they are actually driving, and their car doors are not self-deploying into the bike lane.

Further to this, many road users will give you pretty much the same amount of clearance no matter where you are on the road. If you are well inside the bike lane, chances are their car will be right outside it. If you are positioned closer to the edge, they will be forced to move away. Some drivers will give you three feet of space regardless of where you are, and may even sneak into the next lane over a bit to make sure they don't hit you.

People's natural instinct is to not hit you, as much as your presence on the road might irritate them.

For this reason, it's a good practice to ride near the outside edge of the bike lane at all times, even if there are no cars parked on the other side of your lane. Cyclists often have to swerve unexpectedly to negotiate bad pot holes or other road hazards. You should avoid swerving out into traffic, so the more space you have reserved to swerve inward, the better.

Even if there is no bike lane, you should take plenty of space for you and your bicycle. Taking up about a third of the lane is practical.

Remember, you should imagine the door zone is everywhere--even if there is no bike lane, and even if there are no parked cars. Inexperienced cyclists are sometimes inclined to swerve in between parked cars if there is a space. Don't do this! Fight your subconscious urge to distance yourself from traffic and stand your ground!

Swerving between parked cars can temporarily pull you out of the line of sight of drivers behind you, making you and your bicycle a surprise when you have to reenter the flow of traffic. It's best to maintain a straight path so they can see you and give you an appropriate amount of space.

If riding outside of the door zone doesn't leave enough space to share the lane with a car, take the lane. In this situation, you have a right to occupy the whole lane. This prevents a car from trying to squeeze past you, which could put you in danger.

When taking the lane, it is appropriate to signal to traffic behind you. Don't just signal, though: turn and look. Make sure whoever is behind you sees you, and is aware of what you are doing. If they don't see you or are not paying attention, you might have some quick thinking to do to avoid an accident. Stay sharp, and don't assume people know what you are about to do.

If you encounter a vehicle parked in the bike lane, you should be prepared well in advance to signal out of the bike lane and take up the actual lane until you are safely past the offending double-parker. This applies to situations without a bike lane, too. Any time there isn't room for you, another car, and your own safety, take the lane.

"But won't cars behind me honk at me?" Well, it is certainly a possibility. They could also present you with a passionate display of their very freshest language and wave flamboyant hand gestures at you. Tolerating this type of abuse, however, is a small price to pay in exchange for preserving your safety on the road. Getting honked at is way better than getting run off the road, getting clipped by someone's careless miscalculation, or getting doored.

If you are a spitter, spit to your left. Not in a "Watch out or I'll spit on you" kind of way, just in a "I happen to spit in this direction at random intervals" kind of way. If motorists perceive it as a threat or insult, you are not doing it right. It should be casual.

Most drivers will actually reward you with plenty of extra space if you are a casual spitter. Running you off the road isn't so bad, but risking saliva landing on their BMW is just unthinkable.

It sounds wacky, but this is actually a tried and true Grant Petersen technique. If you are not already a spitter, I am not saying you should start spitting. Your safety on the road doesn't depend on correctly discharging your saliva while you ride.

It's just that a lot of cyclists spit, for whatever reason, and if you are spitting anyway then give it a shot. Think of it as trying to land your spit right on the imaginary border of the space that you would like cars to give you.

And finally, on occasion you may be forced into a traffic situation where it is not possible to take the lane and there is not enough space to get out of the door zone. In this situation, my only advice is to slow the heck down.

In tight situations like this, you should be going slow enough to make an abrupt stop at the drop of a hat. Again, ride as if every single door could pop open right in front of you, because one just might.

Learn to do the "quick stop," which is explained in this very dorky video:
It's actually worth practicing this move on an empty street or in a parking lot until you get the hang of it. If you have to ride right next to parked cars, try not to be going so fast that you can't pull off a quick stop in front of any door you are passing by. If a door does open in front of you, the slower you are going the better.

Alright then, you know what to do. Have fun and be safe. Watch out for douchemobiles with fully-automatic self-opening doors, mind your rightful space on the road, spit to the left (optional), and slow the heck down if you have to.

Please ride safely. You don't wanna end up scratching somebody's nice door.

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely gonna' work on my "careLESS" spitting and strive for more "careFUL" spitting. Love the poster that lists all the ailments that "careless" spitting spreads and to please "stop careless spitting;" means you can still spit, just more carefully, correct?