Saturday 19 April 2014

How to avoid getting doored

Summary: In cities without separated cycling tracks "dooring" is a major concern for cyclists, particularly when many bike lanes are positioned in the door zone. While the proper resolution is for cities to create truly safe infrastructure for cyclists, this post will provide practical advice on how to avoid getting doored in current conditions in cities like Melbourne.

fort lane riders and doors by Luton, on Flickr
CC by 2.0 - Luton 

Related Posts:
> See the "safety and health" category of this blog.

1. Understanding the door zone and how it relates to cyclists
"The door zone is the space in which a cyclist is in danger of getting hit by a car door. It varies depending upon the model of car one is riding by. 
Most areas have laws that require car users to check for bicyclists before opening the door of their vehicle, but there have been serious injuries and deaths caused by drivers illegally opening their doors in the path of a passing cyclist where this is prohibited by law. 
The problem lies with avoiding this 5 feet (1.5 m) zone, which should be part of the parking zone, when there is a bike lane or the perception by law enforcement or motorists that one should be riding their bike out of the travel lane to not impede faster motorized traffic."
Wikipedia: Door zone
Wikipedia: Door zone

2. Many actual, fake and de facto bike lanes exist in the door zone
- In car-centric cities most bicycle infrastructure is not high quality or good practice and primarily consists of painted bike lanes, road markings and de facto lanes between moving cars and parked cars. This low quality, token infrastructure sets expectations about where cyclists should be positioned on the road. The problem is that many of these designated positions overlap with the door zone.

- Some cities, such as Melbourne, even put in many "fake" bike lanes (known as Bicycle Awareness Zones or Bike Refuge Zones in Victoria) that are narrow and squeezed in alongside the real traffic lanes. When cyclists have accidents in these fake bike lanes the city turns around and asserts the apparent bike lane isn't a bike lane after all and cyclists ride their at their own risk. It would be useful to know what proportion of Melbourne's apparent bike lanes are actually fake bike lanes that are disowned by the government when an accident occurs. In an infamous dooring recorded on video on Collins St in Melbourne's CBD the City of Melbourne announced:
"Cyclists are free to use Collins Street if they wish, however, this is not a dedicated bike lane," the City of Melbourne said in a statement. The line markings are intended to encourage drivers to stay to the right of cyclists that are using this road space."
Man comes forward to police over CBD car-dooring
- In car-centric cities, most motorists and police have no significant experience cycling on urban streets and negotiating the door zone. Consequently, if there are bike lanes on the road, most motorists and police expect cyclists to ride in them. If there aren't, they expect cyclists to stay left. The overlap with the door zone doesn't factor into their thinking.

- In car-centric cities, cyclists should never assume that bicycle markings on roads are an indicator of where it is safest to ride. Instead you should educate yourself as to the hazards of many common types of unsafe markings such as "door zone bike lanes" (DZBL). For examples of these see this enlightening post: Melbourne Crank: Traffic Engineering Anti-Patterns

3. Cyclists are not ever legally required to ride in the door zone even if it's a marked bike lane or there is a cycling rule to keep left
- Many countries lacking separated cycling tracks have road rules similar to this Australian one regarding cyclist use of on-road bicycle lanes:
"Australian Road Rule no. 247 says:
The rider of a bicycle riding on a length of road with a bicycle lane designed for bicycles travelling in the same direction as the rider must ride in the bicycle lane unless it is impracticable to do so."
Treadly and Me: Elizabeth's badly designed bike lanes
- It is straightforward to demonstrate that riding in the door zone is "impracticable", as that obviously includes a reasonable desire to avoid serious injury and possible death.

- Most of the transport cycling infrastructure in Australia consists of on-road, painted bike lanes with nothing to prevent traffic entering the lane or doors and passengers from parked vehicles obstructing it. Hence, cyclists with the "impracticable" or "unsafe" exceptions can always legally use them to ride out of the door zone.

- In instances where there is no bike lane, regardless of whether there is a road rule or just expectation that cyclists should keep as far left as possible, cyclists can again legally ride out of the door zone if the "impracticable" or "unsafe" exception exists.

4. Motorists and passengers of vehicles are legally required to ensure that opening a door will not endanger or obstruct others
- In most countries, road laws require motorists and passengers to check they aren't causing a hazard to any other person or vehicle by opening their door:
"RR 269(3): A person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle."
The Law Handbook Victoria: The Road Law for Cyclists and Skaters
5. The really serious door zone risk is being run over by passing vehicles but dooring causes many injuries requiring hospitalisation
- Almost all deaths and the most serious injuries caused by dooring are not due to the impact with the door itself but the cyclist being thrown off their bike onto to the road. The impact with the road causes some serious injuries but the heaviest casualties result from the cyclist then being run over by a passing car. Almost all dooring collisions or avoidance crashes result in the rider ending up on the road further away from the car and often in the path of vehicles.

- The video below illustrates actual dooring crashes that demonstrate how this occurs and just how far a rider can be flung in front of passing vehicles:

- However, even without being hit by passing cars (a minority), dooring is a major cause of cycling injuries requiring hospitalisation. In Melbourne:
"Of the 433 car dooring injuries in the 2006-2110 period, 111 (26 per cent) resulted in the rider being admitted to hospital. These 111 hospital admissions represent 16% of all police-reported hospital admissions by cyclists in inner Melbourne over the five year period, and is the most common crash type leading to hospitalisation."
Bicycle Network Victoria: Submission to the dooring inquiry
6. Methods to eliminate or reduce dooring on your desired cycling routes
- Below are some common methods of reducing or eliminating dooring risk:

Ride out of the door zone in the car lane
(taking the lane)
- Vehicle speeds are low enough for you to ride within 10km/hr of the average.
- You have the confidence and experience to do so.
Some motorists may become impatient
Ride at the edge of the door zone- It's impractical or not accepted enough for you to feel comfortable taking the lane.
- You judge the dooring risk to be low.
You may still be hit or have to swerve or stop suddenly
Slow down and prepare to brakeTemporary situations where you perceive the chance of dooring is higher but still wish to filter rather than take the laneIs not foolproof and a dooring may still occur but with less risk of serious injury
Temporarily stop and waitYou assess the risk is too high at that point and wait for the dooring risk to drop or space to pass safely to open upLose time and may hold up more impatient cyclists behind you
Proactively weave out when necessaryMost of the bike path is safe enough from dooring but there are particular high risk passes and it is safe to temporarily move into the car laneMore unpredictable to motorists following and requires careful judegement
Look for occupied parked cars- You're riding slow enough and are able to see through the rear window of cars to see if they have occupants.
- Parked cars are mostly long-term and you can check for brake lights or other signs of movement.
Some vehicles can't be seen through as easily. There is a trade-off between safety and saving time
Slow down and prepare to swerveExceptional situations where you perceive the chance of dooring is higher but still wish to filter rather than take the lane. The swerving risks are low.Swerving to avoid accidents is not very safe and should be exceptional.
Pass cars on the right sideIf car traffic is congested and you are confident and experienced enough, it may be safer to pass cars on the right sideLess predictable and requires changing road position
Use narrower handle barsAre a confident cyclist and considers narrow handlebars to allow for smaller door zonesRequires bike modification or new bike purchase

7. Learn where to ride in a Door Zone Bike Lane (DZBL)
- In many circumstances, taking the lane for significant distances is not safe, comfortable or an accepted norm due to cars not being able to overtake and having to slow down to your speed. In these cases, you need to be able to ride in door zone bike lanes as safely as possible.

- It is often feasible to use the edge of the bike lane just out of the door zone and still leave space for vehicles to pass (not take the lane). See this post for a good explanation of how to do this: Boston Biker: How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane. Also see Bicycle Victoria's advice on lane position at the end of this document: Bicycle Network Victoria: Submission to the dooring inquiry (PDF)

Use the far edge of the bike lane which is out of the door zone

8. Specific examples of where to ride on key Melbourne transport routes

(a) Brunswick St, Fitzroy
- Despite appearances at some points which have green paint, this is an unofficial bike lane (Bicycle Awareness Zone lane). Typically only one lane of cars exists on either side and is shared with a tram track. There is a yellow line to mark the edge of the tram zone. Trams and cars typically travel at 15-45km/hr when moving.

- Inexperienced cyclists like the one pictured below often ride in the door zone as they are scared of riding too far to the right because of passing trams and cars. However, if a door was flung open on the cyclist below, there is a significant risk some part of his body would end up in front of the path of trams and cars. Trams cannot physically contact you outside the yellow lines and motorists on Brunswick St are used to passing cyclists with sufficient space and their speed differential is often only 10-20km/hr.

Google Maps - 159 Brunswick St

(b) Glenlyon Rd, Brunswick
- Despite the continuous line, this is an unofficial bike lane (Bicycle Awareness Zone lane) as sufficient space for an official bike lane hasn't been made available. Some parked vehicles are larger or park further from the kerb than they need to, so the door zone overlap with the bike lane can vary. In the image below you can see where most cars are parked and how far the typical door zone extends. Almost all parked cars are residential and parked for long periods but there are a few businesses with short-term visits. Cars typically travel at 40-60km/hr which is quite scary if you are too close. Cyclists going longer distances or who are more confident may desire to ride at 25-35km/hr on this route (I typically do).

- Below you can see an inexperienced cyclist is riding in the door zone due to the speed of the passing cars. She may be riding quite slowly and cautiously and looking for occupied cars and through the rear window of each vehicle. Note that the passing car has moved out while passing the cyclist. If she rode out of the door zone where the blue arrow is, passing cars would feel too close (due to their speed) but most would provide sufficient space. Given the car's speeds, cyclists do have to trust that motorists are paying attention and will not pass too close. It is very rare for cyclists to actually be hit from behind on such streets but it feels much safer not riding at the edge of the bike lane even if it means being partially in the door zone.

Google Maps - 198 Glenlyon Rd

- I tend to ride mostly on the blue arrow but often slow down where vehicles are jutting out and check behind for traffic and move out further. I never "take the lane" here to ride in front of the cars, nor do I ever see other cyclists do. This is a lengthy stretch of road, it has what seems like a usable bike lane, and taking the lane isn't an accepted norm unless the cyclist is travelling at near the speed of the cars (40-60km/hr). If the speed differential with cars is high, larger vehicles are coming up behind or I am riding at a point where the road space is particularly compressed and I expect cars will come close to the bike lane, then I tend to ride closer to the door zone (sometimes slightly within it). I look for occupied cars through the rear window.

9. Pay particular attention to taxis and service vehicles
- Vehicles that stop frequently around cities and have people getting in and out are a particular hazard, with taxis being the primary example. Regardless of where the taxi is stopped or what the taxi driver may be indicating, taxi doors (particularly passenger doors) may be flung open at any time.

- Always try to ride so as to not be in the door zone next to any stationary taxi, even one stopped in traffic. Stop if you need to.

- If you feel the time saving justifies the risk of filtering past a stopped taxi in the door zone, try to ride past slowly enough (less than 10km/hr) so that you can brake in time or will not risk a high impact collision.

10. Identify relevant dooring black spots and take extra care at them
- Every city has particular streets which are responsible for an exceptionally large proportion of doorings, though the official lists do not typically adjust for the number of trips. Hence, popular transport cycling routes tend to dominate these lists. Based on experience, try to identify streets on the black spot lists that appear to have more doorings than average when the number of cycling trips is taken into account.

- According to Bicycle Network Victoria, 30% of Melbourne doorings occur on just four streets and 50% on just ten streets. The four streets are: St Kilda Rd, Collins St, Chapel St and Elizabeth St (see here).

- At dooring black spots take extra care to ride out of the door zone, slow down, stop where necessary and pay attention to each vehicle if riding in the door zone.

Further Info:
- RideOn: Watch that door!

- Police urged to charge passenger after cyclist car-doored in CBD

Melbourne Cyclist doored by a TAXI passenger on Collins St (YouTube)

Car-dooring reveals confusion over bike lanes

- Cyclist-dooring man 'not proud' of reaction

- Man comes forward to police over CBD car-dooring

- The Urbanist: What can be done to stop cyclists getting “doored”?

Better bike lanes are the issue - not 'dooring'

Trial hopes to shut the door on bike accidents

Reflecting on a tragedy (James Cross)

Treadly and Me: Elizabeth's badly designed bike lanes

- Cycling Tips: Safe passing distances, doorings and the law

- City of Melbourne: Bicycle lanes and routes

- John S Allen: About the Dana Laird fatality (doored in Cambridge, MA)

- Bicycling Matters: Raleigh’s Door Zone Bike Lanes

- NC Bike Ed: Avoid the door zone videos

ABC News: Fines for drivers for 'dooring' incidents (Victoria)

- Bike Snob NYC: I Wanna Be A-Doored: Getting it Backwards Down Under

- Melbourne's bicycle black spots: how we did it
> Melbourne Bicycle Black Spots map

Cycle data riding high on reader feedback

Cyclists get warning on danger spots

- Boston Biker: How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane

- Vic Roads: Design standards for bicycle facilities (PDF)

- Vic Roads: Safety & rules > Road rules > Parking

- Melbourne Crank: Traffic Engineering Anti-Patterns

- Bicycle Network Victoria: Submission to the dooring inquiry (PDF)

- Boroondara BUG: Types of Bike Lanes