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Posted by on Jul 10, 2008 in Safety | 7 comments

The Swinging Door

Clinton Miceli was just beginning a career as an art director for an advertising agency. On June 10, he was commuting home from work when the driver of a Nissan Xterra opened a door in his path. Clinton struck the door and was thrown into the path of an overtaking vehicle and killed.

Stanley Wang was an executive with Comcast Corp. He was weeks from retirement when, on June 12, he struck the suddenly-opened door of a pick-up truck and was thrown into the path of an overtaking car and killed.

Two deaths in two days.

Both of these tragedies were sadly too common, caused by inattentive motorists not looking before opening a door into traffic, and by cyclists trying to stay out of the way of overtaking vehicles.

LCI Bob Bayn said this about as well as it can be said:

Our culture has managed to make cyclists believe that they are an unwelcome impediment in traffic, required by law to keep as far to the right as possible at all times. We really need a public awareness campaign to put the lie to those beliefs.

Sadly, when we examine the statistics, too many cycling crashes are directly or indirectly a result of “staying out of the way.” When we unhitch ourselves from this damaging belief system, cycling becomes safer and less stressful.

I’m a curious, and often horrified, observer of cyclist behavior. I watch cyclists riding in the gutter pan in narrow lanes all the time, even on 4-lane roads with light traffic. I watch them ride through nasty potholes just to keep far right. But the scariest thing I see is cyclists skimming along parked cars, completely oblivious to the fact they are playing Russian Roulette. There seems to be little consciousness of the “door zone” here, and we have an increasing number of novices on bikes. We need to raise awareness before someone gets killed.

But as cycling educators desperately try to teach cyclists to keep their distance from parked cars, we are undermined by the creators of cycling facilities… or psychling farcilities.

As if the errors induced by far-right bias were not bad enough, it is common practice for municipalities to stripe bike lanes within the reach of car doors. Door-zone bike lanes (DZBLs) are reviled by cyclist advocates and educators, they have been responsible for many deaths and serious injuries, and yet they are still in the AASHTO green book and are still implemented by cities all over the US. That’s right, in the name of encouraging novices, our tax money is being used to create facilities which mislead them into danger!

Here’s a shining example:

School DZBL

The bike lane above is one of many DZBLs in Baldwin Park. Notice some key features:

  1. The entire bike lane is within reach of car doors, even small ones;
  2. There is no centerline on this road, the only traffic stripe is the one instructing bicyclists to ride in the very part of the road that is most dangerous;
  3. This is a slow-speed residential street, a bike lane on a street like this is insultingly gratuitous;
  4. That’s an elementary school in the background, so we can teach them wrong at an early age!

Baldwin Park is heralded as a national example of a community that promotes cycling for short trips. I hope no one pulls a muscle patting himself on the back.

In our cars, we generally trust traffic engineers not to design roads that lead us into danger. Unfortunately, cyclists get a different standard. We are plagued by the purveyors of junk science who cater to mythologies and phobias, the advocates who seek “butts on bikes” at any cost and a traffic culture that wants us out of the way.

As I have mentioned before, one of the reasons I am so excited about Sharrows is that they give those who wish to promote cycling a visual tool that does not endanger people. Here is a recommended use. Really, it can’t be that hard to find better ways to promote cycling. Let’s start thinking outside the lines.

In the meantime, ride where you know is safe regardless of any stripes. Remember, it is not your wheel track but the distance of your handlebars or body from the door that is important. An almost-missed door can result in a worse outcome than a direct hit. Stay 5 feet from parked cars, if that means a bike lane stripe is to your right, ride as if the stripe is not there.

7 Comments

  1. Holy Cow Keri, your recent post “My New World” brought me here… that type of bike lane is the most dangerous bit of misguidance I’ve seen in a while… I would sooner have no bike lanes at all.

  2. Shocks the conscience, doesn’t it? Bike lanes like this are a violation of ethics and a breach of trust.

    The people who spec these things congratulate themselves for promoting cycling. They should be ashamed.

  3. It’s amazing how many people I talk to, even some cyclists, who would rather have that bike lane than none at all.

  4. John, I would fancy a bet that many of your respondents have neither the proper information or formal instruction on bike lane use.

    I believed the bike lanes were the fahshizzle when I started commuting. Now, I am aware of how to safely use and navigate the BL’s when necessary.

    I started with the “self-help” section of the internet and then took formal safety classes. Imagine to my surprise, the skills I learned from the self-help training were reinforced in the formal classes.

    Education is the key to comfortable and safe operation whether the operator is on foot, bicycle, or in an automobile.

    Just because a facility is provided does not make it safe! Our roads and highways are designed to be safe, however, roughly 40,000 + are killed on our nations roads each year. How do you like them cookies?

    Ride Big and Ride On!

  5. A few years ago someone from FDOT made this statement: we like bike lanes on the road because it provides extra space to get the debris off the travel lanes AND it provides a few extra feet of protection between the cars on the road and pedestrians on the sidewalks!

    WHAT THE HECK!!!!

    • WOW! A rare moment of honesty 🙂

      Bike lanes serve lots of purposes that seemingly benefit everyone but bicyclists.

      I had a bike industry person tell me how great the bike lanes on Edgewater Drive are because it’s so much easier for people to get out of their cars now that they have a place to open their car doors. I am not kidding.

  6. @ JohnB “…some cyclists, who would rather have that bike lane than none at all.”

    I wonder if this sentiment come from a weird “special entitlement”? Bike lanes are sold making a cyclist feeling safer (and very, very special)!!