Another DZBL Death

Chicago —

A bicyclist was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer early Friday on Chicago’s North Side, police said.

The bicyclist, identified by a Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office spokesperson as 32-year-old Neill Townsend, was riding south on the 900 block of Wells Street just before 9 a.m. when he swerved around an open car door and was struck by the semi.

He was riding in the bike lane when a car parked near the curb opened the driver door, police said. Townsend fell beneath the truck’s wheels and died on the scene.

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7 replies
  1. Mighk Wilson
    Mighk Wilson says:

    The usual finger-pointing in the TV news comments section.

    Here’s a way to look at the problem:

    Scenario A: you’re biking in a bike lane that puts you within reach of opening car doors. Large vehicles are passing you on your left at will, and a car door could open directly in front of you at any moment. Who controls your safety in this scenario?
    The drivers of the passing vehicles?
    No. They are just as uncertain as to whether one of those car doors will open as you are, so they can’t take any reasonable action even if they are giving it the slightest thought (which they aren’t).
    No. You have no idea when any of those doors might open, and if one opened right in front of you you’d have two bad choices: hit the door or swerve out into overtaking traffic.
    The driver of the parked car?
    Yes. The driver of the parked car is in control of your safety.

    Scenario B: you’re cycling along a street that has a bike lane that would put you within reach of opening car doors, but you choose to avoid it and ride in the center of the general use lane. Who controls your safety in this scenario?
    The drivers of the passing vehicles?
    Only to the extent that they must pass you when it is safe to do so, and doing so is a fairly straightforward issue. You can facilitate safe passing by moving right when it is safe to do so.
    The driver of the parked car?
    No. The driver of the parked car is no threat to you because you are well beyond the door zone. The only potential problem he presents is pulling out into your lane, and such a maneuver takes much more time to develop and you can avoid it easily by braking or shifting left in the lane which you’re already controlling.
    Yes. You are the one most in control of your safety.

    Fairly simple choice. Let someone you don’t know (who is likely distracted) be in control of your safety, and your friends and family get to blame him when you’re dead and gone, or take control of your safety yourself and significantly reduce the chance that you’d be killed or injured.

    Now let’s put this in the context of what traffic control devices are supposed to do. They are supposed to tell you what you cannot do, what you must do, or give you good guidance on what you should do. A bike lane doesn’t tell you what you cannot or must do; it’s supposed to give you (and motorists) good guidance. Encouraging or compelling cyclists to ride where motorists could conceivably open their doors is simply not good guidance. It is telling the cyclist to (consciously or not) give up control of his or her safety and hand it over to someone else.

    Can anyone think of another traffic control device which tells drivers to give up control of their safety to other drivers?

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Well said, Mighk.

      I thought this map of all the doorings in Chicago was interesting. I’m impressed that they’ve managed to track so many of the “minor” crashes. I suspect there are more that are not reported.

      From what I’ve seen, everyone recognizes dooring is a major problem. The city has addressed it by increasing penalties for drivers who door cyclists — mainly because the advocates keep screaming for motorists to look for cyclists (echoing the right hook issues in Portland). Can you think of any other road users that insist on operating in a known hazard zone and demand that others look out for their safety?

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      To be fair, any time you (driving a bike or car) go through an intersection too fast to stop if someone pulls out, you’re betting your safety against their ignoring you and pulling out anyway. More specifically, a green light says that it’s safe to go straight. It’s just that the duty to stop and wait for traffic to clear before pulling out is much more obvious than that to look at a usually-empty lane before opening your door.

      • Mighk Wilson
        Mighk Wilson says:

        True, and with red light running and drive-outs both parties have their conflicts in front of them, rather than behind, and you generally have more reaction time to work with. I control whether or not I go through a green light — especially a “fresh” one — and I can look to see if traffic has stopped. I control how far into the lane I ride, which can give me better reaction time and maneuvering room if someone drives out into my path.

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