Getting Doored: Where To Ride In The Bike Lane

IMG_doorzone32814230Being doored is among the most common type of crash for a cyclist in a city. Many people think that it is inevitable. I disagree.

Boston bike lanes are generally five-feet wide. In some cities they are as narrow as four feet. The general recommendation is to ride at least three feet from a parked car. Some people recommend staying in the outer third of the bike lane or four feet from parked cars.

I have observed over many years that ninety-five per cent of bicyclists seem to ride in the middle of the bike lane or even over to the right of the bike lane. Riding in this position is deadly when the bike lane is next to a parking lane.

I wanted to know where in the bike lane I was safe from being doored. Was it three feet from a parked car? Was I safe in the outer third of the bike lane? So I did an experiment. I parked my car just inside the white line of a seven foot wide parking lane, left my car door open and rode my bike past the open door. The closest I could ride along side the open door was on the outer white line of the five foot wide bike line. I was curious if other cyclists would ride as far from an open car door as I did.

The second day I parked my car on Commonwealth Avenue during morning rush hour for thirty minutes, and left the door open to see how far away from a parked car with an open door car, other cyclists biked. To avoid the open door of my car, the thirteen cyclists I observed and photographed, rode on or outside the white line marking the bike lane. There was not enough room for them to ride in the five foot bike lane when the car door was open.

The third day I returned to the same spot and recorded the distance a cyclist normally rode from a parked car with the door closed. The distances ranged from very close to the parked car, the middle of the bike lane and at the outer edge of the bike lane.

I would say that my study, clearly shows that biking the recommended three or four feet from a parked car, guarantees that a cyclist will be doored if the door were to open.  To avoid a sudden opening door, a cyclist will instinctively swerve into the traffic lane. That has deadly consequences when the cyclist is hit by a car or truck in the traffic lane.

I encourage people to repeat my experiment with their car or a friend’s car and invite friends to bike past the open car door. Take photos and share them in the comment section.

Lest anyone think I dislike bike lanes and that cyclists should “take the traffic lane”, I would like to emphasize that I like bike lanes. In Amsterdam and other major Dutch cities there are safe bike lanes that children and elderly people bike on. Their bike lanes generally are at least six and a half feet wide for older bike lanes. The newer bike lanes are at least eight feet for a single direction bike lane. I have biked in Amsterdam and Groningen alongside a steady stream of cyclists on wide bike lanes that allow people to ride side-by-side
I want there to be wide bicycle lanes here in Boston that a child or an elderly person would feel safe bicycling on. The main thorough-fares in Boston have plenty of room for safe bike lanes. What is missing is political will to take space away from cars, be it a parking lane or  a traffic lane on a road with two or more traffic lanes in each direction such as Commonwealth Ave, between the BU bridge and Packard’s Corner. In the East-bound section between Packard’s Corner and the BU Bridge, there are wide 24 foot sidewalks remaining from the days when this section was “auto row”   or  “the auto mile”   Those 24 foot wide sidewalks could be narrowed by a few feet to give three additional feet to the bike lane. I say, let’s share the public space in a more equitable fashion!