by Steve Herbert
Culver City is implementing its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, adding bike lanes and “sharrows” as the popularity of cycling continues to increase in the region. With the number of cyclists growing, a number of issues reveal themselves. One is that parked cars can be more dangerous than moving vehicles when a motorist suddenly opens a car door into the path oncoming traffic that includes cyclists. The resulting collision is known as “dooring” or “being doored”.
Bicycle lanes are frequently installed adjacent curbside parking & cyclists are instructed by the motor vehicle code to use the right edge of the road or curb as “practicable” except when it’s unsafe to do so (California Vehicle Code 21202(a)(3)). Dooring obviously falls into the unsafe category. A cyclist’s best defense is to stay out of the door zone, which means a cyclist may take the traffic lane when there is not a safe distance from parked cars for a cyclist to ride outside of the door zone. Experienced cyclists will tell you that while you may feel a little guilty doing so, you are just as entitled to the public road as a car and you should take enough of the traffic lane to create the space necessary to keep you safe from doors. While it can be annoying for drivers to encounter a cyclist in this manner, dooring can be fatal.
A recent dooring killed 30-year-old Justin Newman who was knocked off his bike in the North Park area in San Diego, sustaining head injuries. Another unidentified woman in Ottawa was killed last week in a dooring which knocked her to the ground into the path of adjacent traffic where she was crushed. Sharon McNary, a triathlete and reporter for radio station KPCC was doored this past summer resulting in a broken arm just six weeks prior to her racing the Ironman World Championship at Kona, HI. She completed the race with a significant loss of muscle mass, wearing a brace to support her arm. In February last year, KCRW’s Warren Olney suffered bruises and cuts requiring stitches when doored on the Westside, keeping him off the air for more than a week.
While cyclist should always be on the defensive to avoid the door zone, motorists can help by looking before opening a door into traffic. In fact the law requires “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open upon the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.” (California Vehicle Code 22517)
A helpful habit drivers can develop is to open their door with their right hand, forcing them to look in the direction of on-coming traffic prior to opening the door. In addition to taking the traffic lane, cyclists can ride to the left edge of the bike lane adjacent parked cars and look for signs of a driver who might step out to avoid a potential dooring. Signs include brake lights illuminated as you approach, a silhouette of a driver inside the car, the driver side window rolled down or taking notice of a car parking ahead of you. Frequently I’ll ring my bell as I approach a car I suspect may open a door or someone who could step in my path. Cyclists, you do have a bell don’t you? (Culver City Municipal Code 7.04.305)
While these steps can help keep safe you from serious injury or worse, it’s important for cyclists to be visible and predictable to others as they ride. You can find more information at the Culver City Bicycle Coalition website at ccbike.org/