April 4, 2011
If you’ve ever used the word door as a verb, chances are you’re an urban bicyclist. To door (verb) is to open a vehicle’s door (noun) into the path of a moving bicycle, causing a crash that doesn’t count as a traffic accident, at least not to the Illinois Department of Transportation, because the car wasn’t moving.
To commute by bicycle is to live in fear of being doored, but motorists are largely oblivious to the danger, and that’s the problem. They park the car, gather up their belongings and fling open the door after a cursory glance in the side mirror detects no looming SUV. Out of nowhere, there’s the bike.
Those accidents can cause serious injury or death. Lesser effects include damage to the car or bike. Then there are the near misses, which lead to plenty of cussing and feed the raging feud between cyclists and drivers over which group is the greater menace.
The bickering is about to begin in earnest, with spring in the air and gas at $4.50 a gallon.
We’re not foolish enough to take sides in that fight. We’ve witnessed plenty of hazardous encounters between drivers and cyclists, and we can second almost any complaint either group levies against the other. Bikers clog the roads, blow through stop signs and red lights and weave between cars in stop-and-go traffic. Drivers shoulder cyclists off the road, drive in the bike lanes, turn directly into the path of bikes and generally behave as if cyclists are invisible.
Two overgeneralizations: Drivers think they own the road. Cyclists think the laws don’t apply to them. We’ll testify to both.
So here’s our annual plea: Be careful out there. Watch out for each other. Share the road. Know the laws, and follow them.
The Illinois secretary of state’s office has some good resources. Quick links:
For motorists, chicagotribune.com/motorists.
And for cyclists, chicagotribune.com/cyclists.
In Chicago, drivers are required to stay at least 3 feet from cyclists. They’re not allowed to turn in front of a bike or to drive or park in the bikes lanes. And dooring carries a $150 to $500 fine — against the driver, in case you’re wondering.
The Active Transportation Alliance, which works for safer streets for cars, bikes and pedestrians, is on a campaign to prevent dooring. It wants the state to require law enforcement agencies to keep statistics on those accidents. Chicago does track them — there were 72 last year — but IDOT doesn’t. It should. It’s hard to get money to fix a problem unless you have numbers to prove it exists.
The alliance’s own surveys, meanwhile, find that half of bikers have been doored at least once. This demands action. Streets that are safer for bicyclists are safer for everyone.