The Unreasonable Man

December 3, 2009 at 9:12 am 5 comments

This morning I noticed this adorably produced video making its way around the cycling blog file of my feed reader:

As you can see, the video portrays a stop-motion cyclist innocently stop-motion cycling around a stop-motion city, all the while an angry stop-motion driver is stop-motion screaming into his cell phone. Being stop-motion detracted and angry (as stop-motion drivers that scream at cell phones are want to be), the driver opens his car door, causing the cyclist to be doored, shattering into multiple pieces and lying in a pool cutout bits of photographs on the pavement. Driver feels grief and regret. The creator’s hearts are certainly in the right place, and the message is clear; drivers, check before opening your door to make sure you are not about to inadvertently injure or kill a cyclist.

Here is my take on dooring. As far as I can tell, there are two basic ways to combat the dangers of car dooring:

    a) One can take the advocate approach and work to teach 200 million American drivers, and hundreds of millions more in other countries, about the the dangers of car dooring. We can remind drivers that, technically speaking, they are legally required to make sure the lane is clear of traffic before opening the door.
    b) One can train oneself to never ride in the car door zone, ever.

It seems to me the former approach, if properly implemented, might win the hearts and attention of a maximum of 1% of the driving population, thereby making one 1% safer from being doored. The latter course, if properly implemented, will make one 100% safer from dooring by guaranteeing that such an accident is physically impossible. Not that the second option isn’t without its challenges, especially in cities with poorly designed class II bicycle lanes, and angry drivers that think you have no right to ride 4 and a half feet away from parked cars, but the angry driver that can see you is far less of a danger than the oblivious driver that does not.

This all leads to the cliched Shaw quote, “A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” I just don’t have the energy for progress, I guess.


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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dottie  |  December 19, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    I never trust that drivers will check before opening their doors. Based on experience, some drivers in the city appear to be morons living in their own bubbles. These are the ones that always open their doors directly in my paths. If I hugged the parked cars, I would have been doored squarely about 20 times by now – no joke.

  • 2. Ed L.  |  June 9, 2010 at 9:14 am

    In Chicago, the traffic codes make it a driver’s duty to make sure it is safe before opening their doors, and a driver can be cited for dooring. I think this helps raise a bit of awareness, but agree with you that on a purely practical level approach (b) is the ideal.

    I have narrowly missed being doored a few times including a near miss just the other day, but in general this is a rare occurrence. While one can (and should) take the lane when necessary to be safe, sometime being a courteous part of the flow of traffic means staying far enough right so that cars that are proceeding at a faster pace than you can get by. I try to stay on roads that will accommodate enough space to keep me away from both the doors and the passing traffic, but until the roads are all redesigned to consider bikes as much traffic as cars, that isn’t always possible as I am not always willing to restrict myself to the slower side streets.

    When I do have to ride in the door zone, I always assume that drivers will not check before opening their doors and try to stay alert. Fingers-crossed, I’ve been lucky so far.

  • 3. dukiebiddle  |  June 9, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Ed L., the law in Chicago is the same as it is everywhere. The driver will receive a citation in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Tampa, etc. for dooring.

    Regardless of the law, no rider should ever ride in the door zone, ever, under any circumstances, if they have any intention of riding the bicycle at a faster speed than a pedestrian strolls. I feel there are very few fundamental absolutes when it comes to cyclist safety, a rider know how to break the rules safely to avoid hazardous conditions sometimes, but staying out of the door zone in all circumstances is one of them.

    The only question open for debate is how much lane to take. I personally am a firm believer in “as far to the right as is practicable and safe,” meaning the cyclist should give the driver as much room to pass as is possible without putting yourself into the door zone.

  • 4. Ed L.  |  June 9, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I don’t think we really disagree, you are just taking the hard-line stance. Riding in the door zone creates an additional (and usually avoidable) risk – it should either be avoided or additional precautions taken when it cannot be avoided.

    If, in order to avoid the door zone, you ride so far left as to impede the flow of traffic (that is, not providing area sufficient for drivers to give you a safe three-feet of clearance when they pass) you are not only being discourteous, but may be incurring alternative risks that outweigh any advantage you have gained by staying out of the door zone.

    All I am saying is that there are tradeoffs – especially when you accept that the way drivers actually act will not necessarily be the way drivers should act. Bicycling really is not that dangerous, as long as you understand the various risks and ride accordingly – this is the “adapting to the environment” that you are advocating, is it not?

  • 5. dukiebiddle  |  June 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

    There’s nothing discourteous about staying out of the door zone, but yes, I’m taking a hard-line stand. I would much rather motorist pass me only giving me 3 inches of space than takes my chances in the door zone. In my state, at least, that just passed a 3 foot law, motorists only need to abide by the 3 foot law if they have enough space to do so. The law is quite toothless, actually, and is more symbolic than anything else. With that said, VC practices, that insist that cyclists should always break the spirit of the law and take full lane all the time is ridiculous. Practices which are designed to antagonize motorists cause conflict, and conflict does not make cyclists any safer.


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