Thursday, November 8


get doored verb. To collide with an unexpectedly opened car door while riding a bicycle.

I got doored on Tuesday night. There really is nothing much you can do about it unless you "claim the lane" as a matter of course. Spend enough time as a gutter bunny, and you'll cop one eventually. It is an extremely unpleasant experience.

I was riding west down 15th St between Mission and Valencia at about 7.30pm. Thankfully, I was not riding at my usual frantic, all-out pace. Rather, I was cruising steadily, happy to be out of work early and just two blocks away from meeting someone for dinner. But, before I had time to hit the brakes or even see the door open, I heard the simultaneous crunch of metal on metal and felt an explosion in my knee. I was thrown off my bike and out into the middle of the road. I looked back to see the offending door and, finally realizing what had happened, let out a furious yell and a torrent of profanity.

Luckily, there was no traffic immediately behind me or, given how I fell, I would have been run over. Instead, I just lay there in shock until the driver told me to move out of the road because a bus was coming. And indeed, when I looked up, a bus was headed my way. So I slugged my way to the sidewalk where a bunch of bystanders and the offending driver crowded around asking if I was alright and if they should call an ambulance. My right leg hurt a lot and I had door-edge shaped bruise and scrape down the knee (later I discovered scrapes on my other knee, wrist and elbow) but I could move and straighten my leg and it didn't hurt to put weight on it. Nothing was broken.

My door opening assailant and her passenger were extremely apologetic but I was still pretty annoyed. I had bike lights with brand new batteries that were flashing brightly. I got the driver's insurance details in case I needed medical attention later. But, in the United States, you have to be in a lot of pain before it is less of a pain than getting medical attention so I decided to limp away and try painkillers and ice. So far I've been ok. My knee still hurts but it doesn't seem to be injured too badly.

San Francisco is not a bike-friendly city (try riding down Market at 8.45am) and I feel like a casualty of bike-unfriendly planning (for example, there is a bike lane going east on 14th st but no bike lane on any nearby street traveling west so, on the way home, I must take bike-lane free 15th). One day (when we run out of cheap fossil fuels) they'll make cities friendly for bike commuters. In the meantime, we play roulette with car doors.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you really think it's the door-opener's fault in this situation? I'm not so sure it is. Which is not to say it's _your_ fault either; maybe it's the fault of the city-planners, or maybe there's just nowhere specific to place the blame here.

I'm just thinking about how many times I could have doored some unsuspecting bike-rider. The answer, I think, is "lots and lots of times". I don't check to see if there's a bike coming up behind me before opening a car door -- unless there's a marked bike lane there. (Or, I guess, if the car traffic is close enough to pose a danger to the door, in which case I effectively check for upcoming bikes while checking for upcoming cars.) Do you think this sort of 'checking for bikes' is something all car occupants are obliged to do before they open their door?

I'm as much opposed to the 'car culture' as you are. But it's the culture we live in, sadly...

1:22 PM  
Blogger dan said...

Actually, the law (and, in my view, basic fairness) makes it crystal clear the door opener is at fault. California Vehicle Code Section 22517 reads:

"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 on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers."

So checking for bikes (and vehicles generally) is the responsibility of the door opener.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting about the laws. Now I'm second-guessing my own behavior: do I or don't I usually check for anything coming up behind me other than cars? I'm not too sure, because I don't remember any actual instance of having a cyclist passing by when I was opening a car door on that side. (I haven't been able to drive for over a year now anyway, so the issue hasn't been able to come up.) So it's possible I actually do check sufficiently but don't notice I'm doing it... I dunno... But anyway, having heard your story I'm certainly going to be doing it more consciously from here on out (once I get to drive again, but god knows how long that will be).

The issue about basic fairness is still not crystal clear to me though. Assuming that bikes are not all that common in the area in question (if they are, I think that makes a huge difference), it seems like the driver can have a reasonable expectation that there's not going to be anything traveling at any significant speed (i.e., faster than a pedestrian) right next to his vehicle.

Of course, it's equally true that the cyclist will often have no other reasonable option than riding in that zone -- since riding out with the cars is deathly dangerous, and riding on the footpath either puts pedestrians in danger or slows you down so much you might as well _be_ a pedestrian. So maybe you're right that the onus is on the car driver; but it's not totally clear to me that you're right.

5:56 PM  
Blogger dan said...

No wonder the yanks won't let you drive ; )

Kidding aside, I saw your post about your troubles getting a license and can commiserate. California waited over 6 months to issue mine (but at least they gave me a temporary license in the meantime)

9:33 PM  
Blogger Steve Peterson said...

Sorry to hear about that, Dan! When I had a motorcycle one of the big warnings was that drivers just don't look out for you.

Anyway, I just saw this today:

Bike Friendly

- which actually lists San Fran as the 8th most bike-friendly city. That might be more of an indictment of other cities though.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous shona said...

hi dan, was dropping by your blog to see if you had any more book recommendations, and saw you got car-doored. I got doored last Friday on Lygon St. I ride pretty slow, but the 4WD still managed to right-off my bike. I got told to write to the council and CC Bike Victoria, as this strengthens the argument for bike lanes (especially Copenhagen lanes). They might have something similar in San Fran.

6:38 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Hi Shona. Wow! What a strange coincidence. I hope you were not hurt. I always found Lygon St a particularly treacherous road for biking.

9:32 PM  

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