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When Trolling Cyclists Goes Too Far

Doorings are dangerous—they regularly injure cyclists in Chicago and, occasionally, kill them. They’re also easily preventable with barely a thought. So why pick a fight over it?

chicago dooring ghost bike

Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

Kim Nishimoto, and the Ghost Bike memorial for her son, Clinton Miceli, who was killed in a dooring crash on LaSalle Street in 2008

I realize that John Kass is trolling when he calls bicyclists “little bike people”; it doesn’t bother me. I realize he’s trolling when he asks for inefficient, ineffective bureacracy to spite cyclists; it’s good for traffic, and it won’t happen, because it’s been tried and it doesn’t work.

But this is ugly:

Emanuel is also increasing fines against drivers of legitimate vehicles, and by this, I mean cars. Actually, drivers of legitimate vehicles are going to have to pay disproportionately more than the Little Bike People.

If we dare open our doors when a bicyclist is approaching, and said bicyclist hits the door, the driver could be fined up to $1,000.

[snip]

The fault of the Little Bike People?

No. It’ll be the fault of the drivers of legitimate vehicles. And they will pay.

Here’s what a dooring is like:

Last Friday at 11:40 am, [Dustin] Valenta, a rider-owner with Cut Cats Courier, a Lincoln Park-based food-and-parcel delivery cooperative, was commuting north on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park. As he pedaled by Artemio’s Bakery, 1443 North Milwaukee, a woman in the driver’s seat of a parked car opened her door in his path. Valenta was thrown onto the street, where he was struck by the hit-and-run driver.

Valenta sustained a host of life-threatening injuries. The back of his skull, his pelvis, a shoulder blade, and 23 of 24 ribs were fractured, and he suffered a punctured lung and lacerated shoulder. Amazingly no surgery was needed, and the patient, currently in the ICU at Northwestern University Hospital, is alert and in good spirits.

Valenta had the tragic luck to be doored by a “legitimate vehicle” into the path of a car, though he was lucky to survive, unlike Clinton Miceli, who was killed on LaSalle Street when he was doored into the path of a car. But even a dooring alone can be terrible—one of my friends, whom Kass would consider among the “Good Little Bike People who follow the law and wear yellow shirts and spandex,” who knows the local cycling laws back to front, got doored. She broke her collarbone, passing out from the pain as she was being hauled into the ambulance. She couldn’t do much with her arms for awhile, and re-fractured it later.

Here’s where Kass’s attitude gets you. The Trib’s Julie Deardorff writes:

Last weekend, my 6-year-old was doored — the driver of a parked car flung open the door in his path – while riding his two-wheeler with me in a designated bike lane in downtown Evanston. My son wasn’t hurt, but the driver took no responsibility for the incident and said, “I hope you learned a lesson, young man.”

Deardorff has some good advice for cyclists to ride defensively, like looking for movement (sometimes you can see it in the side-view mirror), or taking extra caution if you see tail lights turn off. But if you’re in the door’s arc and it opens into your bike, there’s not a damn thing you can do. That’s the most dangerous scenario of all, because it knocks the cyclist out into traffic.

It happens a lot. Last year, Steven Vance calculated that in 2010, there were 127 reported dooring crashes, and in 2011, 344 (there were 250 last year; WBEZ has a really good map of doorings). Seven to 34 percent in 2010-2011 resulted in incapacitating injuries; 48 to 52 percent in non-incapacitating injuries. It’s entirely preventable; it only takes a few seconds to check and let the bike pass. I’m skeptical that the difference between a $500 fine and a $1,000 fine will dissuade drivers in and of itself, but it does get the phenomenon into the news, which is important. And it’s a reminder to take caution when you’re bicycling, as there are people out there who think their desire to open a car door supersedes your legal right not to be hit by one.

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