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.


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.



1 year ago
Posted by Lindsey R.

Cyclists also can't be constantly peering in cars parked on the side of the road - you have pedestrians, moving cars, traffic signals, potholes, and other cyclists to look out for.

Drivers: Use the SECOND it takes to turn around and check for cyclists.

1 year ago
Posted by murphypete

Under the current configuration, there are many things cyclists can do to make urban cycling safer...slowing down, wearing helmets and protective clothing, staying alert, looking for movement, etc. And there are many things that local governments can do...brightly painted bike lanes, education programs, etc.

But, let's be realistic, drivers do not naturally look for cyclists. And this will not change. It's human nature. Cyclists demonizing drivers, and vice versa, will solve nothing.

Mixing auto and bike traffic is inherently unsafe. Chicago's bike lanes, wedged right against parking lanes, are designed to lure you to your death.

The only solution, that is likely to work, is physically segregate bike lanes, with curbs or other physical barriers separating bikes from cars...which would be expensive to implement and would reduce the number of lanes available for autos, exacerbating traffic congestion.

And one more thought, for Ms. Deardorff: Are you out of your friggin' mind? Having your six year-old ride his bike, in the streets of downtown Evanston? You may be the worst/dumbest mother in America. I'm of a mind to call Child Protective Services.

1 year ago
Posted by almartin

One solution is the traffic calming bike lanes that they use in NYC -- instead of TRAFFIC | BIKES | PARKED CARS they move the parked cars out and the pattern looks like TRAFFIC | PARKED CARS | BIKES.

If you do this the right way bikes end up on the passenger, not driver side of cars -- dramatically less likely to get doored.

Keep fighting to good fight.

1 year ago
Posted by NYC

"But, let's be realistic, drivers do not naturally look for cyclists. And this will not change. It's human nature."

Really??? Drivers not looking for bicycles is imbedded in our nature? Individuals can't be blamed for their actions? I guess we come out of the womb with a set of keys to a BMW and a license? No. I think all of this behavior is learned...and can be re-learned.

But that's good for you, murphypete. Whenever you make a mistake and hurt someone, just tell them you couldn't help it....it's human nature.

1 year ago
Posted by Rob 13

I am not a commuter cyclist, but a trekker. There is definately an attitude against cyclists that will not go away in the near future. In the City has a lot to do with the attitudes of the Cyclists - they definately feel entitled to something that is not all theirs. Bike lanes are for bikes, the same way streets are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians. Cyclists have to protect themselves and ride at a pace that they can handle and still be aware of their surroundings. The "bike lane" is shared with cars, pedestrians and other cyclists. I was putting my son in my car with my door open, 10 seconds later (with my door still open, yes its not easy bucking a kid in)) a cyclist came rushing by and yelled at me "close your fucking' door." I wanted to beat this cyclistts with his tire, and i felt like getting in my car and running him over with my car. Luckily i had something more important to do. Also, i have had to get out of my car when there are a string of cyclists comming through. I waited, got out, and then, of course a cyclist did not stop at the stop sign and after closing the door and starting to walk, comming though. I have also driven a motorcycle for over a decade in all kinds of traffic around the country. Motorcyclists know that you have to obey the law and respect the heirarchy and be smart - its the idiots that give motorcyclist a bad name. It;s the same with the biking commuters - there are always going to be some commuter idiots that ruin it for the smart riders, so when another cyclists gets doored, a lot of people will think it is that jerk that sweared at you and your kid for no reason.

1 year ago
Posted by Tandemman

I am NOT defending drivers, but why ride close enough to parked cars to get doored? I try to leave enough room that the idiots,err, DRIVERS, can open a door and NOT hit me.

I hate the idea of riding on the passenger side of parked cars, too. How do you turn left? what if a passenger opens the door?

1 year ago
Posted by bobs

Yes, it would be nice if we could persuade motorists to always turn and look, without fail, 100% of the time. But they've got no skin in the game, and why should I trust my life to someone else who's looking the other way?

Dooring is 100% completely avoidable by the cyclist accepting responsibility for her own safety and taking the necessary action: Ride at least five feet from the parked cars. If there's a bike lane but it's not wide enough, just ride in the travel lane. It's simple and easy and always works, without fail, 100% reliably. If you're far enough away, the door can't reach you.

Don't bother peeking through rear windows or peering in mirrors, hoping to catch a glimpse of movement. It won't work, you'll miss one and you'll get caught. Don't bother slowing to a walking pace if you're riding with the purpose of getting somewhere.

1 year ago
Posted by murphypete

NYC - There's the difference. You're looking for someone to blame and punish. I'm looking for solutions.

What a DB! Let me guess. You're a lawyer?

As I said: Drivers do not naturally look for cyclists. And this will not change. It's human nature.

So we can waste a lot of time and money on educational programs, and create a system of onerous penalties. But the carnage will continue.

At least, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that we've identified and punished the evildoers.

Or, if we're serious about developing cycling as a viable means of commuting (already a dubious prospect, considering our weather), we can create physically segregated bike lanes, like they have in many European cities, with curbs or other barriers between autos and bikes. It's more expensive, but much safer. And it's not dependent on retraining the entire population of Chicago and/or punishing every adult, elderly person or child who thoughtlessly opens a car door, without looking for cyclists.

1 year ago
Posted by LRodHubbard

You people saying that you keep your bike five feet away from a car door have never ridden a bike down Milwaukee Avenue... Or any street in the city of Chicago. And teaching a child to use a bike lane is to be applauded. Children can ride on a sidewalk until age 12, ergo if a mom is with her kid, they need to ride together on the street.

1 year ago
Posted by marc

It is quite easy to ride 5 ft away from a parked car. If you know there where be parked cars you stay 5ft away from the standard car this will probably put you in what is effectively the lane of travel. If this is the case you have now determined you need to take the lane. If the lane is less than 14ft wide that means you need to control the lane. Now if there are many parked cars spaced with small gaps don't bother moving right for the short distance there are no parked cars you will just have to move back when parked cars reappear. You might not be able to make lateeral movements left when you need too. do to someone occupying the lane to the left of you. So take the lane and hold the lane. There is nothing wrong with this it is not rude or inconsiderate. It is protecting your own safety. Anyone who believes their right to not be minorly delayed so you can be safe is the one being inconsiderate or rude. You will probably only add 5 minutes at most to someones commute. They will more than likely be able to pass you in an adjacent lane.

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