That Fateful Click

[image via GarySe7en]

So you're pedaling along a bike lane. Ever vigilant and keeping out of the door zone - or at least so you hope. And then, as you are cycling past a particular car - right at the very moment you are parallel to it - you hear that sound... that fateful click which accompanies the pulling of a car's door handle and precedes the flinging open of the door itself. You hear it, and your body reacts before you even have time to register a thought, let alone evaluate the situation and make a decision. Am I in the door zone? Will the swinging door hit me? If I swerve to the left, will I be in the path of car traffic? It hardly matters. The reaction to that click is a knee-jerk response. And what will it be?

Hurrying home at dusk with a pannier full of hot Indian take-out, I heard the blood-chilling click whilst passing a blue sedan. My knee-jerk response was to let out a pitiful yelp and hammer down on the pedals with all my might. I heard the door swing open a fraction of a second later. Would I have cleared it anyway? Very possibly. I really do my best to stay to the left in the bike lane. But our danger-evading instincts are strong and do not always work in our favour. I could have slammed the brakes. I could have swerved into traffic. We can't always control how we react when adrenaline floods our system.

It's times like these I wish that bike lanes weren't placed directly in the door-zone half the time. I know, what a tiresomely clich├ęd complaint.


  1. I am always scanning (just sort of automatically after years of urban cycling) for the tell-tale silhouette of someone in the drivers seat moving about in a car. Even if the door never opens, I always "expect" it to.

    Unfortunately this is not always how it works out... I have been surprised on more than (10? 50?) occasions where a door has (seemingly) randomly opened before me.

  2. Yikes! I hate riding next to parked cars. I try looking in the car to see if anyone is inside and might possibly open the door. Unfortunately it isn't always possible to see inside so, like you, I ride as far to the left of the bike lane as I can. So far (knocking on wood) I've been lucky.

  3. You didn't ask a question but I'll go anyway.

    A guy was killed last year in my neighborhood avoiding a suddenly-flung door. The bus driver never saw either. There's a ghost bike there now.

    I once saw someone door a bus, which took it off.

    Today was street sweeping day down a very wide road I rode, so no cars parked to the R of the bike lane. Being cautious I rode in the parking lane. A solitary car passed, slowly pulled over and stopped. One. Two. Three. Still no door open. I ain't no dummy. Look back, no cars coming. Swing out into the lane from the parking lane, through the bike lane. At this point I'm nearly vehicular cycling. You can guess the rest. It was as if she was waiting for me and tried to extend the car door beyond its physical dimensions as quickly as possible.

    Everyone wants cycling infrastructure, but at what cost? San Francisco, despite its rep as being on the forefront of this, has an enormous number of bike lanes that are nearly all in the door zone.

    For the most part I don't look at Google bike directions anymore. It places the rider on designated bikeways, many poorly designed. I'd much rather allow a little more time and wend my way through the quieter side streets, taking the lane, impacting no one. It's prettier too. People wave.

    It would seriously piss me off if someone took out my Aloo Ghobi and naan.

  4. I know it's safer to take the lane than to hug the right (bike lane or no). I *know* this. But I really hate the sensation of a car right behind me, driven by a possibly angry and impatient person. And so I generally hug the right hand side of the lane. And spend the whole time hoping I don't get doored. I've had a friend get doored! It's no fun! He was in physical therapy for a few months and his bike was unrideable.

    If I'm in a bike lane, I definitely hug the left-hand side of the lane most of the time.

    I did almost get doored once. Going onto one of the bridges from downtown, there's a short parking lane on the right, with a bike lane next to it. A gentleman in a truck swung his door open without looking. A cyclist in front of me saw it first and swerved into the car traffic lane (as did I), which caused a car to have to swerve to go around us!! Thankfully that part of the bridge is uphill, so the two of us on bikes were going slowly. If it had happened coming downhill, or if the driver in the other lane hadn't been paying close enough attention...yikes.

    Hopefully the truck driver learned his lesson, I think both of us on bikes yelled at him to look next time.

  5. I do scan cars for people inside them, but as some have pointed out it's not 100% effective. Dusk is the worst.

    I happen to "know" (in the internet sense of the word) several persons who have hit cyclists with their cars. All of those incidents happened when the cyclist swerved to avoid an opening door or an obstacle in the bike lane. There is very little one can do sometimes to avoid a collision when this happens, which does not make the result any less horrific.

    Another issue that has been raised a gazillion times before, is driver liability. In Vienna, a (small) portion of bike lanes are in the door zone as well, and I asked my friends whether they worry about this. The reply is usually "No, the driver would never get out without looking. They're afraid of going to jail for life." Interesting.

    My Indian food of choice is Saag Paneer by the way.

  6. Maybe I'm missing something but perhaps the answer is to have bike lanes on the other side of parked cars, far away from the door zone. See the Netherlands, etc.

  7. I'm happy to know you suffered nothing worse than a fright.

    It's midnight here and I'm now hungry for saag paneer. And lamb vindaloo, come to think of it.

  8. ^ I am a lapsed vegetarian, trying to stick to it again. Starting yesterday. So far, so good: Co-Habitant tried to entice me with some of his lamb and I rejected it. Lamb and bacon are what usually gets me.

  9. I've been incredibly thankful to live in a small village outside of Groningen. We're incredibly bike friendly here with dedicated bike lanes... but it took a lot of destruction in WWII for that to happen. When the towns and cities were rebuilt, there was a major effort to make it bike friendly.

    There are some streets in our village that don't have dedicated bike paths, and so far, I've not had that door scare. People here, when they are sitting the car and are about to get out.... you can actually SEE them turned around waiting for bikes and car traffic. It's a very different culture here. Roads are too tight for you to just blindly open your car door. A bus WILL take it off and it will be the car owner's fault.

    When America starts hitting European numbers of population density.. things will change for bike rights.

  10. The lack of the door zone is one of the few benefits of living somewhere without bike lanes. I suppose that there are more benefits associated with bike lanes than not though. If I were to suddenly move somewhere with bike lanes I think that I would become a more nervous cyclist!

    Good luck to you going veggie again! I was actually considering the same thing just a few days ago. It's been 7 years for me, but I don't really eat much meat anyway.

  11. Re: Having the bike lane on the opposite (sidewalk) side of the cars.

    I think the problem here is that, without creating additional infrastructure (beyond repainting lines), such a bike lane essentially pins the cyclist between the cars and the curb of the sidewalk. Doors will open less frequently on this side, most likely, but if they -do-, then the cyclist has nowhere to go because of the curb.

    To make it practical and safe, I think the accepted wisdom is that this means the bike lane would need to be a bit wider to allow riders some "emergency clearance" between an open door and a curb. On a street with already close quarters, that need for extra space is prohibitive.

    It's all fresh in my mind after an enlightening public meeting last night to talk about adding bike lanes to a section of Massachusetts Avenue here in Boston. Mass Ave. is very narrow to begin with, and so the planners were really strapped for space, and a proposal to switch the (remaining) parking lane and put the bike lane between it and the sidewalk was shot down on the above grounds.

    That's not to say that I wouldn't -prefer- a lane between the parking and the sidewalk myself, but that's the argument against it that we heard here. :)

  12. Instead of feeling guilty for driving your vehicle in the most effectively defensive manner -- which means outside the door zone bike lane -- you should be feeling anger at the community and/or government agency that has compelled you, either socially or legally, to ride in the door zone.

  13. Motorists don't drive their cars in the door zone. Why should you drive your bicycle there?

  14. April, you admit you know the right answer. I know it's hard to know that cars are behind you, but is the mood of the motorist behind you really more important than your life? When you get past the danger area and it's safe for them to pass you again, give them a friendly wave to let them know you appreciate their patience. If they still don't understand, wish them a nice day anyway.

    Placing bike lanes in door zones is immoral, period. Immoral of bike advocates who are satisfied with getting them, at the price of cyclists' lives and road rights, and immoral of engineers for providing them. No other road facility places people in danger when used as directed. Engineers wouldn't dream of providing such dangerous infrastructure to motorists. Car drivers never get within 5' of parked cars, do they? And they don't even risk getting killed if they did. Why should cyclists?

    Edward, the problem with bike lanes between parked cars and the sidewalk is mainly intersections. It hides the cyclist from the view of turning motorists at intersections, increasing the risk of the bicyclist getting hit. Most collisions happen at intersections even without this configuration. The only way to reliably avoid it is separate signal phases for bikes, which is additional expense and additional red phase for everyone. (Not saying these things are good or bad, but they are costs which figure into whether it gets done or not.) It also increases bike/ped collisions, including of course the driver of the parked car walking to and from the sidewalk, and reduces the bicyclist's safe operating speed due to all these hazards.

  15. Another good point (thanks, Steve G.) about the road pictured here: There is a double left turn lane in the center, which motorists easily can and will move into to pass you, so you won't even be holding them up. Don't be held hostage to the door lane!

  16. You have bike lanes?

  17. For a while Cambridge (I think it was Cambridge) had a campaign where they were giving out little stickers that said "Watch For Cyclists" (or something like that) that drivers could stick to their side view mirrors to remind them to check before opening the door.

    I'd love to see that come back. It's a very small step in educating folks, but every little bit counts.

  18. IMHO they should do away with the death lane (aka... bike lane). It was a bad idea to designate a lane just for bicycles. Cyclist fare far better when they are treated as a vehicle in trafic. Most drivers ignore the cyclist in a bike lane its as if the lines of the bike lane do not allow the motorist to see beyond them. The only issues I have ever had is when in a bike lane. When I am in the middle of traffic I have not had near as much trouble and in most cases I can easily make that dreaded left turn because mortorist actually see me so they slow down and/or stop to allow me the right of way. I just wish they would not honk their horns as if I don't see their FAT cars. Also I have noticed that when the FAT cars blow their horns it is because I am too close to the edge of the road and I guess they have trouble seeing over their FAT hoods to spot me. So I move out more into the lane. I have found that if you stay in the FAT cars right wheel impression on the road then the cars will just simplly go around you as if it was no big deal and they are just passing another car. They don't even blow their horns.

    Whom ever came up with these death lanes should pay for all damages they have caused to cyclist.

  19. the problem with lanes on the "inside" of parked cars is the same problem with cycle-tracks... it removes bikes from the road and thereby removes them from the thoughts of cars/motorists... which is bad when they must inevitably interact come a side street/intersection.

    More bikes on the road (where they belong) = more awareness (hopefully).

    Fish Curry, here ;)

  20. last night, the Girl and I were riding home from a friend's birthday dinner in Chinatown and opted to go through the Back Bay, riding along the (new-ish) left hand bike lane on Comm Ave. It's so refreshing to ride along a lane that wasn't in the door zone -- and as we went through the Mass Ave. underpass, with that little bit of divider in the lane, it did feel like a little gift from the city to the rest of us.

    over the years, my instinct when seeing someone going for their door is to yell 'WAIT'. It seems like it's more useful to issue a command and give the person guidance on their reaction rather than generally yell in alarm.

    It's like when pedestrians jaywalk without checking for traffic, and ringing a bell isn't quite as useful as ringing a bell and pointing them back to the curb. Otherwise, one gets into that awful bit of pedestrian two-step where they can't decide if they should advance, retreat or hold still and thus increase their chance of getting hit.

  21. I was doored in San Francisco several years ago by someone who I later found out had been lying down sleeping in the driver's seat for a while, then threw his door open suddenly at the moment I happened to be there. His car was a Honda hatchback where the door is almost the entire length of the car, so even though I was riding at least 3 feet away I hit the door straight on and flew over it. So, like others have commented, it's definitely not always possible to protect yourself by looking for heads in parked cars. I was injured pretty severely but consider myself lucky I survived, since I was thrown into fast-moving traffic.

    Many of my cyclist friends believe that if you're a skilled and experienced city rider, you can prevent things like this from happening to you; needless to say, I'm pretty hurt by this attitude that essentially blames those of us who have been hit by cars. Since then, I ride even further away from parked cars, but I get honked and yelled at every day in the bike-unfriendly city I live in now. I've even been yelled at by police who are clearly unaware of my state's laws. Or maybe they're just jerks, like a lot of drivers around here.

  22. I happen to "know" (in the internet sense of the word) several persons who have hit cyclists with their cars. All of those incidents happened when the cyclist swerved to avoid an opening door or an obstacle in the bike lane.

    This probably doesn't help your nerves, but I still have memories of the Dana Laird crash. It touched off this public bike advocacy argument in Cambridge because it overlapped so many touch points: busy traffic on Mass Ave., bike lanes in the door zones, the fact that she was killed, not by hitting the door of a parked SUV, but by an MBTA bus that was travelling next to her; and essentially became this bike lane vs. vehicular cycling media circus about vehicular cycling vs. bike lane advocates.

  23. Riding in a door-zone bicycle lane is more dangerous that riding in the street. Why ride there in the first place?

  24. Bike lane hazards in my delightful hamlet include salmon in the bike lane (thanks to the highway dept's labeling the lane backwards), an extensive bus service that sees buses often idling in the lane near their stops rather than pulling all the way over (or pulling out without looking), and cars that veer into them to swerve past other traffic despite me already being there (and plainly visible to them). I can bank on at least one of these things happening every time I ride through the center of town. Getting doored remains a legitimate concern, but surprisingly people seem pretty good about it around here.

  25. V., I'm sorry you had this scary experience. If I am riding in a bike lane, I always ride the outer left painted line, or just outside it, at least 3-4 feet from the cars. I know you have a bell on your bike, but you might want to wear a whistle around your neck. As many of the readers who have commented above, I prefer riding in traffic if cars are parked on the curb beside the bike lane. Keep pace with traffic and cars will not try to squeeze you to the far right.

  26. @Anonymous who was doored in SF: Please don't feel we are blaming you for getting hit. Pointing out how to avoid your fate is not the same as blaming you for your collision. Clearly, the primary blame lies with the driver who failed to check for you, but that doesn't mean we can't also protect ourselves so we aren't at their mercy. The blame is more properly assigned to engineers who design bike lanes that encourage door zone riding, and bike advocates who respond to criticism of them with "they're better than nothing". Without the social pressure to use those bike lanes, it would be easier at least for the cyclists who know better to avoid the door zone, and the cyclists who don't know better at least wouldn't be given a false sense of security and be reinforced in the bad habit of riding in the door zone.

  27. In response to the VC comments: As I write in the FAQs here, I am all for it. I think different localities and cultures call for different approaches, and we cannot generalise that "VC is always better" or "bike lanes are always better."

    Some notes specific to my experience in the Boston metro area:

    I have lived here long enough now to have ridden along some routes both pre-bike lanes and with bike lanes. I have to admit that my cycling experience has improved on the roads where bike lanes have been installed. This improvement includes a marked decrease in "close calls" and decrease in hostility from drivers. Additionally, the numbers of cyclists on roads where bike lanes have been installed here have risen visibly, creating the added benefit of "safety in numbers." Car drivers are starting to think of us as a normal part of the population, rather than as lone freaks. I cannot help but conclude that bike lanes in Boston do more good than harm. Fixing the ones with door zone issues will improve things further still.

    On roads without bike lanes, my experience with being passed by cars whilst "taking the lane" differs from what VC proponents say should happen. According to the VC school of thought, when a cyclist takes the lane, the driver sees that it is not possible to squeeze past them within the same lane, and switches lanes, thus passing them at a safer distance. This assumption is what the safety argument is based on, correct? Well, this does not happen to me when I cycle in Boston. When I take the lane, the cars will often pass me just as closely as if I were on the side of the road, switching only partly into the neighbouring lane - as little as they perceive they have to. I have been "brushed" 3 or 4 times by cars here so far (within the past 2 years), and each of those incidents happened when I was cycling in the vehicular manner.

  28. V- I am curious as to your exact position in the lane when you are in vehicular manner. Where you in the right tire track? Center of lane? Left of Center?

    Your position indictates to those behind you the lane is not wide enough to share. I once had a fellow follow me half a mile trying to squeeze by me. I was center of a 12 ft lane.

    Had to take the left tire track position before he moved into the inside lane of a four lane road. Remember, You lead the Dance

  29. After reading carefully the various VC suggestions, and have tried right tire track as well as dead center. The close passing does not change. And if I am too far from the righthand side, I've actually had cars try to squeeze past me on the right...

    As a separate issue, I don't think the average person can be expected to "lead the dance" with cars in the manner suggested by VC advocates. I've spoken to too many local women now who've tried to cycle in the city but quit, because it feels too frightening and there are no bike lanes along their commutes. Yes, they've read the literature. They understand how it works. But when they try it, it feels too frightening. Can't really argue with that. If a person doesn't feel comfortable doing something, they won't do it.

  30. There are still advantages to taking the lane, even with drivers pass too close. You have a larger space to your right to maneuver in should you temporarily lose control of your bike from being brushed. You are less likely to get run off the road.
    I find the right strategy depends very much on local conditions. I take bike lanes when available, and watch carefully for drivers about to exit the car, though, as you've said, this doesn't always work. Absent a bike lane I ride at the right side of the road (or on a shoulder if it is available, smooth enough, not too trash-filled, etc.) unless I feel that someone passing me would do it in an unsafe manner (road too narrow, traffic too heavy, multi-lane high speed highway, or some unusual situation) and then I will take the lane. It is, indeed, frightening to do this -- it's really not much compensation to think that "Well, if he kills me, he's going to have body work and a nasty stain on his car" but biking involves risk -- there's just no way to avoid it (though it is quite possible to deny it.)

  31. VC is a doctrine that applies a set of rules to general scenarios that don't take into account local attitudes.

    Some people make it a game to pass as close as possible, particularly if they perceive you as in the wrong. Some will pull alongside, then slowly move you over. I've yelled at cyclists who were clearly obstructing traffic at 8mph taking a lane. I've done this from a car and bike. There is a minimum speed requirement to attempt VC; a lot of people either don't want to or can't go that fast.

    To state the obvious: you can not know the mindset of the person in the car. The VC assumption is everone will behave rationally. One thug can end your life quickly. It's up to the rider to make his/her own choice, not a doctrine.

    As a cyclist you are bound by the law but there are a lot of grey areas to exploit for your own safety.

    Remember: You Lead Your Own Dance.

  32. A five foot zone between your wheel line and rear view mirrors, regardless of bike lane markings: imagine they are shark infested waters, or a pit of vipors, or a tiger pit full razor blades. Train yourself to NOT swerve to the left out of fear. A 100% effective way to avoid getting doored, or hit while swerving to avoid getting doored.

  33. Typo in my previous comment: "and have tried" should read "I have tried."

    The way I see it, is that sometimes there are advantages to taking the lane and sometimes there are advantages to using bike lanes. My personal style of cycling is best described as fluid and adaptable, within the confines of local traffic laws. It works for me.

  34. Bunch of typos: all the "you"s should be replaced by "one" in my post of 12:53.

  35. "My personal style of cycling is best described as fluid and adaptable"

    But there is no way to adapt or adjust to a dooring. Like you I avoid strict doctrines, but the one doctrine I cannot ignore it that riding in a door zone is always dangerous and unpredictable, and that there is nothing safe I can do to compensate for a door opening directly in my path. At the same time I don't "take the lane" as the legality of the philosophy is weak and not likely to be recognized by either an officer or a judge, regardless of how much the VC rider insists it is legal. I find that 95% of the time my 5 foot rule is within the bike lane or on the white line. If it isn't, I find a new route.

  36. It was scary for me at first too. Perhaps the VC way is too large a bite to swallow for these women and the average person(s).

    A couple of my mentors developed a program called CyclingSavvy. About 100 empowered and road confident students have passed through this course in the last year and have nothing but high remarks for what they were given during the course.

    Since FL has a mandatory Bike Lane law, these DZBL's (door zone bike lanes)are discussed and how to safely navigate them.

    Students have come from as far as Maine, Missouri, Texas, and North Carolina to attend. If these women you mention really want to ride, this may help them in a much more experiential and stress free way.

  37. "It's times like these I wish that bike lanes weren't placed directly in the door-zone half the time. "

    The photo you posted of a bike lane shows all to well how todays bike lanes force cyclist INTO harms way. There should be no less than 3 feet between the edge of the lane and the parked cars.

    While there "seems" to be concessions to cyclist they are, in fact, just cost driven tokens that are a dog & pony show for the politicians that lay claim to "good works" for cyclist.

    There is now good research driven ways to accommodate cyclist in ways that really do aid in safe riding by using TRUE separation of cars and bicycles.

    The political lies that pass for bicycling safety accommodations are in all to many places just that....lies. Darn!!!!!!!!

  38. I once witnessed a near-miss dooring accident. The kicker here is that it was a Cambridge poilce officer who recklessly opened is door, nearly catching the woman who was in front of me. Luckily, she was able to swerve and lock her brakes without falling or hitting the door. After navigating her way around the door, she pulled over to catch her breath and regain her composure. I stopped and tried to politely out to the officer what I had just witnessed, but he would have none of it. Instead, he interrupted with an obscenity, and said "you cyclists have all the rights". I tried to keep it civil, but failed after I realized this cop would never recognize cyclists as legitimate entities on the road.

  39. By the way, I always try to straddle the line between vehicular traffic and the bike lane, so as to stay as clear as possible of the door zone. I've found this, in general, to be the safest compromise in 90% of my city riding. And I've rarely experienced hostility by drivers for doing so.

  40. G.R. Jim: there is no speed requirement to attempt VC on roads in Mass. Bicycles and farm equipment are not permitted on state highways where minimum speed requirements are enforced. Bicycles on city and state roads are legally entitled to receive a minimum passing distance from faster vehicles and are allowed to take the lane when their safety requires it. In doing so, they are not legally expected to drive at a speed that you may perceive as "good enough" or acceptance for VC. At least in Mass. I can't speak for other states.

  41. I should add that last I looked at our Mass bicycle laws, they did not specify what the safe passing distance was. I know in some other states they spell out something like 3 feet or a certain number where you can't pass a bicycle closer than that. So there's room for improvement there.

  42. Rodney, I think the proposal that cyclists should travel to Florida for additional training is representative of a profoundly valid criticism of vehicular cycling: that this is not a solution for large scale bicycling that is beneficial to a significant percentage of any population.

  43. I usually don't hear the click of doors of parked cars prior to them opening, becasue I ride outside the door zone, so an opening door is not a source of fear and dread; it an irrelevant and ignorable non-problem for me...

  44. ^ I must have superhearing then; I can recognise that sound half way down the block.

  45. somervillain, that once happened to me with an officer. He thoughtlessly kicked out his door violently with his foot. Luckily, I was following my rule so all I had to do was glare at him and shake my head as I passed.

  46. MDI, I was referring to the practical application of VC tenets, not so much the legal.

    My point, apropos of me yelling at cyclists, is taking a lane at walking pace regardless of speed limit just pisses people off. If they are going that slow then a dooring incident is much less likely to occur, given the decreased stopping distance and the slowed perception of time to react, so farther right isn't nearly as potentially hazardous than @ 25 mph.

    In CA the law states something like the cyclist must be as far right as practicable. Room for lots of interpretation, no doubt.

  47. SomerV, cops behave by a different set of rules sometimes:

  48. I usually don't hear the click of doors of parked cars prior to them opening,

    Yeah, I thought about that-- I have good hearing but I never hear the click. For me, it's only the visual registration of the door on its rapid opening!

  49. Gotta love the cop with the door story, especially considering-

    Quoting MGL C.90§14:

    "No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians. Whoever violates the preceding sentence shall be punished by a fine of not more than $100."

  50. Ground Round Jim. You are an iconoclast! I have never heard anyone say there is a minimum speed before vehicular cycling is allowed. I disagree. Speed limits are max speeds, not required speeds, and road users can go as slow as they want (unless there is a posted minimum speed). The speed limit is actually the lower of the posted limit and the speed which is safe under the conditions. Cars passing bicycles are speeding by going the speed limit. They should slow while passing a vulnerable road user. I practice vehicular cycling and almost never exceed 15 mph. I would love for you to yell at me for doing so from a bicycle. Then I could say I have truly seen it all. Keep pedaling and writing. We need more independent thought. Thank you.

  51. "Velouria said...
    ^ I must have superhearing then; I can recognise that sound half way down the block."

    Yes, and the cyclist with poor hearing (like me) or ipods in their ears have a special need for that 3 feet of extra space!

  52. This very thing makes me quite thankful that there is no bike lane on the busy street I must travel every day. I hope they never put one there too. The road was put on a "diet", so it has 1 lane of car traffic in each direction with a center turn lane. I ride on the line between the car park lane that moving car lane. Passing cars move into the center lane to make room as they pass me. It works very well, and I am quite clear of doors. And I have *only* been road raged 1 time after more than a year of daily riding this way. This is likely due to the very heavy and constant bicycle traffic that uses this route. Most drivers expect us to be partially taking the lane.

  53. "There is a minimum speed requirement to attempt VC" - Absolutely false. Legally, most local roads have no minimum speed limits. Also, 8 MPH is not walking speed. It is twice walking speed. And it's also extremely slow for a bicyclist. Sure, some bicyclists go that slow, but even most newbies are a few MPH faster than that. We're not racers. I've controlled the lane as slow as 8 MPH when fighting a strong headwind.

    The people who have gone to Florida from other states to take Cycling Savvy have done so because they are themselves bicycle educators who are curious about the curriculum and are thinking of exporting it to their own areas. I'm the one Rodney mentions from Maine. But CS is not the only game in town either. The League of American Bicyclists has education courses all over the country, listed at

    The primary problem with cyclist education isn't that it doesn't work, from the perspective of empowering the bicyclist. It does that. The main problem is the assumption that it isn't needed, shouldn't be needed, or won't work. Most people who say it doesn't work are assuming a goal of simply getting more people to ride, period, as opposed to getting them to ride more intelligently. There may be safety in numbers eventually, but meanwhile, the beginners you're attracting get led right into riding in door zones, get doored, and suddenly bicycling is too dangerous.

    Of course people are initially afraid to ride with traffic. It's drilled into us since we're kids, and yes, there is always work to be done in the law enforcement community. And yes, you can't change peoples' fear with logic. One of the nice things about the Cycling Savvy curriculum is it is not just about logic and rational argument. It is visual, participatory, and experiential. The founders realize you can't change behavior without changing beliefs, and that takes experience, not just talk (like on the Internet).

  54. Over a two year period, I lived as a cyclist in a number of different US cities: New Haven, Chicago, St Louis & New York. I've spent the rest of my years cycling daily in the UK and here in Ireland.

    In the US, with such massive wide roads and lanes, I found that the problems were often explicitly ideological. There was a palpable agression from certain drivers almost before any interaction had begun. Field of vision was rarely a problem on them. In those circumstances, I can see how cycle lanes could have their use.

    Here in Dublin I found that incompetence and much tighter roads were the main offences. We have had the most incredibly stupid efforts to put "cyclepaths" in place. Our authorities actually made it illegal for cyclists to ride outside them for a while! Most are merely a line marking out the left third of dual-use bus-lanes. It really is quite an experience to have three or four double-decker buses sweeping past you at top speed as they reluctantly half-overtake and then pull back in front of you to stop and pick up passengers.

    I'll finish with a little joke this all reminds me of (i've tried to change the language for u yanks):

    A 4-lane Interstate highway and a 3-lane freeway are sitting in a bar bragging with the barman about how tough their routes are. The interstate talks about all the accidents he's seen and the freeway responds that he ain't seen nothing that compares with the deaths on his route. Then, all of the sudden, a skinny red strip of tarmacadam comes walking into the bar. He walks straight up to the the interstate, looks him square in the eye and says "I believe you're sittin in my seat." The two big tough roads look at one another, then grab their drinks and skulk off to the other side of the bar. The barman looks on in amazement and then comes over a few minutes later to ask what just happened. "Why", he asks, "would a big interstate like you and tough looking freeway like you be so scared of a skinny little bit of tarmacadam like that?" ...The intestate responds: "I may be a hard 4-lane highway and he may be a tough 3-lane freeway, but that fella is a complete pschylepath!"

    Thank you very much, I'll be here all week..
    E. in Ireland.

  55. Adam, I wasn't suggesting one need come to FL to learn to ride a bike. Just to clarify, Said students (out of state) are local bicycle advocates, bike/ped coordinators, city planners, city/state bicycle association, etc. looking for something fresh for their curriculum besides TS101 from LAB.

    They made the investment of taking the course, came back later for the instructor course, then returned home to teach in their respective locales.

    Ride Big and Ride On!

  56. John, Randal - Please see my response @2:02 pm to MDI's question.

    John - If you are advocating that students control the lane @ 8mph do you mind taking liability if a student is injured doing so? This scenario exhibits the lack of common sense IMO.

    Randal - Thanks! I've been called worse.
    Newbie bikers are everywhere and some feel entitled to the lane no matter their speed due to having subscribed to the VC doctrine. I've had to ride between two abreast riders before due to the absolute lethargy they were exhibiting. This, after funneling up the right side next to cars, who were being held up by the cyclists.

    But the real reason I don't VC is so I don't have to wear a big safety vest when I take/don't take the lane.

  57. Is "iconoclast" even an insult? I wasn't sure.

    I agree that taking the lane at minimal speed is impractical and inconsiderate, even if legal.

    I disagree that people should be required or encouraged to take hard-core courses on aggressively defensive cycling tactics. The mere suggestion that such a thing is necessary will make cycling seem dangerous and undesirable to a large portion of the population, IMO.

  58. I take it as a high compliment. I'd much prefer being called it than "nice".

  59. I cannot imagine taking the lane at slow speed in NYC traffic. I would feel like the most passive-aggressive person alive. And I wouldn't want to take that honor away from the slow jaywalkers.

  60. Peppy (the wtf do people think when they get inside cars cat)April 15, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    Don't think you can go fast enough to earn any favours from drivers. Forget that idea and ride at your own pace in whichever part of the lane you feel safest.

    No matter how fast you think you're going on a bike, people driving cars will still want to pass. They will break the speed limit to pass you. The will break other traffic laws just to pass you. I've had cars race downhill in the opposite lane on gentle, idyllic country road going 45 mph in a 30 mph zone while I was coasting downhill at about the speed limit. They will do it with a blind curve ahead, barely adhering to pavement with their skinny minivan tyres. They will whip around you and cut you off fast the little baby on board sign will go knocking audibly against the glass.

    It doesn't matter how fast you're going. Go slow if you want. F them. If they can't pass safely, they'll wait. If they start honking you can slow down some, get their plate and call the cops.

  61. Peppy (the universe consists only of places I can see from the window cat)April 15, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    In my cat-fury I forgot to qualify the above rant as pertaining to my own little cat-world in which I have cycling experience, particularly New England. If you live somewhere else, I suggest you move at once.

  62. WTH Peps, it's Friday. Watch this and chill, dude:

  63. Peppy! What's with all the aggression, young lady? I am guessing you are not too fond of Tuncer, the driving cat...

  64. ^ Sorry, spelled that wrong. It's Toonces, the cat who could drive.

  65. The two times I have been doored were not in the manner usually described... hitting a door that has opened in front of me. I can't imagine travelling that fast in an urban area so close to parked cars. No, they were drivers striking me with their door as I passed, knocking me into the right lane. I was mostly OK both times. I try to ride a little farther out now.

    As to the VC thing. Avoiding hazzards etc and feeling safe is one thing, but I suspect that the general motivation for taking a whole lane is a self-righteous and indignant need to make a point. You just end up looking like a jerk..and ultimately, as Velouria notes, not necessarily safer.

  66. How about this one: cycling to work in the Central Business District I was vigilantly scanning the rear window of parked cars for occupants. As I approached a red traffic light the passenger of a car in the moving lane to my left decided to exit the car from the passenger side of course. I flipped over the car door and somehow did't kill myself but it didn't feel good. So, it's not just parked cars that will do you in.

  67. I bike in Portland, OR, and I explicitly avoid streets with bike lanes next to parked cars; I'd rather bike on a low-traffic shared street.

    If low-traffic non-bike-lane routes are extremely inconvenient, I ignore the bike lane and ride in the center of a motor vehicle lane. I do this even if I'm going slowly. I don't do it on busy, high-speed streets; I'd rather walk my bike on the sidewalk than deal with the stress. Fortunately, I generally only have to ride on bike lane-d streets for a few blocks at a time.

    I've only once exchanged words about it with a person driving. Many more times, other people on bikes have recommended that I use the bike lane. One time, a woman riding her bike in the leftmost MOTOR VEHICLE lane told me (not very nicely) that using the bike lane was the law. I'm still a little mystified about that one.

  68. Velouria: Thank Goddess you're OK!

    When I was doored the November before last, I was thankful that, as painful as it was, at least I didn't swerve into the path of a car doing 40mph, or a truck.

    It seems (at least here in NYC) that most bike lanes are poorly conceived and, as a result, one of two things happens. Either cyclists don't use them, or when cyclists use them, there are accidents or motorists don't like to "lose" "their" streets to cyclists and complain loudly. Either way, the lanes are deemed a failure. And, when then-Mayor Ed Koch came to this conclusion thirty years ago, he took out the lanes and blamed cyclists for the fact that they didn't make conditions safer for cyclists or motorists.

  69. Don - the tactic I use to avoid being doored from the left is never passing or queuing on the right. If a car on my left stops, I stop, regardless of how far I still may be from the intersection, even in the bike lane.

    sierraaddict - that driver may have been originally from one of the many states where using the bike lane, when present, is compulsory.

    Justine Valinotti - I'm don't think there is a consensus that the bike lanes in New York are a failure. The DOT attributes the reduction of all types of road collisions largely to their installation, and a recent poll indicated that the majority of New Yorkers like them and approve of their installation. I believe Ed Koch removed them after being humiliated in front of President Carter when some politician pointed them out to Carter and said something like "Look how Ed is ruining our city."

  70. I find several issues here frustrating - advocates and planners installing Door zone lanes (DZBLs) have a falsely strident description of VC, complain that VC doesn't work everywhere, and imply that motorist harassment is a result of unnecessary VC aggressiveness.

    From my experience, the “VC ideologue” label is applied to any rider who doesn't want to use bike lanes in the door zone or to the right of RTOL lanes (including those for turning onto Interstates). Local advocates praise these facilities in public, but tell riders who question them that they are badly designed (true), and that we shouldn't ask to ride without being pushed in front of buses (happened to someone I know) or ride through intersections without stopping because other riders won't push for these rights. (Crash hazards are reduced if bicyclists stop and yield to all traffic to walk across every intersection.)

    I find it disingenuous to claim riders who want the right of way (straight on green, stay out of door zone) are ideologues who want to obstruct cars just because it is legal, and to construe objections to bad designs as irrational opposition to all facilities. We just want to ride safely, typically aren't slowing other traffic at all, and don't oppose all facilities.

    E. in Ireland, the opposition here is ideological. Motorists and pedestrians feel free to tell bicyclists on the opposite side of the road to get out of the @#$% street.

    All of the examples depend on context. Neither facilities nor the “VC” advocates describe work everywhere. I find it annoying when BL advocates flatly say it is impolite to take a lane in traffic at10mph. It is precisely in 8-10mph rush hour traffic that motorists and police most complain that I should get off the road. I've never heard of motorists being told to drive 25mph when the cars in front of them are going 9mph, or told to make left turns from the curb.

    When I am stopped at red lights, this is when motorists arriving later are most likely to shout obscenities. On a street with 2 lanes, a driver traveling in the next lane repeatedly (profanely) told me bicyclists were not allowed to ride in any street without a bike lane. My presence in 1 lane did not affect her speed in the other lane, but at every light over about a mile she made it quite clear that it didn't matter if traffic was slow - bikes are not allowed in the street.

    Contrary to local advocates and motorists, I do think it is appropriate for a bicyclist to wait in the left lane to make a left turn. While I some would call this controlling the lane at 0mph, a number of local planners and advocates told me since other bicyclists are not confident I should not expect to make left turns from the left lane. (really)

    My view is that if there is any safety in numbers, it is caused by (i) legal enforcement of bicyclists' right of way and (ii) if the larger numbers result when people keep bicycling, the larger numbers are experienced riders. I don't see how adding inexperienced bicyclists to roads by removing their legal right to leave a bike lane will make bicycling convenient transportation. I find that the Philadelphia motorists that don't respect bicyclists on the road don't respect them in the bike lanes either. The harassment isn't due to VC; Philadelphia and Boston drivers are aggressive to everyone, including other drivers. However, more motorists are now angry when bicyclists leave poorly installed lanes (parked cars, BL ends, left turns).

    The planners here that install DZBLs told me they personally are more afraid of delaying traffic (on roads with lanes for passing) than they are of being doored. I admit that if you bicycle rarely and only at walking speed, you aren't likely to be doored, but I don't think this should be the only bicycling to be accommodated.

    Angelo Dolce

  71. Oops, I mistyped when responding to Don. I typed that I never queued right to avoid passenger side doorings. Clearly, this makes no sense. I meant that I never *filter* right. I always queue with traffic, even from the bike lane.

  72. Can we talk about speed for a second? I often ride in the door zone (like on Beacon St. between Kirkland and Inman) and I feel safe.

    How you ask? Simple, I go a little bit faster than walking speed. I know it sounds crazy to go so slow, but I find that the really troublesome areas are small enough that taking it easy doesn't cost me much time.

  73. VC fundmentalists see unsafe cycling solely as a problem of faith. Repent and renew your commitment in our doctrines! Then all will be well and safe!

    I'm sorry, but many of us aren't finding the answers we need in this religion. Every place, every route, every person requires a different riding style and unique approach to safety.

    I don't have a problem taking the lane in Cambridge. But in Roxbury I feel less comfortable doing so. Other places are even worse. Where I am now, you'd most likely get pushed off the road if you tried taking the lane in the wrong place. I mostly ride on sidewalks (OMG, did I just say that?!?!) here. (Just last night, some guy stopped his car in the middle of the street and got out to beat me up because I rang my bell at him.)

  74. John,

    You say: "8 MPH is not walking speed. It is twice walking speed. And it's also extremely slow for a bicyclist. Sure, some bicyclists go that slow, but even most newbies are a few MPH faster than that."

    I agree. If you have a decent bike, you should be able to stay over 20mph. Frankly, I think that if you can't maintain 20mph, you shouldn't be on the road.

    Oh wait, just kidding. I don't agree with you at all, and I think what your saying is ignorant and harmful. When I ride by those signs that tell you your speed (around Boston), I most often clock around 9mph. So telling people that 8mph is *extremely* slow, in a discussion about doorzones, of all places, seems a little silly to me.

  75. upon seeing the door lane photo, for a second there i thought you were in LA

  76. Some years ago I was in my motor vehicle during the summer with all the windows rolled down at an intersection waiting for the light to change. A cop pulled up and placed next to me in the other lane. I realized I hadn't fastened my seat belt. So I did and it clicked. That click sure got his attention. Like a clip. The light changed. We went on our respective ways.

  77. sierraddict, unfortunately, it is actually the law to use the bike lane.

    I break that law every morning on my way to work to avoid the "Right Hook Bike Lane" on Couch between 6th and Grand.

  78. Conflating VC with always taking the lane and never riding in bike lanes reveals a complete misunderstanding of VC. That's like saying vehicle driving is never using slow truck lanes. Equally absurd is characterizing VC as a rigid doctrine. That's like characterizing following the rules of the road as a rigid doctrine. Where do these wacky ideas come from?

    That said, ride at leave FIVE FEET from parked cars is a doctrine I follow religiously, so I never worry about getting doored.

    Learning to be safe and feel comfortable out in the traffic lane comes easier to some than to others. To a few it comes totally naturally. Others need to just have the idea dropped into their heads from a book, internet discussion or video, or a friend. Still others get there only after taking a class.

    Unfortunately, all too many seem to just give up.

  79. Looking at the top pic made me realize how redicliously much space cars take! Even when parked, then need half a lane just for the driver to get out of the damn thing...

  80. Adam,

    I believe sierraddict was puzzled because it was another bicyclist outside the bike lane that told him/her that the bike lane was mandatory.


    I'm curious about your improved experience with the bike lanes in Boston:
    Are the bike lanes in the door zone or set up for right hooks (i.e. right of RTOL)? This sounds like the case from this post and my observations visiting in 2009.

    If so, do you use them anyways? How do you avoid the hazards?

    Do you ride outside the bike lane to avoid the door zone? Do motorists tolerate this?

    Regarding your passing problems with VC - as you noted, if motorists and police don't believe bicyclists are allowed to ride on streets without bike lanes motorists will still pass too closely, shout and throw objects.

    The VC point is that if you are further outside the door zone you have room to maneuver, and this is still better than being maimed when someone exiting a car pushes you in front of a bus.

    I agree that local conditions vary widely, and that telling novices that motorists will respect them on busy streets when they take the lane is not realistic if anyone can see that motorists and police do not in many places.

    My view is that we need to start with police and courts and perhaps make planners and advocates actually ride in the facilities they install.


  81. Peppy (the mellow snow-shoe cat)April 17, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    It's very true that novice cyclists don't warm up to taking the lane. They also tend to do this thing where they will trace the park cars and go far right as soon as possible, only to pop out unexpectedly and merge back with the lane or bike lane. Another thing I've seen them do is go right at intersections which I sometimes even interpret as the beginning of a right-turn, only to see them pop-back. Cars waiting to turn left may also interpret that as an impending right turn and start moving.

    Basically, taking the lane certainly takes effort and adaptation, but don't make it more difficult and dangerous for yourself by bobbing in/out of spaces.

  82. When biking down small streets with a median where there is no way for the tail of cars to pass me, I have taken to pulling over every once in a while to let the cars past. What to you think? Polite or just unpredictable?

    I have never been honked at or had stuff thrown at me while biking. I have had one slight collision where someone swerved in front of me. No damage was done to me, my bike or the car, but I did fall over due to my sudden stop. I think that is pretty good for 14 years of vehicular cycling.

  83. late again. Reading Velourias comment about drivers not reacting appropriately to VC riding I agree very much. I think the people who need to operating with a VC mindset are the drivers. They need to understand that when we ride this way, what they are supposed to do. ( ie queue in line behind the cyclist until they can change lanes or just ride slowly for a bit. Drivers see a bike and it is something to be passed. I find myself falling into this mindset as well when there are cars gunning down my own car and I have to take a breath loosen my grip on the steering wheel and get in line behind the cyclist. But I get flack for this as well as a driver.

    that said- I don't feel comfortable riding VC at all. (sometimes on quiet roads I will but even then people wave their hands wondering what the hell I am doing- uh setting up for a left turn clearly did you not see my signal?) I ride way too slowly and in most cases I don't want a line of cars behind me. But I don't want to get doored or brushed either.

    It's hard b/c everyone rides differently and the rules change depending on the area and what the bike lane situation is. ( ie normally if I come to a long line of cars at a light I queue up and do not squeeze by to the front. However going down longwood with the bike lane- all the bikers do wiz past long lines of stopped traffic ( I've been the car here- too far right now with my time constraints) and I've wondered what I would do. Seems crazy to sit in line for three to four blocks when the bike lane is free.... yet it's just continuing the mixed messages. The lane going the other way has the bike lane sharrow ( ??) in the middle of the lane indicating that bikes and cars stay in one line. I don't think anyone gets that... I have yet to see how it works for rush hour at the end of the day. someday I must go over and just watch...

    anyway- I fear the door. My biggest defense is riding slowly and out of the way as much as possible. but often I am too close.


  84. I too was car-doored several years ago on a popular route for cyclists here in Seattle (Beach Drive in West Seattle). The route had no marked bike lane at the time (today it has "sharrows") and is a fairly narrow winding road along the water.

    I'd ridden the route hundreds of times and was a subscriber to the "take possession of the lane" school of thought. (I'd been sideswiped by a truck prior to being car-doored and realized an "annoying" cyclist occupying the lane is less likely to be hit than a cyclists far enough over to the right that a driver thinks they can zoom by. To avoid getting car-doored, I would check rearview mirrors for faces of drivers, and look into the car's rear window for that tell-tale silhouette.

    In the case on my car-dooring, I was just coming down a small hill and was probably going 25 mph at least. I'd had car doors open on me before and I was able to swerve and twist my body enough to miss. Not this time. The door was half way open when I impacted. The edge of the door glanced down the side of my front wheel and struck my handlebars, snapping them in half. I flew against the leading edge of the door and somehow twisted by and continued down the road - bouncing about 50 feet before coming to a stop in the middle of the road. Luckily, traffic is not super fast there and both directions of cars stopped before running me over. I was banged up with a good case of road rash. Blood dribbled down my legs from my skinned knees. A helmet and bike gloves reduced the damage significantly.

    The offending car driver that opened his door was so shook up he could barely talk. Interestingly, he was an attorney, but felt so bad, any instinct to not take responsibility went out the window. He was profusely apologetic. He had his wife drive me home (my bike was unrideable), and she obviously thought it strange her husband foist this bleeding man on her.

    Since the driver was sincerely sorry and took responsibility, I only asked for the cost of repairs to my bike. About $125 for installing a new handlebar. The insurance adjuster could not believe that was all I asked for.

    Moral of the story, keep your line a good 3 or 4 feet off the cars - and learn to live with an occasional honk from drivers that don't understand why you won't get over.


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