14 October 2009

My day started off so well

bike skirt
I was wearing my new velvet skirt and feeling good. The sun was shining, the birds singing. It's that beautiful crisp golden autumn light that can only be found in New England. I saw Sexy Brompton ride by in his Barbour, waved at my Blog Friend E, and generally felt that all was right in my little world.

I was sitting outside on my breakfast date with my husband, watching the cyclists go by for all of you when I saw it: my first dooring. It looked like the bike just slipped out from under her, she fell forward and braced with her hands which might have been very good since she wasn't wearing a helmet. The scariest part was that there was a city bus right behind her which barely managed to miss her as she was sprawled out on the road. She could have been any one of us. She was riding a KHS Green ladies' frame and wearing really cute black flowered flats, which fell off in the accident. The other thing which went flying was her iPod. I can't say whether she was wearing it while riding, and whether being off in her own world might have contributed to the accident. I'll never know.

We went running over to help. I flagged down an ambulance that happened to be passing by and my husband got the bike out of the road and gave it a once over. Another cyclist was diverting traffic. The car driver was very sorry and occupied herself with the injured cyclist. We left knowing that the cyclist would be all right, but we would all be shaken up all day.

In discussing the accident it's unclear how it could have been avoided. The road was too large and busy for all these cyclists to take the lane all the time. I would not feel comfortable (or safe) behaving that way in that place. The sidewalk is very much needed by the large pedestrian population. There's a hospital nearby and many people out walking are very frail. I would not have them dodging bikes on the sidewalk. I really don't have an answer for today's accident.

Please, all of you: be careful out there.

33 comments:

Jon said...

The best way to avoid that accident: Have the driver look back before swinging the door open!

That's the law, and just good, common sense.

dr2chase said...

Good of you not to forget the fashion elements of the crash (and I mean that in the nicest possible way, because if she's not badly hurt it will be funny afterwards). And good for her for the Superman fall.

For dooring, I think our choices are either change the way car doors work (slide back? "suicide" doors that the cyclist would slam closed with the collision? THAT would make an "impression") or fix our eff-ing infrastructure. I'm sure you've seen the dooring safety video that shows how much room we need, and then notice how 5 feet is consider standard-conforming and adequate for a USAmerican bike lane.

Speaking of infrastructure, did you see the new Pucher/Dill/Handy paper? via Copenhagenize.

Phoebe said...

Yikes, that's scary. I pretty much always ride outside the door zone, for exactly this reason. I'd rather take the lane and have a driver temporarily annoyed with me than be roadkill. I sometimes scooch over to let a car pass if I can clearly see into the parked car and see that there is no one in the driver's seat.

Joe said...

Regardless of how busy the road is, I can't help but conclude that it just isn't safe to ride within the door zone. I'm not willing to leave my safety in the hands of whoever happens to be on the other ends of those doors. Too many close calls while I've been perfectly alert.

Charlotte said...

I would fully expect to be intentionally hit were I to take this particular lane. Ahem, this isn't a very nice part of town, at least vis à vis traffic.

I personally don't ride this road, for that reason, and I didn't see anyone take the lane in the 40 minutes we were sitting there (or any other time we've been to that café). Perhaps the thing to do is post bike-way signs, encouraging alternative routes because taking this lane is at least as dangerous as riding in the door zone (possibly more so due to targeting rather than bad luck).

Man said...

As a bicyclist anytime you see a bike accident you really do get shaken up. I don't know the answer apart from a major overall to our car culture, but I do know one possible safety precaution - turn off the iPod friends.
-- Seriously.
I am not saying it was this biker's fault (as you said you don't even know if she was wearing it) but it brings up the safety point a lot of us ignore - elimination of one of your senses. So many bicyclists ride with their iPods and think nothing of it. I get flack for not wearing a helmet half the time, but no one ever seems to think twice about the possible dangers of riding while listing to music. There are so many distracted car drivers out there I just feel I have to be fully aware, using all my senses, for my own safety.

Dottie said...

Scary. I wish drivers would look before they open their doors - this is not rocket science. I avoid riding on any road where I would not feel comfortable taking the lane if necessary.

kfg said...

"There are so many distracted car drivers out there . . ."

Take away their radios.

Charlotte said...

kfg -
When I was learning to drive in California we were instructed that it is illegal to drive with earphones/ear buds in. The idea was that a radio permits you to hear ambient noise (the 'thunk' of the cyclist you just hit?) while earphones are designed to impede that noise around you. It's very different.

I have no idea what the law is in that regard in the state of Massachusetts.

Chester said...

Personally, I think taking the lane on an unsuitable street is less dangerous than making yourself vulnerable to dooring.

Also...just like a cyclist should scan driveways or cross streets for oncoming traffic, we need to scan parked cars for people on the driver's side...especially keeping an eye open for movement that suggests they're about to open the door.

That way, you can slow down, move further out, and/or move hands to brake levers appropriately.

Charlotte said...

Chester, you have more nerve than I, I'd sooner walk on the sidewalk than take a lane here.

The differences in bike culture...

kfg said...

". . .we were instructed. . ."

I'm afraid you were instructed as is the common thinking, but the common thinking is wrong. Most ear buds are constructed to ALLOW ambient noise to pass (try them yourself and see), whereas most automobiles employ soundproofing to deaden it. Luxury cars (the loudest sound you'll hear is the clock) are virtually sound proof.

On a bicycle you are out there WITH the ambient noise, in a car you are boxed against it (often for the specific purpose of being able to hear the MUSIC better).

Actual studies have also shown that the deaf are at no greater risk in operating a vehicle than those with perfect hearing.

I'm not defending my own iPod use. I've never, ever used one on a bike, I don't even understand the desire; but then I very rarely turn on my car radio either. It is the actual listening to the music that is dangerous (if it distracts you), not the noise level or inability to hear other noises.

The ability to focus attention is limited; if it is focused in the wrong place at the wrong time, you or some innocent just might go home dead. Turn off the music and pay attention to the road; you might find it occupies your full attention.

Filigree said...

I am glad she was all right; this could have ended so much worse. This is why I will not ride in the door-zone even if all the other cyclists around me are doing it. I think that in order to avoid an accident like this, cyclists should not ride in a manner that puts them in danger. If a street is so busy that they do not feel comfortable riding away from the door-zone, they should either build up their VC skills, or they should not be cycling on that street at all. I don't see any other solution.

And btw: I don't know what road this was, but I agree with Charlotte that it is possible to get intentionally hit when taking the lane in certain areas of Boston.

Charlotte said...

kfg,
I own an iPod and have worn it while walking, many years ago. I won't do that any more, I didn't like it. I did find that it reduced my ability to hear the things around me in a way that music from a loudspeaker nearby would not.

I agree that cars are designed to muffle sounds, I disagree that a radio is equivalent to music delivered directly to an ear, particularly when already in a (muffled) car. I also prefer silence and rarely use the radio, I haven't used my iPod at all since 2005. You remind me a bit of my great-grandpa who bought the car that was handed down to be my first, a 1965 Oldsmobile Delta 88, right off the assembly line in Detroit, so he could ensure he got a Monday car and not a Friday car (how's that for American autos!?). When he got the car he saw the AM radio and got angry, he wasn't going to pay for any fancy doo-dads. When they told him it would cost extra to take it out for him, he reluctantly accepted it. Thanks to all that I got to learn what "tubes" were in radios, waiting for the radio to come on when I was 16. Hmmm. Maybe that's why I don't use my car radio.

Anyway, I am certain that deaf people have made accommodations to living without sound that I have not made. I don't think that's comparable at all.

kfg said...

"I am certain that deaf people have made accommodations to living without sound that I have not made."

Indeed they have, but they are not blessed with special powers to make that accommodation that others are not. If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you, but there is no justification for banning iPods from cyclists, while allowing sound proofed cars, while telling motor cyclists the sound damping of a helmet doesn't affect their ability to ride safely, so just shut up about that and install headphones if you want to hear music/each other.

"tubes"

I miss them. You can stick your sandwich between them to keep it warm.

And if I'm ever in town for ride (could happen) I'd be happy to spot for you. Perhaps we could gather up some of those other many cyclists and get our own little, impromptu, old school critical mass going.

Anonymous said...

Jon has it right - in a situation like this, the person exiting the parked car is at fault, as they are required to check for traffic before opening the door. The last time this happened to me, I spent a minute educating the driver about this in a voice that was audible for blocks around (no profanity or personal attacks, just strict explanation, as though to a 3 year old). I think she may remember. From the biking side, though, watch the rear view mirror for motion, watch the driver's seat, and listen for that telltale sound of the door latch. I've actually been able to anticipate a dooring (twice!) and close the door as I went past by concentrating on these aspects. The looks on the drivers' faces as the door closed and they saw me ride by: priceless. Val

SK said...

Yikes that is really scary... that woman was really lucky she had fellow cyclists like you and your husband on the scene.

I'm new to the Boston cycling scene and your blog has helped me become a more informed/safer cyclist!

Filigree said...

Re Jon's and Val's comments: Of course the person exiting the car is at fault, and the ideal way to avoid a "dooring" would be for them to look before opening the door. But to a cyclist lying on the ground and bleeding, knowing this probably won't make things any better. There is the ideal and then there is the reality. Until reality changes, cyclists have no choice but to take protective measures against things as they are if they want to be safe.

I do not like to get in confrontational situations where I am lecturing the driver about what they did wrong and/or what the law is, but sometimes I can't help myself. Especially if the driver shouts at me for doing things I'm "not supposed to be" doing, like cycling on the road.

dr2chase said...

On the earbud thing, there's a difference between riding deaf and riding distracted, and to some extent being deaf means that there are some useful things that you can't do.

First of all, if you can hear, you can hear cars approaching around corners that you can not even yet see. That's useful. If you lose your hearing, you lose that, and if you reduce your hearing ability with earbuds, you reduce your ability to do that. You might still hear a Harley, but not a Prius. Note that this is riding a bike, not driving a car (where you're half-deaf already from the windows, wind noise, and engine noise).

Second, I have tried experiments with earbuds both driving (my car seems to slowly eat its door speakers, so sometimes I try the earbud thing instead) and riding. For me, at least, the earbuds are more distracting than just playing the stereo. If they weren't, I would just wear them and not bother with fixing the speaker in the door, which is a surprising pain.

BUT -- I resent it, quite a bit, that I must be so much on my guard while biking that wearing earbuds would be imprudent. Drivers should be much more careful.

RidingPretty said...

First of all I hope by now you (and very importantly the accident victim!) are well, and recovering from the day's events.

Sigh...I'm a nervous rider as it is, and this door thing and taking the lane thing has jarred my nerves, but better to be 'awares'.

Onto the the main current/theme of your comments regarding ipods. How about a Music Balloon? (please ignore the second half of that post as it is devoted to living the life of a beach bum & riding around on a rusty cruiser bike.) At any rate I though your music loving, bike riding readers might want to look into the thing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jon (I have to, he's my brother). But, having lived and attempted to bike in Boston, I agree with Charlotte, as well - there are some areas where the traffic is so heavy and the roads are so narrow that it just isn't safe (or fun) on a bike - at times I have had people in cars crowd into the lane with me when I was also in a car. I rode my bike around where we lived (Medford) and my motorcycle around outside the city, but Boston was a bus and train city for me. (Before moving to Boston I was a bicycle commuter in Corvallis, OR).

Frits B said...

It's not really important that a cyclist was the victim of this particular dooring. It might just as well have been another car. Which is why drivers preparing to open their door should always make sure that there are no vehicles approaching, including those that happen to have only two wheels. And if they cause an accident this way it's their responsibility in full. Bike bells aren't even heard in many cars.
In what way is the iPod relevant here? I can see that listening to it can be a distraction but it's not the cyclist who causes the accident. A parked car is no longer part of traffic.

antbikemike said...

Very sad to see someone have an accident. I have been doored once, by the passenger of a car sitting in traffic! They were changing drivers and just popped the door open. I was not hurt, just did an indo into the door.
I think the best way to avoid getting into any accident is to keep your speed down. If you are forced to ride in the door zone, go slower, stay focused. I would rather go slower than take the lane in a bad road.
I think there is a time and place for each type of tactic...taking a lane, riding on the sidewalk or going slower in the door zone etc...

kfg said...

"I think there is a time and place, . . ."

. . .turn, turn, turn.

Chester said...

"...you have more nerve than I, I'd sooner walk on the sidewalk than take a lane here."

That's a nice way to put it, but perhaps it's stupidity that I have in abundance.

I've never biked in Boston, but can imagine a road culture being different enough so as to enforce an entirely different cycling mindset. Here in the Bay Area, there are roads that can get a little hairy, but none which would have me riding closer to parked cars than moving cars.

Interesting that you guys have a "bike czar"...

Charlotte said...

Chester,
We have a bike czar because we needed one, and she has a monumental task ahead of her. She related the story that Bicycling, or some magazine, was surveying the best and worst cycling towns in the world, and announced early that Boston was the worst cycling town in the world. They couldn't wait for the article.

DrChase - I watched your link last night and it was very helpful. I hadn't considered the corner of the door to the forehead in a possible dooring. Based on that video I'm finding a new route home from work. It's just not possible to ride safely the way I've been going. I guess I've been lucky that I've avoided my near-doorings with yelling out to people, it's probably just a matter of time 'till I am not quite alert enough.

Chester said...

Caught an article w/an interview with the mayor...talking about how much he misses cycling. Looking at his physique, it seems that he *really* misses cycling.

At least they're creating some dedicated bureaucracy to improving the bike infrastructure...hopefully that yields real improvements for y'all.

spiderleggreen said...

Anyway you look at it, the driver shouldn't have opened their door without looking for traffic. Change that fact and the rest of it doesn't matter. We do have to take individual responsibility for minimizing risks to ourselves and others, when riding. But before we start talking about what the cyclist should have done, we should acknowledge that the driver bears primary responsibility for this accident. This poor cyclist can reflect on what they could have done to avoid it, but be careful when laying the blame.

As for homicidal Boston drivers, maybe the city should take a page from the Dutch. In Holland the car is always at fault in accidents with bikes and pedestrians. It simplifies things. The motor vehicle can do the most damage, so they're on the hook when involved in accidents with more vulerable people. There's not much time spent on how that cyclist would have faired better with a helmet and no iPod.

Not like in this country. This summer we had a cyclist crushed to death when a gravel truck made a left turn in front of the bike lane. Not even a ticket! I'm sure he felt sorry about it, but when you don't have consequences, behaviors don't change.

Steve Runge said...

Why the (perhaps inadvertent) delicacy about naming the street & location? Please share, so we're all forewarned about a dangerous locale. We should all know where accidents have happened.

BTW: Mass Ave., according to Mass Highway stats on reported accidents, is the most dangerous road for bikes in the state. It has 7 of the 10 worst accident spots.

Steve Runge said...

Blog comments after accidents always have some element of Whom do we Blame? I look at it this way: we have to separate blame (which is apportioned by law & insurance & the gods) from lessons in vigilance. I agree that the driver who doored her is to blame. Of course. But we can all also potentially learn something from this incident as bikers: we need to either avoid circumstances where we could get caught between the devil & the deep blue sea, or be extra, extra cautious in them. So we can do both: blame the driver, and learn from the incident. I don't see a contradiction here, or any need for an argument about how to apportion responsibility.

And yes, let's keep putting pressure on the state, municipalities, and drivers, to take more responsibility for biker safety. Again, no argument.

espressoandbicycles said...

were the police called? did they cite the driver for opening the door unsafely, which is against the law now?

probably not.

chris1237 said...

I was just doored last week on Mass Ave near Wendell St. A passenger in a car waiting a couple of cars behind a red light suddenly threw the door open on my left. I have pretty good reflexes but this was so sudden that there is absolutely no way I could have avoided it at the time.

I took away two lessons. First, while riding in door range (either from the left or right) I should ride slow enough that I can stop for any suddenly opening door. This is probably walking speed. In the past I found this hard to do because of general impatience and the ease with which I can drive the bike forward. Secondly, mountain bike handlebars with front-mounted brakes are dangerous; I had my hands on top of the brake handles at the time of the accident and ended up breaking a finger when it was pinched between the door and the brake handle. I imagine this would not have happened with differently mounted brakes.

Just my $0.02.

junket said...

Good for you for stopping to help! My friend got doored the other night, and the cyclists around her went on their merry way. She could have used a friendly face and a witness!
~Liz