Housing Complex

On Being Doored

It was bound to happen sooner or later: After five years of biking in D.C., I finally got doored.

I was biking home from work yesterday evening on 11th Street NW, when the passenger-side door of the car on my left swung open into the bike lane. I had maybe a quarter of a second to react, during which time I probably swerved slightly to the right, because next thing I knew, my body had flown into the parked car on my right and hit the ground.

I got up and looked myself and my bike up and down, and everything seemed to be fine: I didn't see any cuts or bruises on my hands or knees, or on my trusty Trek. The guy who had opened the door was genuinely apologetic, and I found myself in the strange position of feeling bad for him. It was his birthday, it turned out, and he was hopping out of the car to join friends for a birthday dinner at Meridian Pint. He said he was a cyclist himself, and he gave me his number and left a note on the windshield of the parked car whose door I had dented in.

And I, checking myself once again for any injuries, told him I was miraculously OK, shook his hand, got back on my bike, and went home.

It wasn't until I reached into my freezer to put some ice on my slightly bruised knuckles that I realized there was blood on my shirt. Turned out I must've caught the edge of the car door on my way down, and there was a painless but pretty wide gash on my left shoulder.

Eight hours in the Howard University Hospital emergency room and five stitches later, I was back home, left to ponder what lessons I could draw from the experience.

The most salient one is to avoid that hospital like the plague—there's a reason it's been hemorrhaging patients in recent years. (As I calculated around hour seven, I could probably fly to Canada, get treated, fly back, and grab dinner at Toki Underground in the time it took me just to see a doctor in the Howard ER.) And as a car passenger, I'll be extra-super-duper careful when opening my door into the bike lane, or better yet, I'll encourage the driver to pull over before letting people out.

But as a biker? I'm afraid there's not much I can change. I was riding at a moderate speed, in a bike lane, wearing a helmet, and it was light out. The unfortunate reality is that these things happen from time to time. How often, we don't really know. Sure, there's a Twitter account tracking struck cyclists and pedestrians, and there's a map of bike accidents for which police crash reports are written up—but my accident wasn't recorded in the former and won't appear in the latter. Anecdotally, I can say that just about every regular longtime biker I know has gotten doored or sideswiped or caught in the streetcar tracks at some point, but how often this truly happens in the city remains a mystery.

I just hope accidents like mine don't discourage people from biking. The one sure way to improve driver and passenger behavior around bikers is to increase their awareness, which comes with more biking.

Today I took a break from biking, inching my way down to the office on the 14th Street bus. Tomorrow I'll be back in the saddle.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • DC Guy

    Sorry to hear, but glad that, in the grand scheme of things, you are ok.

  • Blake

    Jeez...another bike story? What is it with people in DC and their bike stories? Is it code for gentrification and/or the race divide? Seriously, are bikes the new cupcakes of DC? Can we do a story on when bikes weren't cool? Can I be even more bitterly ironic?

  • http://reason.com Mike Riggs

    Glad you're OK, duder. I was doored on 14th in Columbia Heights a few years ago, and had a nearly identical experience/injury, down to landing on a parked car and having a shoulder gash.

  • Phil

    @Blake, you serious dude? Last I checked bikes have been around for a while in this world.

  • DC bike girl

    I had the exact same thing happen to me this week on 11th and U. I also thought I was fine until I couldn't straighten my arm an hour later. I did attempt to file a police report the next day to have the incident on record but the cop said that it needs to be reported at the time of the incident. BTW, we waited so long to get an x-ray on my arm at the hospital that we had pizza delivered.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    I had pizza delivered too! (Or rather, my wise girlfriend did.) Was grateful when I was still in the ER four hours later.

  • Janson

    Hope you heal quickly but with a cool scar. Now, my rejoinder.

    I'm a grizzled daily cyclist of 19 years with the first ten in NYC and the rest here in DC, and I've never been doored. Many close calls, but never actually gone down. knock on wood.

    Based on that experience, I'll claim that you can do a lot more to avoid being doored than "I was riding at a moderate speed, in a bike lane, wearing a helmet, and it was light out." In fact, none of those really seem relevant to me. I ride very fast, at night, and without a helmet, and I still don't get doored.

    I would like to propose that you must 1) always (intuitively) look inside every car that you will pass close enough to get doored by either through the rear window or by looking in the side mirrors. If you can't see inside, you need to get out of reach of the door, even if it means leaving the bike lane. 2)You need to make a lot of noise, I whistle, if you see that someone getting out of a car is unaware of you and you intend to pass through the door zone - people have even shouted thanks for saving their door from the collision 3) Create a buffer zone around your bike - steering even slightly erratically can make you visible to cars. Ironically, there is some research suggesting wearing a helmet causes car drivers to give a cyclist less space (supposedly because they perceive it as safe). When I don't have enough space from moving cars, it forces me to ride too close to parked cars. 4) Spend as little time as possible in the danger zone - go fast through it - even though it means you'd be hurt worse if something happened 5) empathize with drivers and passengers. Why would they be sitting in a dark car at night? Maybe because they are drinking cheap before going out?

    15 years ago a good friend of mine who had qualified to cycle in the Olympics (for our small Caribbean island) was doored in Manhattan while going fast and broke her hip, her collarbone, several ribs, and mashed up her beautiful face, besides her other typical bike crash injuries. She missed the Olympics. That woke me up.

  • mark

    that DDOT map of cycling accidents is a joke. there are bike accidents at Hains Point on a regular basis, but not a single accident occurred in 2 years per DDOT. yeah right.

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  • Slim Witman

    Thanks for the comment Janson. Riding defensively is the key and remember that the driver, door opener, is at fault. Get the tag and a police report. Finally, Washington Adventist or Sibley Hospital will get you in and out fast.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    @Janon @Slim Witman: I generally ride very defensively when it comes to potential threats from parked cars on the right. But this was a different situation. The car that doored me was on my left, in the driving lane, and I had no indication that anyone would be hopping out of it. There was no way to keep my distance by getting out of the bike lane: There were parked cars immediately to my right. I know I can't prove this to you, but I truly don't think there was anything I could do to prevent the accident.

  • John Muller

    To all the naysayers, bikes are not new. Mark Twain give it a try and wrote about his experience. This was more than a century ago. About ten years ago I gave up on having a bike after my second one was stolen. Been bus, rail, and foot fancy since.

    Don't be small. Let folks riding bikes live in peace.

    By the way -- biking is not some sort of code for "gentrification" -- in the immediate days after 4 days in April black folk rode up and down the burnt out blocks on bikes.

    People in the neighborhood have been riding bikes for a long time before the city began to change.

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  • Ben Hirsch

    I'm not too keen on this article for the following reasons:
    "But as a biker? I'm afraid there's not much I can change."
    - That is bullshit. There are lots of things you can do to avoid being doored, see comments above by Janson.
    "these things happen from time to time. How often, we don't really know."
    - Yes, this is true, but it's because people don't report incidents to the police. Always, always, always, get a police report if this happens!!! This not only covers you legally (if that wound you didn't notice was more severe, and you needed to take legal action, you'd have a hard time without a police report), but it also goes on record and becomes a police stat. When my wife got doored we had to call 911 three times and wait over an hour for the police, but at least we got it on the record. When cycling advocates push for better enforcement of bike lane violators, additional bike lanes, etc... it's stats like these that they need to rely on. So by not reporting this incident, you are doing a disservice to all cyclists.

  • JeffB

    The door zone (aka kill zone) of parked cars nearly covers the entire width of the typical bike lane. You have to wonder if they really aren't meant to be a cruel joke. If you ride in the bike lanes you are playing the cyclist's version of Russian roulette.

    I suggest that one ride as far left in the bike lane as possible - ideally on the stripe itself. If you are filtering past a line of stopped traffic then do so at a walking pace - give yourself and anybody flinging a door open some room for error.

    As Aaron discovered the edges of doors are sharp and can create some nasty gashed.

    The driver of the car really should have pulled into the bike lane before discharging any passengers. I know taxis are required to do this (but often don't) and it should apply to all vehicles.

    Also people need to be taught the correct way to open doors in the city. The correct way is to reach across with your opposite hand for the door latch. Doing so forces you to turn your body in the direction of oncoming traffic.

    Finally - bike lanes are fine as the cheap way out of providing infrastructure. Just throw some paint on the road and to tell the cyclists to ride in the most dangerous portion of the road. We really need well designed cycle tracks - the kind where parked cars or some other barrier is floated off the curb to provide a safe zone for the riders.

  • B

    @John Muller. Gentrification deals with how economics affect the composition of a neighborhood. What you did was equate money with race..... be more mindful of your writing.

    Feel better Aaron...

  • eponymous

    @Blake No, it's code for "DC traffic is horrendous and the Metro is not always reliable." Get over yourself. If you don't like articles about bicycles, DON'T READ THEM.

  • Crickey7

    I would certainly not fault you for anything you did nor did not do. I can only tell you what I do and what works for me. As others have mentioned, you develop a sense of whether people are in cars that might open a door. You ride as far out as possible. And you run a flashing light in the front EVEN WHEN IT'S DAYTIME. I can't say that's prevented me from being doored even once in over a quarter century of urban riding, but I can see drivers and passengers react to the light.

  • Skeptic

    @Slim Witman

    "remember that the driver, door opener, is at fault"

    Really? Is this always true? e.g. A car is legally parked, passenger opens door which, from a legal parking space, intrudes into bike line. Cyclist hits door. Why isn't that analogous to the cyclist rear-ending someone? (I know this wasn't the scenario in Aaron's case -- just reacting to what seemed to be a categorical claim about fault.)

    Any law you can point us to?

  • Bobbi Shaftoe

    @Skeptic, try here: http://www.waba.org/resources/laws.php "No person shall open any door of a vehicle unless it is safe to do so and can be done without interfering with moving traffic."

  • AWalkerInTheCity

    "The door zone (aka kill zone) of parked cars nearly covers the entire width of the typical bike lane."

    Wife and I were parked on east cap a few weeks ago, and I noted that opening our driver side door did NOT block even the right most part of the bike lane.

    Im not sure if thats due to the east capital bike lanes being better places, our sensible economy sedan having smaller doors than some of the larger vehicles some people drive, or my wifes almost compulsive (but here very justified) tendency to park practically touching the curb.

  • AWalkerInTheCity

    "Really? Is this always true?"

    I suppose not if the cyclist is going unreasonably fast - if say they are riding at 30MPH, and so someone judges REASONABLY that they have room to open the door, but that judgement proves wrong because of the cyclist's high speed.

  • Crickey7

    I think it's a given that no matter what, a door opener will be deemed liable for the crash. There is an unspoken assumption that cyclists are rational, self-interested persons who will not run into an opened door on purpose.

  • Will

    I was doored by a taxi that stopped to my left to disgorge a passenger, and also was thrown into a parked car. Luckily, I dented the hell out of the trunk, and it performed admirably as a metal cushion before I tumbled to the ground. This probably saved me from breaking anything, and I escaped with just major bruising, a light concussion (was wearing a helmet, but never struck my head), and a banged up hand. I too wasn't going all that fast (10-12mph)when I noticed the unavoidable collision, and I think I probably slowed down to maybe 6 mph before I struck, but even at that speed, it's a hell of a hard stop.

    Glad you escaped with only minor flesh wounds. Indeed, I think this particular stripe of dooring crash is much harder to anticipate and avoid. I'm much more wary now, and have been clear of car accidents for four years as a result.

  • gloomingdale

    +1000 for the Howard ER warning. I've sat through a horribly long wait after a bike accident myself.

  • Tom

    What bothers me is the the helmet didn't signal to the birthday boy that you were a safe and responsible individual. Can you get your money back.

  • Anonymous

    I think people are not reading the story closely. He was not doored by a parked car, he was hit from the left. It sounds like the car had come to a stop in the road to let someone out and they swung open the door without looking. Yes, you always have to be careful, but I can even admit that I might've gotten caught up in a situation like that.

  • k1w1

    glad you're ok. Same as Janson, I've biked in the city for 20 odd years, biked in NYC and haven't been doored, not to say I haven't had my share of accidents. You've gotta keep one eye on the drivers on the road, the other inside the parked cars to the right or left of you and watch out for other cyclists. accidents come with the territory no matter how careful u are...

  • Milk

    Thanks for writing this, especially with a neutral hand. I often feel the same way. I love biking and respect those that drive, but don't want to press them with my views, making myself an angry biker. An accident is an accident, and should be handled as such no matter what mode of transport. Plus, i've been to Howard University Hospital myself, and yes, yikes..

  • T1

    Generally, I ride like I drive--expecting everyone to do the least predictable and least intelligent thing possible. I can't tell you how many times that's saved me from injury cycling or flat out accidents driving. Just because a law says you shouldn't do something does not mean people won't do it and of all people, those of us cycling daily know this is the case (block the box, illegal rights on red, right hooks, driving down the damn cycletracks, etc).

    As Crickey noted, I find the blinking light imperative--even in broad daylight. For some epileptic reason, people's eyes immediately seem to notice the blinking. Albeit, in the case of dooring, this is much tougher. I, too, try to look into every car although it can be tough. Recently I've had a few very close calls with pedestrians who randomly decide to cross 15th St against the crosswalk, without looking, and with headphones in so they can't hear my repeated bell ringing and calls--then half the time they flick me off for barely missing them while they try to jaywalk unaware of the world around them.

  • Phil K.

    Dooring would be an easy problem to solve- physically separate bike lanes. If the bike lane had any type of barrier or buffer, this would not have happened. Same with lanes in door zone of parked cars- simply move the lane out of the way. Now will DDOT do this- only if we push them hard enough. Get out to the MoveDC (http://www.wemovedc.org) transpo plan meetings taking place this week and let your voice a a cyclist be heard (and ask specifically for a complete network of protected biking infrastructure).

    In the meantime, assume that any thing that could happen will happen- if a car stops ahead of you, figure that they'll open the door in front of you regardless of the circumstances.

  • http://westnorth.com PCC

    Opening a door into the path of a moving vehicle -- whether a bicycle or a dump truck -- is always a crime. I've very nearly been doored in this kind of situation a few times, which is why I'm super cautious about lane-splitting in traffic.

    People are really stupid and distracted when they're leaving cars, and it's going to take a lot of re-training until dooring goes away.* In some countries, they teach people to open the door with the opposite hand, since this forces a look over the shoulder.

    @AWalkerInTheCity: Yes, E Capitol is very spacious.

    * I yell "Watch it!" whenever someone near-doors me (that's me at 5:55 in this police training video). About half the time, I get expletives yelled back at me. Sigh.

  • Janson

    @Aaron I'm definitely on your side and definitely don't blame you for getting doored in any way! You seem completely correct that you were simply unlucky with a left side dooring - which is not really what most cyclists are thinking about. My suggestions were really in response to what seemed to me like too much of a sense of equanimity about what happened. Cyclists have a right and a responsibility to take the space they need to ride safely. Like several wise comments point out, bike lanes are not especially safe - they obfuscate many sources of danger. I might even go so far as to say that I don't think a cyclist should remain in a bike lane when a car has come to a stop to the left of one (other than at a light or stop sign). A car stopping in a traveling lane is suspicious - the cyclist should probably take a car lane. Again, not a criticism, just a discussion of tactics. Hope you are healing fast!

  • John Muller

    @B - I was being mindful of what other folks equate biking with.

  • a change gon’ come

    As someone who has witnessed the bike transformations of DC with absolutely no instructions to drivers that I am aware of, is it accurate that when a taxi or another driver is discharging a passenger, they are supposed to move into the bike lane before doing so? The idea being that the bikers that might be coming up that lane will stop behind the car and not curse it for invading their space, and wait while said passenger gathers belongings, pays driver, and exits?

    Also, if anyone has a link to driver rules and bike lanes, I'd be grateful.

  • cap hill girl

    I have been riding for years, and am extremely careful, but I got doored in SE about a month ago. A woman was parked semi-legally (half in and half out of legal zone) long enough to have turned off the car by the time I came along, then hopped out of her car "just to get a quick coffee" without looking. I wound up with stupendous bruises, a badly sprained wrist, and a jacked up bike, but it could have been worse. The folks at Georgetown Hospital were WONDERFUL. I was seen within minutes, even though I walked in under my own power.

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