Getting “doored” is one of the hazards of urban cycling. Dooring is when a parked motorist opens a traffic-side door into the path of an oncoming rider. Since parked vehicles and bicycles can be in very close proximity, there usually very little time for a cyclist to react to a swinging car door. The consequences can be quite serious, as in the case Friday of a New York cyclist killed when he was ejected into the path of an oncoming truck.

The problem is made worse by poor bike path design, such as in the doctored photo above by Santa Monica bike commuter Gary Kavanagh. Bike paths are generally regraded as safe spaces by novice cyclists, but those which are marked immediately adjacent to curbside parking become Door Zones. They can be considerably more dangerous than riding with motor traffic.

What cyclist must do

Riders should maintain at least four feet of clearance from parked cars, even if that means riding outside a bike lane. In my state, Florida, the law requires cyclists to use marked bike lanes when they’re available. But there are many exceptions, and it’s unreasonable to expect riders to operate without sufficient room to avoid being doored.

If you’re uncomfortable with taking a lane, find another route. Be wary around parked cars, always scanning to see if there’s someone in the driver’s seat or on the left-hand passenger side. You never know when a door is going to open.

A simple tip for drivers

Occupants of any vehicle should check rearview mirrors, open traffic-side doors slowly, and be on the lookout for oncoming cyclists. But mirrors have blind spots. Here’s a really simple tip that can get drivers in the habit of looking over their left shoulder as they open a car door:

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It’s easy and only takes a second. As drivers reach for the door handle with their right hand, they naturally turn their heads to the left. By the time a driver has sufficiently rotated to open the door, he or she is in an excellent position to scan for oncoming cyclists.

Look through the passenger window, open the door slowly, and be sure the coast is clear before opening the door all the way.

And have fun

Thinking about bike safety can be unsettling. But there are risks involved in any form of transportation: cars, planes, boats — even walking. Cycling is fun, healthy, and economical. It’s a fast, environmentally friendly way of getting around. Drivers and cyclists learning how to get along together is the best way to make things safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

So get out there. Enjoy the autumn weather while it lasts.

Photo credit: Flickr image by Gary Kavanagh, distributed under a Creative Commons license.