There was plenty of outrage on social media yesterday at the boorish way three men conducted themselves after one of them “doored” a cyclist in Collins St, Melbourne on Tuesday.
He opened the footpath-side rear door of a taxi into what appears to be a designated bike lane causing the cyclist to collide with the door. The taxi wasn’t moving but it was “in traffic”, i.e. in the traffic lane, not stopped at the side of the road.
As the cyclist picked herself up from the footpath and asked with remarkable poise to exchange details the passenger refused. One of the men said: “you ride up the inside of a car that’s stopped at the lights you are a fool”.
Fortunately, the cyclist captured their reaction on both a handle bar camera (see exhibit) and a helmet camera. The latter is worth watching; it provides more information about the context e.g. there’s another cyclist immediately behind her who just manages to stop in time.
She also got video of the taxi driver appearing to shrug off the incident. He didn’t get out of his cab and drove off within 40 seconds of the cyclist going down. (Update: the cyclist reports she is happy with the driver’s response).
It appeared last night that the man who opened the taxi door had contacted police and is “assisting them with their investigations”. Since he told the cyclist “the way people like you ride around is disgusting”, it seems likely the wide exposure given to the videos helped him reach that decision.
There’s more coverage of this incident in The Age. The key issue it highlights though is the difficulty of preventing doorings.
Opening a vehicle door that causes a hazard to cyclists is an offence in Victoria. Both taxi drivers and passengers need to understand better the risk a casually opened door poses to cyclists and what their legal responsibilities are.
But I’m not confident more intensive public education, penalties and enforcement will significantly reduce the risk of dooring. I suspect cyclists will be waiting a long time for the problem to go away.
We don’t have a strong tradition of utility cycling in Australia. Passengers and drivers don’t reflexively think about the danger they might present to a cyclist when they open a door.
Passengers routinely get out of cabs when they’re stopped in traffic. They aren’t used to watching out for cyclists on the driver’s side, let alone on the kerb side.
That’s especially likely if (say) they’re distracted by a phone call or they’re having a conversation with the driver. They might come from another city or country where cyclists are less familiar than in Melbourne.
Or perhaps more commonly their attention might be dulled a little because they’ve just had ‘a long lunch’.
It makes sense to put the primary onus on drivers and taxi owners to prevent passengers from opening doors while the vehicle is in a position to put other road users at risk. Drivers could refuse to accept payment until the vehicle is safely stopped; pick-up and let-down might be restricted to certain spots; or doors might be locked and unlocked by the driver.
These sorts of ideas all have downsides. This is a low-pay industry where time is valuable. Rules that add complexity to the driver’s task and/or increase costs are likely to simply be ignored much of the time (and not all drivers are unemployed lawyers or mathematicians). Giving the driver control over door locks would be unacceptable to some customers.
While education and laws are important, I think the key problem is that cyclists are effectively given only a limited amount of road space. Some might cycle up “the inside” of traffic because it’s faster but I suspect many assume the narrow kerb lane shown in the video is a bicycle lane. (1)
The straightforward way of addressing this problem is to provide more bike paths in the CBD (and other dense locations e.g. Chapel St) that completely segregate cyclists from traffic and parked cars by hard barriers.
However that’s not realistic in all cases, at least in the short term, because streets in the city centre have to accommodate multiple functions e.g. trams, bus stops, delivery vehicles. The dooring in the video occurred where traffic is funnelled in a single lane past a tram Super Stop.
It would be better in such cases if cyclists in the CBD weren’t effectively obliged to keep to the left or to ride close to parked cars on one side and traffic on the other.
They should be able to use the full extent of the traffic lane – sharing it with motorised traffic – in the same way a car or a motor bike does. They shouldn’t be compelled by law, custom or intimidation to keep to the left.
Motorists who drive in the CBD should be obliged to drive at speeds that are consistent with those of cyclists and to give way to riders. That would require appropriate education and signage to “legitimise” the presence of cyclists.
The CBD is by far the largest and densest concentration of people, activities and public transport services in the metropolitan area of Australian cities. It’s also the location that in relative terms is the least reliant on access by private vehicles; they shouldn’t have priority over the amenity and safety of non-motorised users.
CBDs only cover around 5 sq km; vehicles should be treated as a necessary evil in this tiny area; they should be managed in a way that minimises their negative impact. It’s time cyclists got the same priority in access to road space as motorists get.
- Apparently it’s not a dedicated bike lane. According to the City of Melbourne, ‘‘cyclists are free to use Collins Street if they wish however this is not a dedicated bike lane. The line markings are intended to encourage drivers to stay to the right of cyclists that are using this road space.” It’s what @MelbCrank calls a #FUBL. “BL = bike lane, work out the rest”. Update: this article in The Age on-line shows what constitutes a bike lane is anything but straightforward.