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Cycling

Mar 19, 2014

What can be done to stop cyclists getting "doored"?

The dooring of another cyclist this week highlights the need to find a better solution to this growing problem. It's time cyclists got the same priority in access to road space as motorists get

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Cyclist "doored" by passenger getting out of a taxi

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.

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  1. 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.

 

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19 comments

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19 thoughts on “What can be done to stop cyclists getting “doored”?

  1. Tom the first and best

    18

    Only if close enough to the curb. The taxi was not pulled into the curb.

  2. Brad

    It’s unreasonable to expect a passenger to beware of oncoming cyclists from between the car and the kerb. We have generations of conditioning that it is safe to assume you can open the door on the kerb-side when your vehicle is stationary.

    The idea of calling such a space a bike line or any sort is absurd – an accident waiting to happen.

  3. Smith John

    John #9: ‘The second cyclist was able to avoid a collision why not the first?’

    Um, maybe because for the first the timing was wrong? Bikes, like cars, have a braking distance – they can’t stop on a penny.

    The maximum safe speed for riding in the car door zone, assuming someone might open a door in your face at the worst possible moment, is probably about 5kph.

    When you’re driving, do you voluntarily restrict yourself to 5kph, or 10, or even 20, just to avoid the risk of collision if someone jumps in front of you at the worst possible moment?

    Or do you expect other people to obey the road rules – the rules that have been developed over many years precisely so that traffic can move safely at more than a walking pace?

  4. David Eldridge

    “There was plenty of outrage on social media yesterday at the boorish way three men conducted themselves”
    I wish it was true, Alan, but the vast bulk of commentary I found is about cyclists and road rules. Good on the cyclist for standing up to the three men. Now that he is named and shamed the main protagonist still insists on minimising his behaviour.
    I don’t usually ride in the city but I have twice this week. My impression of road-users is they were attentive and courteous

  5. Alan Davies

    Persia #14:

    I think the City of Melbourne should move forthwith to remove the so-called bike lanes beside Super Stops and put in signage (e.g. sharrows) that indicates clearly to drivers cyclists are entitled to take the middle of the lane.

    Cyclists who wish to filter to the front can still do so but, since they’d no longer be misled into believing they have the security of a proper bike lane, I expect they’d ride more cautiously.

  6. Persia

    Alan #7

    Section 129 (1) of the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 states that “A driver on a road (except a multi-lane road) must drive as near as practicable to the far left side of the road.” (The term driver includes rider throughout the road rules, unless otherwise specified).

    Given that riding too far left leaves a tempting (though usually too small) gap for a following car to try to squeeze through, the best approach is to ride as far to the right of the kerb as is practicable. Note that such drivers are in flagrant contravention of section 140 (b), which states that “A driver must not overtake a vehicle unless—… b) the driver can safely overtake the vehicle. (As I noted earlier, bicycles are legal road vehicles).

    BV recommends riding about 1 metre out & if there are no obstructions, parked cars, inattentive pedestrians, holes in the road, bluestone trays, skips, piles of gravel, etc, that works. In the case of a narrow space like through a super stop, however, you’d always take the whole lane, because that’s just practicable.

    I completely agree with you about some cyclists feeling too intimidated to take the whole lane. What Collins St probably needs is 1)advance bike signals 2)congestion charging to reduce the number of motor vehicles making unnecessary, “luxury”, trips along there.

  7. hk

    A balanced article producing thought provoking reactions in the commentary. There is something to be said for cyclists taking responsibility for their own risk reduction exposure behaviour. Clearly the MCC marking a sub-standard bike “refuge” along the kerbs in Collins Street is avoiding the necessary steps to achieve sensible and safe traffic engineering solutions.

  8. pedals

    I used to commute daily on Collins but now use Latrobe. The width and layout of Collins is such that these kinds of incidents would be quite common. Over the years of commuting on it I was doored, near miss doored and witnessed various accidents too. What is more unique here is that it was filmed and taken up by the media.

    From the comments on the various Age articles it is clear how uninformed the general public is about the actual rules and rights of road users.

    As for comments here about taking the lane, sure you could do that but this portion of Collins will frequently queue cars all the way between Swanston back to Elizabeth and even further over to William etc, in either direction of travel. What is the point in a cyclist adding to that mess and how would motorists feel then sitting behind one?

    It’s a badly ‘designed’ road due to superstop takeover and more generally we have too freely accepted selfish individual motor vehicle usage into the CBD.

  9. B.C.

    I’m not sure it’s that easy for a passenger to check if a cyclist is passing on the left side of a car. The front left side door mirror is normally positioned for the driver. Rear passengers don’t have a mirror at all. Trying to look over your shoulder can be problematic, especially if the passenger is also carrying a briefcase or bag. In the case of taxis, the passenger may not be from Melbourne, or Australia, and so may not even be aware that cyclists might be passing on the left.

    Given the above I think the onus needs to be more on the driver. They should be most familiar with lanes, usage, etc and have the best view of the exterior of the vehicle.

  10. Saving Melbourne

    If THAT ‘lane’ between the gutter and the white-line is a ‘designated bike lane’… then Melbourne (…a most liveable city???) needs a whole NEW SET of ‘Planners’.
    Do the current ‘Planners’ know what they’re doing???

  11. John Kotsopoulos

    Some areas in the CBD are just not safe for cyclists. In this case how is a person exiting from the passenger side of a stationary vehicle supposed to know that a cyclist would ride through? You can have a look and by the time you grab the handle to open the door it may be too late. Surely the cyclist has a duty of care to avoid passing on the inside of a stationary vehicle. The second cyclist was able to avoid a collision why not the first?

  12. Dingoes Breakfast

    No cyclist should be allowed to ride on public roads without paying 3rd party insurance to the government and registration fees. A cyclist neighbor knocked on my door one night and asked me “why were all the drivers calling me an idiot?” I said “what were you doing?” He replied “riding my bike on the freeway” I said “At this time of night without lights!!!” He got the message.:

  13. Alan Davies

    Persia #5:

    Cyclists can lawfully use the traffic lane (don’t they have to be within a metre of the kerb, though?) but the problem is many motorists don’t recognise that right, so riders feel intimidated. If drivers see what they think is a bike lane beside the kerb some will be even more intolerant of cyclists occupying the traffic lane.

  14. hcdr

    Good write-up. In Melbourne Council parlance a ‘dedicated bike lane’ is a cycle track like Albert St (East Melbourne). I believe the ‘FUBL’ is an ‘advisory bike lane’ (name says it all, really) but it is still a bike lane. They are shirking their share of the blame.

    As much as Collins St is high-risk for these kinds of collisions, its saving grace is it tends to be low-speed most of the day. I concede the City of Melbourne can’t do much with Collins St short of short of removing a traffic lane in one direction (i.e. won’t happen) and there is no infra in the south part of the CBD. Flinders is far more perilous IMO. Flinders Lane and Little Collins St, however, are generally quiet and very suitable for cycling, and are ineffective for motor vehicles. The City would do well do put sharrows or other bicycle priority systems up and down there, and limit car access or speeds. It would improve those streets, also.

  15. Persia

    If the door flinger gets pinged for 1)opening a door into traffic, 2)failing to give details following an accident and 3)leaving the scene of an accident, and everyone’s aware that it was all due to “candid camera”, then it might make for some more general awareness and caution.

    The “lanes” there are called “bike refuges” by Melbourne City Council. They felt that providing some space for cyclists past the super tram stops was better than nothing.

    Cyclists are under no legal obligation to stick to these “refuges”, however and can take the whole lane at any time, since they are legal road vehicles.

  16. Michael O'Connor

    I cycle in and out of the city every day and I’m seriously of the opinion that the cyclist was part of the problem during that incident. Collins Street, especially between Elizabeth and Swanston Street, is dangerous area to ride in – simply because there’s very little room to move, people crossing, turning, opening doors in front of you.

    I reckon that had she have been riding with the traffic (and more explicitly, stopped behind the other taxi and cruised in traffic past the Super Stop) and not tried to fly up the inside of stationary traffic, there wouldn’t have even been an incident. Either that, or slow to a crawl past stationary traffic so that you have time to stop if that kind of thing happens.

    I’m not trying to defend the behaviour of the passengers of the taxi, but I do seriously think that there are some dooring incidents that are legitimate (like the poor man, last year, who was doored and then run over by a tram on Sydney Road) and there are some incidents, like this one, which would be completely avoidable if cyclists would ride more defensively – especially in such a busy congested area like Collins Street in the city centre.

  17. Corban Hicks

    I’d like to add that apparently the following cyclist was able to collect the cab driver’s details, and in the helmet camera video the driver asks the passengers to stop and wait: it’s only after details were collected that the cab driver left the scene.

  18. intotecho

    I used to ride down Collins St, but I came to the opinion that it is one of the most dangerous roads in the CBD for cylcists because the bike lane is simply not adequate. Taxis queues often extend beyond the rank and into the bike lane. Cars and taxis are always stopping on this street.
    Unfortunately there are no good alternate routes – the Bourke Street mall and Burke St tram stops prohibit cycling. Latrobe St is improved but too far north for many trips. The Yarra is too far south.

    The new tram stops have not left enough room for bikes. I am not surprised that the door incident occured adjacent to a new super tram stop.

    Super stops are great for motorists because they free up two lanes for cars at the intersection, while relegating tram passengers to the mid-block. They do have advantages for passengers and particularly for disabled access. But also for advertisers who can commandeer public space in the middle of the road.

    Perhaps if the people who designed this tram stop were held accountable we would see less doorings.

  19. Dylan Nicholson

    FWIW, I’ve seen people fling out their car doors and almost hit passing *motor* traffic.

    I actually think this one that technology should be able to handle – eventually cars will have sufficient sensors/cameras etc. that they can simply prevent the doors from opening if they can detect it’s likely to cause a collision. Before then we could at least mandate that doors must be designed so that that can’t just be flung open – they’d require an initial push that would open the door just enough to make it give a warning signal (and potentially even some sort of audible and/or light signal could be generated), after which the door could be fully opened at a restricted speed.
    A more immediate solution would also be to restrict the number of places where cars/taxis are permitted to stop/park at the side of the road. Certainly the CBD has far too many bike lanes that run ride alongside parallel parking zones, which is just asking for trouble.

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