You’re pedaling down the street and notice that someone has parked in the bike lane ahead of you. What do you do?
Signal that you’re going to get left, when it’s clear then change lanes, and DON’T hug the right side of the lane next to the car. Here’s why.
This happened a few days ago in Chicago.
This can also happen when you’re in a bike lane that’s right next to a line of parked cars. On December 9, 2014, Hans Updegraff was traveling west on Lake street in the bike lane. A 19-year old college student opened the door of her parked car without first checking that the bike lane was free. Hank slammed into the suddenly opened door and fell out into Lake street where a 2009 Subaru Outback, also traveling west on Lake street, ran him over. Hank was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries. He survived, but went through months of recovery.
There are several places in Fort Collins where bike lanes are in the door zone. Due to constrained street widths, it’s not always possible to fit a parking lane, a bike lane, two travels lanes, another bike lane, and another parking lane all comfortably within the width of the street. Free parking (which isn’t really free) is so important to most people, than rather than remove the parking and install safe places for bicyclists to ride, the bike lanes are put in the door zone with the hope that because there’s not a lot of turnover of these vehicles, there’s not a high likelihood of getting hit.
Unless you happen to be in just the right place at just the right time. … Or should I say just the wrong place at just the wrong time?
There are two ways to avoid getting doored. The only “for sure” means is to not ride within 5 feet of a parked car. (Five feet allows for a door to be fully opened plus room for “startle” space. If a door suddenly opens next to you, you’ll most likely jump or swerve. The “startle” space gives you room to do that without ending up in front of a moving vehicle.) In a situation like that shown above, there’s no way you can ride in the bike lane and also have that 5 feet of space between you and the possibility of a suddenly opening door. So you’d have to take the lane. That means riding in the center of the lane where the cars are. This is entirely legal (see the code, which is listed near the end of this post on taking the lane).
If you’re not comfortable taking the lane, but you’re not keen on getting doored either, then you can do what many bicyclists default to — ride right on the white line between the bike lane and the thru lane. That keeps you out of the door zone… mostly, and allows motorists to pass you without having to cross too far over the double yellow line. Just be aware that if they’re faced with an oncoming vehicle, and you’re on their right, they may dodge the vehicle and end up hitting you.
In the state of Colorado, as in the state of Illinois as listed in the video above, it is illegal to open a car door without first checking to make sure that the space is clear. But people still do it all the time. So be careful to avoid the door zone, even if the City’s paint job makes it seem like that’s where bikes should be.