'It happened so fast': What it's like being 'doored' while cycling in San Franci
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, and Jenny Shu was bicycling to a friend's house in the Mission. She cruised down Valencia Street, hitting one green light after the other, and sailed past window-shoppers and coffee drinkers merrily pooling on the sunlit sidewalk.
Then Shu was on the ground, spread halfway across the edge of the bike lane and the road.
"I literally did not see it coming. It happened so fast."
Shu was hit by the door of a convertible BMW, which the driver had flung open into the bike lane. The sharp edge of the heavy door sliced the bones in Shu's ring finger nearly down the middle.
Police arrived to take reports from Shu and the driver, and Shu's friend drove her to a nearby hospital. There, Shu noticed the ache in her right foot. X-rays revealed the foot, like the finger, was broken, having been wedged between the door and Shu's pedal.
It took 25 stitches to piece Shu's finger back together, and a boot kept the two broken foot bones stabilized.
For eight weeks, she couldn't walk or drive. It was four months before she could use her finger without pain.
The safety of cyclists in San Francisco has come under scrutiny again after the tragic death of 30-year-old Tess Rothstein in March.
The Airbnb researcher was struck by a box truck on Howard Street in March and succumbed to her injuries at the scene. Witnesses reported seeing Rothstein swerve in front of the vehicle to avoid a car door that was opening on her right flank.
The collision occurred less than 100 feet from a protected bike lane.Some experts estimate that "dooring"— when an opening car door hits a cyclist — accounts for between 12 and 27 percent of urban car-bike collisions.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says more than half of collisions in which the cyclist is likely not at fault can be attributed to three "violation factors": unsafe lane changes, the driver's failure to yield when making a left or U-turn, and dooring.
A report by the SFMTA concluded that there were 203 dooring collisions in San Francisco between 2012 and 2015. But as the Pedestrian & Bicycle Information website points out, “as many as 55 percent of pedestrian crashes and even more bicyclist crashes may be missing from police-reported crash data."
“Doorings in major cities are often among the top injury-producing crashes between bicycles and automobiles,” says Michael Charney, the creator of The Dutch Reach Project, a website dedicated to spreading the use of the door-opening technique aimed at preventing dooring accidents.
Charney began his effort to spread the "Dutch Reach" after a neighbor was killed in a dooring incident in his hometown of Cambridge, Mass.
After swerving to avoid an opening door, the woman was fatally struck by a landscaping truck. After reading about the "Dutch Reach" in the comments section in an article about her death, Charney says, “I almost fell off my chair.”
“A sign that [dooring] is an epidemic is that my project surprisingly became an international phenomenon when people discovered there was a low-tech method to prevent this.”
In practice, the Dutch Reach is simply opening your car door with the hand furthest from the door. This forces the driver to turn and increases the likelihood he'll look in the side mirror or behind him to see if a cyclist (or skateboarder or scooter rider) is approaching.
Also one "cannot throw the door open” using this method.
“You can only kind of nudge it on the first push.”
Thanks to Charney’s efforts and others, the Dutch Reach has been adopted as part of driver education in several states, but not yet in California.
“It’s such an easy sell,” he says. "You’re not asking people to donate a kidney.”
For cyclists, there are some cautions to take to avoid getting slammed by a door.
The San Francisco Bike Coalition has a page dedicated to Rules of the Road that include advice pertaining to these types of accidents, including keeping your eyes on parking vehicles and drivers in cars.
Some bike advocates, like Charney, refer to the door zone — the space a car's door extends into the lane — as “the death zone.”
He says to ride on the outer margin of bike lanes: “There should be three feet between the tip of my handlebar and a car door.”
A growing number of bike advocates also recommend "taking the lane" – riding in the middle of the lane used by cars – so you are visible, though doing so can provoke hostile reactions from drivers in a hurry.
Arguably the best advice for cyclists to avoid all kinds of accidents is to bike defensively and to remain alert — no pedaling-while-texting or listening to music with earbuds.---When Shu finally got back on her bicycle, she began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder related from the accident -- even while driving.
"I once was getting a ride to work from a friend and a car door opened quickly," she recalled. "I gasped."While cycling these days, she is constantly vigilant for obstructions in her path and erratic road behavior.
"Cars just don't pay attention," she admits. "They just don't care."Even with that knowledge, Shu says her accident "couldn't keep me away."
She's regained almost full-use of her right ring finger and has begun bike-commuting to work again."It's never going to be a leisurely ride," she said.
"You have to be aware at all times what's going on. You have to ride like someone is going to kill you."