Tuesday, October 16, 2012

learning from a tragedy

On Friday 10/5, the Chicago cycling community lost a year round bike commuter in an entirely preventable accident.

Accidents like this should not happen, and they wouldn't if more drivers were educated about the dangers of dooring.  Other cyclists have died in the same way in recent years.  

On more than one occasion, I have been doored, or swerved to avoid being doored, and was saved from Mr. Townsend's fate by the fact that the driver who could have run me over or hit me head on was paying attention and was able to stop quickly, avoiding a potentially deadly collision.  None of those incidents would have happened at all if each of the parked drivers had looked before opening their doors.  Many cyclists I know have had similar experiences.

To put this into context, I have ridden nearly 19,000 miles over the last 15 years - most of those miles within the city of Chicago.  In that time, I've had a total of 4 accidents requiring medical attention. Three of those accidents involved dooring.  I have avoided hundreds of *potential* accidents through observant, defensive riding.  Paying attention saves lives.  I know that many of you have similar safety statistics.  It sounds like Mr. Townsend may have also had similar numbers - until 10/5.  Cycling *can* be a safe, healthy means of transportation - if we learn how to share the road safely. 

Drivers need to understand the importance of checking the side mirror EVERY TIME before opening a door into traffic, and waiting if necessary.  It's a small thing that could have a huge impact on bike safety if a lot more drivers get the message.

At the same time, cyclists could benefit from learning a few warning signs to help avoid doorings.    

* Visually scanning a line of parked cars for occupants and brake lights is a good start.  

* Brake lights give you a clue that the car is about to pull into traffic or that a door is about to open.  

* As you get closer to each car, using the car's side mirror may let you see if there's someone in the driver's seat who may open their door.  

* Using a side mirror on your bike while riding allows you to more easily see what's approaching from behind.

* If you see a door start to open into your path, loudly call out "STOP!!"

* If car windows are open and you have a bike bell, ringing it can let drivers know you're coming.  (Hey, I know that some of you will think this is totally dorky, but it works.)

If you have other dooring or other traffic safety tips to share, please feel free to respond in a comment.

A memorial and educational outreach event is being planned for this Friday morning 10/19 at the accident site.  If you are interested in participating, you can follow and participate in the planning via this Chainlink discussion.

Wishing you safe travels, wherever you're riding today.

    -- Anne Alt

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