Every cyclist can relate to the fear of casually sailing along a row of parked cars, inside the bike lane, to be confronted with a car door opening into you. Many have experienced it and surely it has crossed all of our minds at some stage. There’s not just the actual contact with the door to worry about, there’s also the possibility of being thrown over your handlebars or, worse still, into the path of oncoming traffic.
I’m not going to pepper this post with statistics and the like. It would be impossible to get an accurate gauge as many non-serious dooring incidents across the country would go unreported anyway. Even if there was an accurate figure, would it really register as more than a meaningless statistic if it wasn’t your child, friend or partner? When they’ve been stripped of the ‘human element’ in favour of numbers? Well here’s one statistic. James Cross became the first official fatality by dooring in Melbourne in 2010. Ellen Richards opened the door of her parked car into 22 year-old James, who was cycling in the bike lane on his way to university, sending him underneath the wheels of a truck. James died on the scene minutes later, in the arms of a stranger who James’ mum will be ‘forever grateful’ to for how she ‘held James as he died…and told him how loved he was.”
So that’s a heart breaking statistic, right? But along with that, it’s a very angering one too. But unfortunately being angry about something doesn’t solve any problems. So what will? What’s the issue here? The fact that bicycle infrastructure and the education and awareness, or lack thereof, around riding a bike are failing to keep people safe. Let’s break these down and look at them separately.
Let’s start with bike infrastructure in Melbourne. Bike lanes in the CBD are generally narrower lanes marked in green that run between the parked cars and the left-hand traffic lane. There’s no physical separation from either and although it’s illegal for cars to drive in them, it happens ALL THE TIME. Not only that, but cars park in them, causing cyclists to have to swerve out into traffic. Dooring occurs because the lanes are located right next to, well, the doors obviously. And because bike lanes are sporadic and infrequent throughout the CBD, it’s no surprise that drivers don’t always think to look for them. But that’s an example of a reasonably good bike lane. If you ride down Collins Street in peak hour, quite frankly, don’t. The ‘bike lane’ is little more than a stripe of green paint straddling the gutter and the car lane. Complete with all the grates and surface level changes, it just throws a new danger in the mix to contend with.
So what should we be doing? Let’s look to Holland. In the Netherlands, bikes are as common as cars and therefore have a network of safe and protected cycle ways. For anyone who thinks its unrealistic that Australia could attain what Holland has in terms of cycling infrastructure, think again. Fifty-ish years ago, cycling wasn’t really a thing in Holland but a whole lot of activism and smart political decisions changed the course of Dutch mobility. I’m not going to go into Dutch politics of times gone by as there’s plenty of super detailed information on the interwebs, but this is important to note in order to knock that argument straight down.
And what about education and awareness? I was doored in Melbourne CBD late last year and the guy who did it absolutely didn’t mean to – I could see how awful he felt and that he was just as shocked and upset as I was. Rather, it was a thoughtless act because it never occurred to him to check. Again, let’s look at Holland because when you’re the most bike-friendly place in the world, other’s can learn from you. They’re taught the Dutch Reach, which is essentially opening your car door with the opposite hand so that your body will twist and you’ll instinctively turn your head to check for oncoming bikes. Super simple stuff but it’s learned behaviour that makes a big difference, and it’s instilled in them from a young age which is note-worthy. The very fact that this exists in Holland shows how much awareness around cycling there is. Why? Because generally all the car drivers are cyclists themselves, thus know what it’s like to be on both sides.
Of course, this article is merely scraping the surface of the issue. We’re obviously super passionate about making cycling the safe and obvious choice for commuting but we’d love to throw it out to the world wide web – what do you guys think is the solution here?