Ride Unsafe: the Story of Dooring

According to new bicycle crash data from the Chicago Department of Transportation, Downtown streets are the most dangerous roads for Chicago bikers because these streets have the most accidents. This might not be the case as they have more cycle traffic at the same time.

A biker makes her way through the snow along Damen Avenue in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.

A biker makes her way through the snow along Damen Avenue in the Wicker Park of Chicago.

By Cheng Sun

CHICAGO – It is just another ordinary morning for Depaul University student Caiwei to climb on his bike and ride along N Clark Street to school.

The blizzard happened yesterday  was unexpected, some automobiles are still stuck in the deep snow near sidewalk.

The Bike lane has been shoveled clear, for the most part.

Caiwei stops at the traffic light between W Fullerton Ave and N Clark St when a car next to him suddenly open the door and almost hit him.

“The driver did not see me.” said Caiwei afterwards, “I often see drivers who are totally oblivious to bikes. They open doors without looking, they pull in front of bikes with abandon, they don’t see bicycles because they haven’t accepted that cycling is part of our transportation system now. They haven’t figured out that we have become a city of peddlers – and that is a good thing.”

Caiwei was lucky, but there are people who are not.

Reality

The U.S. census tracks those who commute to work by bike, and in Chicago that number has grown steadily over the past 15 years, according to a 2012 analysis of city data published by the Department of Transportation.

The city didn’t have the final 2014 statistics showing the total number of cyclists injured in crashes with vehicles. But the numbers have increased in the past three years, from little more than 1,300 in 2011 to more than 1,500 in 2013, according to data provided by the city.

Chicago Bike Crashes 2009-2011

View Chicago bike crashes data 2009-2011 in a full screen map

Dooring

The term “dooring” applies to incidents in which the cyclists is riding in a legal space and a person in a stationary vehicle opens their door causing a crash. (City of Chicago, Bicycle Crash analysis)

Below is a chart of where and under what circumstances Dooring are taking place.

dooringThe observation is pretty clear. There are large pockets of Dooring accidents on primary diagonal streets and intersections that serve the loop area, particularly Milwaukee and Lincoln Avenues, as well as on Clark Street. Which is the same pattern as shown in the  2009-2011 Chicago Bike Crashes Data map.

The Bike Lane

“These Dooring crashes can lead to very serious injuries.” Said Bicycle House Tallahassee owner Scott Benton, who was recovered from a coma caused by a bike accident couple years ago.

“Practical transportation means it is the most efficient way for daily commute. Cyclists, in this sense, should be more careful when they are riding in the traffic.”

“Of course the bike lane is important.” Scott added as he pointed at his computer screen. “But it should be well placed, to protect and benefit the cyclists”

Unfortunately, most of the bike lanes in Chicago and other major cities across America are striped lanes sandwiched between a lane of traffic and a lane of parked cars. Not as ideal as he thinks.

The Grid‘s Steven Vance argues that the Second City “must stop building narrow bike lanes to the left of parked cars,” and instead focus on building the kind of “buffered” bike lanes Chicago installed on sections of Elston, Kinzie and 18th street.

“For a great example on why I cannot – and why you should not support bad road designs is every story of fatal bike crashes on a major biking “Commuterway” in Chicago.” Said Steven Vance in his blog.

Crash Reduction Strategies

“We believe the only acceptable number of fatalities is zero.” Said Jim Merrell, an advocacy campaign director for the Active Transportation Alliance.

Merrell pointed to the Dearborn Street bike lane and the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane, where in some areas cyclists and cars are separated by white poles called “bollards” as examples of streets in Chicago where the well installation of protected bike lanes has been making commuters feel safer and reduce collisions.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he aims to build 100 miles of protected bike lanes and increase fines for cyclists committing traffic violations and for motorists who open their doors in the path of cyclists.

Two cyclists riding on Dearborn Street bike lane. One of them is against the traffic.

Two cyclists riding on Dearborn Street bike lane. One of them is against the traffic.

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