Opinion: Cyclists should ride outside ‘door zone’ for safety, says Potsdam man
Wednesday, June 27, 2018 - 9:26 am

To the Editor:

In response to the June 13-19 Letter to the Editor “Practice ‘Dutch Read’ to Prevent Accidents’ the writer advises bicyclists to look at the rearview mirrors of parked cars to avoid being hit by vehicle doors.

That can only be done if the cyclist rides at no more than about 5 mph—not much faster than walking. Anyone cycling at a reasonable speed cannot focus on the road ahead and car mirrors simultaneously and be able to react in time if a door suddenly opens. For example, 10 mph, which almost any cyclist can manage on level ground, is 14 feet, 8 inches per second—almost one car length.

There's a 100 percent effective way to avoid getting hit by doors: Always ride outside the door zone of parked cars.

Many cyclists fear being hit from behind, so they do any or all of the following things, believing that will protect them: ride against traffic, hug the curb, or ride close to parked cars. None of these actions is safe, and the first one is illegal. Crash data show that less than 5% of car-bike collisions are hits from behind. The vast majority--80%--are turning and crossing conflicts at intersections.

Cyclists who ride near the edge increase the risk of these frequent types of collisions because they are less easily seen by motorists. Many motorists do not scan the entire road width for hazards.

Dedicated bike lanes, by the way, do nothing to reduce intersection turning conflicts; in fact, they increase the risk of such collisions because they discourage, or prevent, proper merging and lane positioning based on intended direction of travel.

Many cities have installed bike lanes. Most of them, based on my observations in many places, are squarely in the door zone and thus put cyclists at risk. If you encounter such a lane, ride as if it isn't there.

Your safety is more important than adhering to a discriminatory law that mandates the use of bike lanes where present (the full text of New York's law is in Article 34, Section 1234 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, accessible online).

Where travel lanes are too narrow to share side-by-side with motor vehicles, cyclists should ride near the center of the lane. This prevents unsafe passes or sideswipes.

Yes, this will sometimes delay motorists, but bicyclists have the same rights and duties as motor vehicle drivers, and are not required to jeopardize their own safety so that someone else can go faster. Motorists are delayed far more often by red lights and other motorists than by cyclists.

Bill Hoffman

Potsdam