When is a bike lane potentially unsafe? When using it puts you at greater risk for a specific type of motorist / bicyclist collision. The dooring collision. In a roadway configuration where the bike lane is between the parking lane and travel lane, traveling in the bike lane often puts you directly in the “door zone”. A dooring collision is where a motorist opens their door into the path of a cyclist approaching from the rear. Cyclists rarely escape injury in a dooring collison. The responsibility here lies with the motorist, laws state they must make sure it’s safe to open their door. When using these bike lanes, of which there are many miles in downtown Tempe, you should take the following precautions.
- The easiest way to avoid a dooring collision is to ride OUTSIDE the door zone. In some cases this will put you out of the bike lane in traffic, but as the mantra goes: Cyclists fare best when they act like, and are treated as drivers of vehicles
- Always watch for movement inside the vehicles parked to your right, if you see movement, be aware and safely* move out of the door zone. An additional action you may wish to perform is ringing a bell if you have one. During the day one can also ride with a front bicycle light in blink mode to potentially increase awareness among occupants in the vehicle.
* safely here means you’ll want to glance over your left shoulder to check if it is safe to move over, signal that you are moving over to the left (arm extended straight out to the left, pointing a finger helps), look once more to be sure it’s safe. Then move over to your left and out of the door zone.
Other dangers of which to be aware: Doorings can happen with cars to your left as well. An example here would be a car that stops in the traffic lane to quickly let a passenger out. I’ve witnessed taxi cabs doing this on Mill Ave when traffic is crawling.
If you happen to be riding in the bike lane and a car door is opened into your path, instinct will likely dictate that you swerve to the left. This can put you directly into the path of a vehicle approaching from your rear or an oncoming vehicle if you can’t regain control and remain left of the center stripe (on an undivided street)!
Ride safe and stay hydrated!