In the beginning of my bike commuting journey, I stuck to the bike lane almost religiously. I felt a sense of safety as traffic zoomed past me, and often found myself riding very close to the seemingly innocuous parked cars to my right.
Little did I know, I was riding in the door zone, and could have gotten seriously hurt!
Now, you may be asking: what is the door zone??
The door zone is the area four to five feet next to parked cars in which you could get hit by an opening car door. If you ride in the door zone, you can sustain an injury from being whacked by an opening car door; or worse, you can fall and swerve into oncoming traffic.
Car doors can open unexpectedly and there is often little time to react, so being aware of the door zone while biking is critical!
Check out this post I wrote on the different types of bike lanes, but striped bike lanes are the most common type of bike lane you may encounter. However, these types of bike lanes are within the precarious door zone, and riders need to be cognizant of how to bike more carefully in them.
Striped Bike Lane
Honestly, as a bike commuter I wish bike lanes that included this precarious door zone did not exist. This post by Cycling Savvy lays out the problem beautifully. But the fact is: these types of bike lanes exist, and as smart cyclists we need to know the ways in which we can ride, but still stay safe!
TIP 1: Take The Lane
Taking the lane means riding in the lane as though you were a car. It is by far the safest way to avoid riding in the door zone altogether. The true answer to “How to Ride in the Door Zone” is DON’T RIDE IN THE DOOR ZONE.
You may get some nasty comments as cars pass you, but at least you won’t be blindsided by car doors! Read more here about tips for taking the lane or riding when there is no bike lane. However, I understand not everyone will feel comfortable doing that, especially in the beginning!
If the bike lane is wide enough, you can get away with riding closer to the outer edge and not taking the lane. Again, being so close to moving cars can be stressful. However, keep in mind you probably won’t be riding close to the edge of the lane the entire time; not every single car is going to be opening the driver-side door during your commute! Which brings me to the next tip…
TIP 2: Anticipate Your Risk
There are times, places and situations in which people are more likely to be getting out of cars parked on the street. As a bike commuter, you should:
- Think about the surroundings during your bike commute. What are people parked on the street in front of? Residential areas? Businesses? Cars parked in front of businesses are definitely areas in which people are more likely to be getting in and out of their cars – it could be someone hopping out of their car to pick-up their to-go order, or someone running inside to grab something from a store. If you pass by such places on your commute to work, realize your increased risk of getting hit by a car door.
- Think about the timing of your ride. Are you arriving or leaving at a prime time? The answer is most likely yes since you are arriving or leaving work as well! You’re probably more likely to notice doors opening as you arrive to your destination, but don’t think you’re out of the woods because you’re leaving work. You might think: “people are going home, so why would they be opening the car door?” But you never know when mystery person A realizes they’ve forgotten something inside and opens the car door to run inside and grab it!
If you have a sense of the relative level of risk along your planned commute, you are more likely to be aware of the areas where an opening door may fly into your path, and you will be able to take the necessary precautions. Which brings me to my next point…
TIP 3: Use Your Eyes and Ears
Lucky for us bike commuters, there are two easy strategies we can use to protect ourselves:
- Look inside each parked car before you pass it. If there’s no one in the car, feel free to keep riding comfortably in the lane. If someone is in the car, slow down, safely take the lane, or ride closer to the edge of the bike lane until it is safe to continue.
- Look to see if the car’s lights are on. This is probably a sign of someone who has just parked or someone leaving. Again, slow down, safely take the lane or ride closer to the edge of the bike lane until it is safe to continue.
That’s it! Three Tips and Two Easy Strategies for decreasing your risk of getting hit by an unexpected car door! Check out all of the Safety posts for more tips on keeping you safe on your bike commute.