How to Ride in the Door Zone

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.

A man riding his bike just as someone opens the door

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.

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  1. John Schubert

    Hi Claudia,
    Thank you for your support of cycling.
    May I suggest that you need to be more firm in your condemnation of door zone bike lanes?
    In Philadelphia, where you live and ride, you don’t have to ride in them. The law doesn’t require you to.
    In the Savvy Cyclist article I wrote, which you linked to, I mention leading a group of riders on Spring Garden Street. And not being doored . . . because we were clear of the bike lane.
    The history of dooring collisions tells us that “ride in the door zone and look if someone is about to open a car door” is not effective advice. If I may be so bold as to cite a comparison with your speciality, medicine, it’s like saying “put filters on cigarettes.”
    It takes a paradigm shift to say, “I’m going to IGNORE the unsafe paint and ride where I am protecting my own butt.” That’s what every cyclist needs these days!
    Again, thank you for your support of cycling!
    John Schubert
    Editor, The Savvy Cyclist
    https://cyclingsavvy.org/2018/05/the-real-door-zone-tragedy/

    • Claudia Gambrah-Lyles

      Hi John! Thank you so much for your thoughtful point and comment. I agree, door zone bike lanes should not exist. The work needs to be done to continue phasing them out for better, safer options. Until then I will provide cyclists with all the tools necessary to protect themselves and stay safe – always starting with advice on taking the lane! Thank you for all the work you do and continue to do in the cycling space!

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