Dooring: This Cyclist’s Biggest Fear

It is March 14th, 2017, and I am looking out my office window at the second of two blustery winter days. The roads are slick and treacherous. I have yet to bike home as the snow continues to pile up. Yet, my main fear as I head out on my commute for the evening remains the same as it would be on any given night in Toronto: dooring or being “doored”.

In my experience, dooring is one of the most unexpected and therefore dangerous issues cyclists may face on the roads. In the past week, Cycle Toronto revealed shocking statistics of 209 incidents of dooring reported to Toronto Police in 2016. The Toronto Star and other media outlets have rightfully reported on the issue and Cycle Toronto continues to request improvements and advancements in our City’s cycling network. I applaud them.

Cycle Toronto’s advocacy has resulted in the construction of many of the bike lanes I use to navigate around this City. I feel safer in them. Just last weekend, when debating how to travel to a local hangout to meet friends, I opted to use bike lanes where possible and residential streets to avoid corridors I know to be busy and congested. But that is not always an option on our limited bike lane grid.

The areas north of where I live, Queen Street, Dundas Street and College Street, west from Christie/Crawford, all have street parking in one lane and street cars in another (for the most part). You are therefore forced as a cyclist to make two harrowing choices: either ride in the parked car lane, in what I would call the “dooring zone” (a few feet from the parked car to the white line); or hop back and forth across the often wet, but always dangerous, street car tracks. Not being able to avoid these major traffic arteries inevitably increases the risk that you may be doored.

As a personal injury lawyer who specializes in cycling accidents, I deal with many of these cases. I have clients, even since January 2017, who have been doored and severely injured. They share many things in common, including the complete surprise of seeing an opening car door in their path, only a split second before they careen into it.

As a fellow cyclist, that all too familiar story makes me cringe every time I hear it. It is that cringe worthy feeling, stressed by the focus put on the issue by Cycle Toronto that made me want write to you and share my thoughts, as a cyclist and a lawyer.

On my ride home (as bike Dave), I assessed what I do to avoid being doored or at least reduce the risk of dooring. At my desk (as lawyer Dave), I considered what I wish every person who is doored knew before an accident occurs. Through that unnatural mix of business and pleasure, I have come up with three suggestions for my fellow riders:

Ride safe

  • Use appropriate safety gear. Specifically: a helmet, your brightest lights (front and back) and always, always be dinging. Pre-emptive bell ringing is not a sure-fire safety tool, but it helps.
  • Riding defensively is as important as your gear. Slow down. You can ride fun and free on appropriate paths, but slow down on busier streets.
  • Be hyper vigilant when not in a protected bike lane. Watch for people in parked cars, turn signals/indicators, and suspicious behaviour.

Attend to your injuries

  • If you are hit, look after yourself. I have taken a spill and jumped up, adrenaline pumping, and biked away, only to end up icing my wounds for days.
  • If you are doored, assess your injuries and go to a walk-in clinic or the hospital.

Get all the information

  • Take down as much information from the driver, passengers, and any witnesses you can find. The more information you can gather at the scene of any accident, however minor you think it may be, will ultimately assist you if you are injured.
  • Even if you do not have your own insurance, you could be entitled to no-fault medical rehabilitation and lost wage benefits through the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

There is no guaranteed protection from dooring. Ultimately, I agree we need increased bike lanes across the City. However, until that happens, my suggestions are meant to decrease the risk of injury and increase your access to health care benefits and compensation should you get into an accident. If you have any questions, contact me.

Ride safe and have fun!

David Shellnutt

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