How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane

Written by Boston Biker on Sep 29

Many times when people start talking about bike lanes, some cyclist in the back pipes up and says “yea but they are no good cause you are in the door zone!!!!11!1!” These people area almost allways confident experienced cyclists. They have no problem ridding down any road. But to a brand new rider, or to people thinking about riding (you know the people currently in cars that we would love to see on a bike) the bike lane offers the promise of “safer” biking. Bike lanes on the street might be just that little extra that gets them riding.


We could argue all day and night (and a lot of people do) about bike lanes, and if they make you safer, but really that isn’t the point. The point is people don’t “feel safe”, you can argue all day and night about that, but no amount of logic or well thought out study is going to make people “feel” different. Many people need an actual physical “something” to make them feel safer, if a little stripe of white paint will do that, well then by god paint some white stripes on the ground! If hanging waffles around their neck made them feel safer I would do it…I want to see more people out on the streets on bicycles, and less people in cars.

Experienced cyclists fail to realize that they would be driving down the same exact street even if there was no bike lane on it. They also fail to realize that bike lanes are to keep cars OUT not to keep bikes IN. Let me say that again…bike lanes are to keep cars out, not to keep bikes in.

You are allowed to leave a bike lane whenever you want. In fact you are encouraged to leave the bike lane for safety, or if you want to make a left hand turn, or if you see some debris in the bike lane, or if you want to pass a slower rider, or some jerk pulled half into the bike lane, or if someone is getting out of their car, or if someone looks like they might be getting out of their car, or if a pedestrian is walking out, or…well you get the idea.

Boston and surrounding towns are absolutely in love with on street parking, and it is very unlikely that they will fall out of love anytime soon, so here is how you use a “door zone” bike lane. By door zone I mean, “the area by which an opening car door would cause a biker to be struck by said opening door.” An easy way to find out if you are in the door zone is to ask yourself the following question “if that car door opened would I run into it?” If the answer is “yes” you are in the door zone.

Here is an example of a typical bike lane in this area.


So let me clarify where the door zone is.


and here is where I personally would ride in this bike lane.


Right away new cyclists are going to balk at this suggestion, stating something like

“But how can being over on the left hand side with the moving cars be safer than over on the right near the parked cars, surely moving cars are more dangerous than parked ones!”

I would respond them by saying that while this might seem true, it isn’t. Parked cars have a nasty habit of sprouting doors, and pedestrians like to sneak out between them. If you ride in a nice straight line (this is actually really important), and are predictable (signal your turns, stop at red lights etc), being on the left hand side of the bike lane allows cars to plan for what you are going to do. They will move over a bit, go past you, then continue on there way. It might seem loud, as cars often give it some gas to get past you faster, but they are not being malicious they are just trying to get by.

You are going to have to trust me on this, but having two predictable vehicles (car and bike) interacting in a predictable and planned way (bike stays in a straight line, car moves over slightly passes then resumes position) is MUCH MUCH safer, than a car door randomly opening and breaking your face, collar bone, or worse. People get tossed into traffic and run over by doors opening, people swerve into cars and are run over when doors open. There is no easy way to predict when a car door will open, and getting doored is horrific (even at low speed) so the best method of dealing with it is to STAY OUT OF THE DOOR ZONE.

Imagine would would happen to this person if the car in front of them opened the door…


Would they end up under the wheels of that truck?

You can see that the truck has moved over to go past the cyclist ahead of the one closed to me (click the image for the bigger version). The person in the foreground is smack in the door zone. You will also notice that they would be just fine (even with this wide truck) and have plenty of space if they were on the left hand side of the lane. It would take some getting used to but by moving over to the left they would avoid the door zone, and still have plenty of space to use the bike lane. Giving them the best of both worlds the safety (perceived or actual) of the bike lane, without the danger (real) of the door zone.

It took me a couple of weeks of riding to get comfortable with the feeling of being on the left hand side of the lane. But in that couple of weeks more than a few people opened their doors in front of me and I never had to swerve into traffic, or even really make any avoidance maneuver at all. Being on the far left of the bike lane has saved my skin more times than I can count.

So the next time you hear someone complaining about bike lanes because they have parked cars next to them simply explain to them that they are allowed to leave the bike lane, and that the far left of the bike lane is the safest place for them to be. If they are not happy with that tell them to lobby for the removal of on street parking, or perhaps ride down streets without bike lanes on them.

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Posted in education | 32 Comments »

32 Responses to “How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane”

  1. By Brian on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    Good post.

    The other BS biker claim is the victimhood of getting doored. “Oh, it wasn’t my fault, I got doored.” If you get doored, it is your fault: you are riding too close to parked cars. Don’t pretend that it’s a driver’s responsibility to check their rear view mirror every time before opening their door. You drive (or have driven) a car — do you honestly always check?

    If you get doored, IT IS YOUR FAULT.
    When cyclists understand this, they instantly become safer.

  2. By Justin Wright on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    I always try my best to ride the furthest I can to the left of parked cars. I would much rather have a car riding me on the left hand side than getting nailed by an opening car door.

  3. By Nicolas Ward on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    Great advice for using the bike lane properly.

    @Brian Maybe I’m weird, but I always get out of a car on the curb side, even if it means hopping over the center console.

  4. By Boston Biker on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    brian: I couldn’t disagree more. Your argument could be used for any negligent behavior that leads to others getting injured “if you get shot by someone carelessly shooting a gun into the air it is your fault for not wearing a iron hat” “if you get poisoned by tainted peanut butter it is your fault for not running an e-coli test on it before eating it”

    I do agree that cyclists should take every precaution to avoid getting doored. But according to Mass law it is the DRIVERS FAULT if you get doored. It is there responsibility to check behind them before opening the door. In fact they can be held liable if they open a door into ANY kind of traffic, including but not limited to cyclists.

    if you would like to review the laws see below:

  5. By Jazzcycle on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    Great post! And with the new law drivers have to look for anything coming down the side before opening their door. This has been such an issue they made it a law! But people riding do have to do their part, for themselves, and ride in the left as you suggested. Great insight! I usually ride on the left or not in the bike lane at all. Doors are scary! Everyone doing their part can prevent accidents.

  6. By Marianna on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    @Brian, I have personally always checked before opening my car door into traffic, even when I had NO idea that it was a concern for cyclists. I didn’t want the door of my car taken off by another car!

  7. By sh on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    “How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane”


  8. By dave on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    another important point about when you are riding in the left side of the right lane is that you are also now in the side mirror viewing area for all cars that are in front of you, in what is generally slower moving traffic. Any car turning right and looking in their mirror will see you before they start the deadly right hook turn.

  9. By Clarence Eckerson Jr. on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    Green area is exactly where we should all ride and allows you to have to worry less about car doors. And it gives you the option to gravitate over to the right side IF you hear a big truck coming up behind you or see a bad situation coming and then slow down and be more cognizant of doors.

    Good post. Kudos.

  10. By Jeremy on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    Good tip. This is pretty common is Cambridge where half the lane is in the door zone but at least you can ride in the left.

    But what do you do when the entire bike lane is in the door zone, such as the new Columbus Ave bike lanes in Boston? I guess I’d rather put up with the honking/harassment of drivers than risk death in the door zone.

  11. By Liam on Sep 30, 2009 | Reply

    When I ride in this type of bike lane I ride so that my left hand on my left handlebar is hovering over the left line of the bike lane. It’s a good way to know that you’re over to the left but still feel “safe” about being within the paint. I also make a habit of looking for heads of people within parked cars and if I see any people sitting in a parked car I give that car wide berth.

  12. By Paul Schimek on Oct 1, 2009 | Reply

    When you write: “no amount of logic or well thought out study is going to make people “feel” different. Many people need an actual physical “something” to make them feel safer” I’m tempted to add, “Yeah, like a nice hard door hitting them in the face.” But that would be cruel.

    Despite what you say about legal niceties, most motorists and police officers believe that when there is a bike lane the bicyclist had better be in it.

    When the only safe place to ride is on the lane line (as Liam suggests) or outside of the bike lane (as Jeremy says, referring to Columbus Ave), you’ve got yourself a recipe for harassment. Even when it’s easy to pass, and especially when it’s impossible (Columbus Ave on a Sunday, when median parking is tolerated).

    Then there is the message sent to bicyclists: come ride in the safe new bike lane. See the press release for new bike lanes in previous post. It doesn’t say, “Come enjoy the new bike lanes, but only ride in the leftmost foot of them.”

    There is a comment about keeping to the left of a bike lane to avoid doors on the ‘Safety’ page of the Boston website,

    I think it was stolen and condensed from the LAB’s page [], but without the repeated admonition, “Never ride within three feet of parked cars”

    In terms of alternatives, how about widening parking lanes to 10-11 feet, and putting a bike shared lane marking to the LEFT of the lane line. Repeated studies have shown that motorists give MORE room to bicyclists when passing them within the same lane.

    And how about having the Mayor announce: “Under city and state law, all roads are for bicycles as much as they are for cars. I am working with city agencies to make sure that all our roads are designed, maintained, and policed with bicyclists in mind. This includes giving tickets to bicyclists who violate the rules of the roads. Nor will not tolerate threats and harassment of bicyclists. Starting today, bicycle police officers will be operating in plain clothes from time to time, and will be giving tickets to motorists who disobey the traffic law or who make threats.”

    He has never said any of that — and probably never will.

  13. By J on Oct 2, 2009 | Reply

    Paul, wider parking lanes mean people dont park as close to the curb as they should. Think of the rightmost line in the bike lane as a visual reminder to drivers to park close to the curb.

  14. By danimal on Oct 4, 2009 | Reply

    No two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously! 😉

  15. By anon on Oct 5, 2009 | Reply

    More discussion here:

  16. By Liz on Nov 16, 2009 | Reply

    Speaking of avoicing getting doored, I advise being cautious and driving slowly when you are cycling to the right of stopped traffic. The door-ing you least expect comes from someone getting out of a car (frequently a taxi, but not always) that is not pulled over.

  17. By Lovely Bicycle! on Dec 4, 2009 | Reply

    Great post. I will link it up to my website in the “articles” section. It really is amazing how resistant cyclists are to the idea of it being safer to ride along the leftmost part of the lane. When I ride away from the door zone in Cambridge and Somerville, some cyclists will actually pass me on the right when they wish to go around me, in the space between me and the parked car I am intentionally trying to avoid! When this happens (or I can sense that it is about to happen), I yell out in the friendliest voice I can manage to “please pass me on the left“. In response, I often get something like “Then get the f* over to the right where you’re supposed to be!”

    Fun fact: I often travel to Vienna, Austria for work and bike lanes there are mandatory – meaning that you are not legally allowed to cycle outside of them in areas where they are present (and this is strictly enforced). Some of those bike lanes are in the door zone, just like in Boston, but are narrower – so that essentially there is nowhere you can go within the legally permitted space of the lane to get away from an open door. Horrified, I asked some friends about this. Their response was that it is the driver’s responsibility to check the bike lane before opening the door. I had nightmares after cycling in those lanes.

  18. By Mike on Aug 18, 2010 | Reply

    I’m obviously late to this discussion, but I think that you have underestimated the true width of the door zone in the above images. Here’s a video that may be of some interest:

    As is pointed out in the video, it is not necessary for a cyclist to make contact with a suddenly opened door; if it causes him to react by swerving abruptly into motor vehicle traffic, he could easily have a collision with a fast-moving car. The bike lane pictured looks to me like it’s entirely in the door zone (as I would define it).

    Second, the assertion that motorists tend to move left when passing cyclists in the bike lane is at odds with my experience, even when riding at the extreme left edge of the bike lane. Indeed, I’ve found that even if I’m riding in the same lane as the cars, many motorists will attempt to stay in the lane and squeeze past, leaving only inches between us when passing. The only reliable way to get (almost) all of them to pass safely is to make it impossible for them to do so without changing lanes. Bike lanes or no, it is a difficult balancing act if one wants to protect oneself without unduly inhibiting other traffic.

  19. By Richard on Oct 31, 2010 | Reply

    Being doored is the #1 cause of bicyclist deaths in some major cities in England. You don’t care what it takes to get more people on bicycles. Many novice bicycle riders do not have the skill to properly ride down the road. They do not take the time to learn what is safe and we have no mandatory education or testing like we do for operating a motor vehicle. Some of the blame is in the poorly designed bike lanes that place the bicyclists right next to the door zone. Some SUV doors open between 4 and 5 feet out. Even if a bicyclist was riding in the far left area of the painted line bike lane they could be startled or forced into traffic. There needs to be a buffer area between the door zone and the bicycle lane. Police in some municipalities will right tickets to bicyclists who do not ride in the door zone also. I have never been doored and I rarely frequent bike lanes. I will take the lane even if it is against some law before I will be doored.

  20. By galen on Feb 2, 2011 | Reply

    Ha! what a crock. Lets just imagine if the user of the public domain was someone other than a marginalized cyclist. How about if every sidewalk had a trip hazard that was hidden in the concrete and every so often, without warning the trip hazard popped up out of the sidewalk and tripped a pedestrian, causing injury or death. Yeah, that would be TOTALLY acceptable to the walking public.

    Well, that’s what you get when you paint bike lanes next to parked cars. Except of course, the cyclist is moving MUCH FASTER so faces MUCH HIGHER CHANCE OF SEVERE INJURY than a pedestrian.

    Here is the deal. It’s not just that an open car door takes up HALF THE FRIGGIN BIKE LANE – no, that’s only part of the problem. The cyclist, when they encounter a door flung open in front of them MUST SWERVE LEFT TO AVOID THE DOOR AND CLEAR THE DOOR BY A REASONABLE MARGIN AND HOPEFULLY NOT GET HIT BY A PASSING MOTOR VEHICLE. Standard operating procedure is a minimum of 2′ clearance between the handlebars and any open car door. Using that SAFETY MARGIN, one would need to ride TO THE LEFT of the left-most bike lane demarcation line. The rider’s right shoulder might be in the bike lane, but that’s it.


  21. By Brian on Jul 23, 2015 | Reply

    Recommendations might be mandatory cyclist detection cameras and blind spot cameras. The monitors must be build to last and made with aluminum enclosures with the LCD protected with polycarbonate. I understand that it may sound fancy but it can save lives. If they prevent hospitalizations, then it will break even for the insurance companies. When driving, vehicles can enter the blind spots without us being aware of.

    Sensors should be designed to detect occupants in parked cars and beep to warn them.

  22. By Mike on Jun 25, 2016 | Reply

    1. More than one party can be at fault.

    2. Redundant checks (e.g., ones made by both parties) are much more reliable.

    3. I love that red stripe just by itself. That would remind a lot more drivers to look for bikes.

    4. When I lived in a medium size German city (Freiburg), the bike lane was part of the sidewalk. The pedestrian side and the bike side were at slightly different levels (about 2 inches) and separated by a visible marking.

    5. The sidewalks on Comm Ave around BU are much wider than they need to be, and that is an area with a lot of bike accidents. Can’t the city take part of the sidewalk for a bike lane?

  23. By Tam Dl on Mar 17, 2018 | Reply

    I think that stuff like rear view cameras or helmet mirrors, bike mirrors distract too much from the real job which is driving the bike. They also represent a state of mind that involves irrational fear of being hit from behind. That really isn’t all that high on your list if you are being sensible, which might look like:

    – You crashing into stuff
    – T-bone from side street
    – dooring
    – Sudden falls, oil, wheel collapse, street car tracks.
    – Pedestrians who are navigating by sound
    – Morons who think it is safer to drive opposite side of the road.

    Except being hit from behind went way up my list with all the texting drivers. On a bike, you see into cars easily and it is starting to worry me that the rear ending thing is getting out of hand. I don’t know that it is, but the risk now seems greater than it was only a short while ago.

  1. 9 Trackback(s)

  2. Sep 30, 2009: Today’s ride, on which I question my cultural identity « BikingInLA
  3. Oct 7, 2009: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane Part 2: Attack Of The Door Zone!
  4. Dec 2, 2009: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » Doored
  5. Dec 3, 2009: What I’ve learned about biking in Boston | Sammy Brooke
  6. Nov 15, 2011: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » Cambridge Studying Solutions For Door Zone Bike Lanes
  7. Jun 21, 2012: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » On How Being Annoying Saved My Life
  8. Jul 6, 2012: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » Cyclist Doored In Cambridge
  9. Sep 25, 2013: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » City Releases Urban Cycling Guide
  10. Jun 30, 2014: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » New Bike Lanes Popping Up All Over The Place

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