How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane Part 2: Attack Of The Door Zone!

Written by Boston Biker on Oct 07

A while ago I wrote about how to use door zone bike lanes. In which I posited the following argument: Bike lanes are good because they draw out more cyclists, and if you are against door zone bike lanes you can either use them properly (as outlined in the article), use streets without bike lanes, or lobby for the removal of on street parking. For the most part no one disagreed with my arguments.

However, some of you responded, “But what about Columbus Ave!” The Columbus Ave. bike lanes are completely door zone (!!), or so some of you said. Being the person of science that I am, I decided to go investigate for myself.

First off I want to set the scene: Wednesday, mid-day. Slightly overcast, with a threat of rain, your typical October day in Boston. I rode down most of the bike lane on one side and did a bit of track back on the other, overall I covered most of the new bike lane.

I have to say that I was pretty shocked by how poor the enforcement was of parking the bike lane, I saw dozens (literally) of cars parked in the bike lane.

A fine example of taking up the entire bike lane!  I wish a cop was around to issue you a ticket...hmmm

A fine example of taking up the entire bike lane! I wish a cop was around to issue you a ticket...hmmm

Yes I know it's a meals on wheels van, but come on there is a parking space RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU...can't you be bothered to pull in, at least the lights are on to warn people...if only a cop was around to fix this...

Yes I know it's a meals on wheels van, but come on there is a parking space RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU...can't you be bothered to pull in, at least the lights are on to warn people...if only a cop was around to fix this...

Yes Officer Car NUPD 18 was parked in a tow zone and had a good chunck of the car hanging out into the bike lane, something the rest of the people in front of him managed to avoid.

Yes Officer Car NUPD 18 was parked in a tow zone and had a good chunk of the car hanging out into the bike lane, something the rest of the people in front of him managed to avoid.

The other thing that seemed strange to me was that the bike lane came and went, replaced in portions with sharrows. For those not “in the know” sharrows, are street markings to indicate that cars are supposed to share the road with bikers (share arrows). These also seemed to be, umm lets say, poorly placed…

Here we have the classic 'twofer', we got the sharrow being PARKED ON, and behind that a car blocking the bike lane.

Here we have the classic 'twofer', we got the sharrow being PARKED ON, and behind that a car blocking the bike lane.

Another car parked directly in front of a sharrow.

Another car parked directly in front of a sharrow.

That looks like a disaster waiting to happen, lets get a closer look...

That looks like a disaster waiting to happen, lets get a closer look...

Holy wow!  Two double parkers, with the sharrow being parked in the hell does this mean "share the road"

Frankly I was appalled with just how much a disaster the sharrow placement seems to be…how is allowing parking OVER the sharrows (not to mention the rampant double parking) supposed to help bikers? I mean…why waist the paint? I think something must have gone wrong someplace because these don’t look like they are placed correctly, or the parking ordinance hasn’t been updated to remove on street parking in these locations…right? This couldn’t have been planed this way? Please someone tell me this was not the plan.

Ok but what about the first question. Is the entire bike lane on Columbus Ave. “in the door zone” as so many have claimed. Lets see.

Here is a good example of the bike lane width (ignore the giant pot hole for now), looks kind of dicey...looks pretty narrow...

Here is a good example of the bike lane width (ignore the giant pot hole for now), looks kind of dicey...looks pretty narrow...

It did look pretty narrow, I would estimate from the picture above that the door zone would be something like this.


But that wasn’t enough for me, I didn’t want “probably door zone” I was hunting for “actual door zone.” I needed some hard science, so I started asking people “hey can I take a picture of you with your door open?” A normal enough thing to ask people, right? And they were more than happy to help out. I want to make it clear, each of these people opened their door for me, at my request, they are all helpful nice people and were not trying to kill me. (I have highlighted “actual door zone” on each of these in red, the green would thus be the “non-door zone”)

Note: I added a bit more red to this because this guy had managed to get his car pretty far over, but as you can see you have room on the left.

Note: I added a bit more red to this because this guy had managed to get his car pretty far over, but as you can see you have room on the left.

But “that’s a car” you say, but “he is pulled way over” you say. What about a truck? Well I was lucky enough to run into this guy, who was very helpful and actually really nice.


As you can see even with a truck door there is still space on the left hand side for a biker. When I explained to this guy what I was doing he did something that really made me happy.


He got out his freaking measuring tape, seriously this is my kind of guy. Here is what he found.


It’s kind of hard to see, but there was 26 inches of clearance from the end of his door to the left of the white line.

So what does all this mean? Basically there are some serious problems with double parking and sharrow design on Columbus Ave. But the Columbus Ave. bike lane is NOT all door zone. It is narrow, but it most certainly is not all door zone. If you use the same strategy I suggest in my first post about door zone bike lanes you should be just fine. I would recommend you ride on the left white line when using this bike lane, if used in this way you will easily avoid opening doors.

I have talked to a lot of people and a large majority (almost all of them) want more bike lanes. The bike lanes might make them safer, they might not (I honestly don’t know) but what I do know is that painting bike lanes makes more people feel comfortable riding. And that is a very good thing. Clearly however poorly designed infrastructure (sharrows with parking on them?!) can lead to confusion and injury, but a “door zone” bike lane, even a narrow one like Columbus Ave. can be safely used if the people are educated. In a perfect world, all bike lanes would be wide as the street and no cars would be allowed to park near them. We of course do not live in a perfect world, so we deal with what we have. It is embarrassing how poorly laid out the sharrows are and how bad the double parking is on Columbus Ave. But that in no way makes the bike lane “all door zone” or unusable.

Because education is needed to use these facilities safely (you had to get educated to drive your car safely as well) and not everyone is going to read this blog, I suggest that for all door zone bike lanes a sign like this be posted.


Ride to the left people, stay out of the door zone!

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34 Responses to “How To Use A Door Zone Bike Lane Part 2: Attack Of The Door Zone!”

  1. By mrotown on Oct 7, 2009 | Reply

    Awesome work.

  2. By Scott on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    In defense of the NUPD, that building is their HQ and I would reason the tow zone is keep civilian cars out of the area. Maybe they need to allow the cruisers to be able to pull in and out easily?

    Can’t really excuse the distance from the curb though.

  3. By Aaron on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    Can we make some shirts out of that “Ride this side” graphic? Putting that on the backs of a bunch of experienced cyclists would be a good way to share the knowledge.

  4. By RB on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    Really helpful post. For real safety, the bike lanes SHOULD be painted in the brightest colors possible. Drivers don’t get it yet and it’s going to take a while until they do.

  5. By teeheehee on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    Back about a year and a half ago the city asked for volunteers to survey some roads in the area for potential bike lane acceptability. I actually surveyed the Columbus Ave stretch that received the bike lane. The survey itself was to take width measurements and general observation notes on traffic, road conditions, parking conditions, etc.

    What I remember of the survey was that Columbus had some fairly rampant abuse of double parking, and the issue was exacerbated in winter when snow pushed the road/sidewalk border out into the street even more. Technically there is enough room, however I would expect that as they eeked out just enough room for a door zone lane that come snow-season there will be even less of the lane available to riders.

    I would add that it isn’t necessarily recommended to ride on the paint for reasons of traction in poor weather conditions.

    FWIW, I think sharrows are excellent for increasing awareness of drivers, and probably where they were located on Columbus it was too difficult to claim enough width of the road for a bike lane. In a more perfect world the sharrow would take up half or more of the width of the lane they are in, and in my ideal vision would be on all streets that don’t have dedicated bike lanes (bike lanes help get new cyclists out on the road because of the comfort, but more experienced cyclists won’t appreciate the restrictive nature of a lane particularly when drivers will most likely expect bikes to only use the space in the lane.)

  6. By Paul Schimek on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    The longest doors are on two-door cars (coupes). Some are easily 3 feet long (see Try another picture and measurement with a two-door car (particularly an American model from the 1980s or earlier).
    Cars can be legally parked as much as 1 foot from the curb. The bicyclist and bike needs at least 2 feet of width (more with wide handlebars), plus a shy distance to account for the fact that it is impossible to ride a completely straight line. So you get 1′ from curb + 6′ car + 3′ door + 1′ shy distance + 1′ for half the width of a bike = bicycle wheel should be 12′ from curb. That happens to be exactly where the left stripe of the bike lane is, and where you should ride. (By the way, that still leaves most of a 12′ lane + a 4′ median for motorists to pass without worrying about traffic in the other direction.)

    Double parking is common because there is no enforcement (and police told me more than once that they will not do any) and because there is no parking turnover. Why no turnover? Parking is completely unregulated — you can park for a week, and then move the car only when it is time for street cleaning. Compare to Columbus between Dartmouth and Arlington, which has two-hour metered parking during the day and lots of available spaces (and resident permit parking at night). The only way to reduce double-parking is to change parking regulations to provide for turnover.

    And did ya notice that they didn’t even fix the potholes in and adjacent to the bike lane?

    And what about the intersection of Columbus and Melnea Cass southbound — the right lane is no parking any time for a stretch, and no parking 4 to 6 before that, yet still they put a bike lane as if there were on-street parking. At least this might deter people from turning left from the right lane while others were going straight from the left lane, as I have seen before (due to lack of signs and pavement markings).

  7. By Paul Schimek on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    Think of it this way: there is much more room to pass a bicyclist riding on the lane lane than there is to pass a double-parked car. So why not take as much room as is safe!

    I have done this literally for years, only now I have to worry about people trying to make good on their threats to get me off the road.

  8. By Paul Schimek on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    Remember that even if the tip of your handlebar touches an open car door, the front wheel will suddenly turn right, causing the bicycle to lean left, and possibly sending the bicyclist suddenly into the adjacent lane. This is what happened to Dana Laird, when unfortunately a bus was passing just at that moment. The dimensions of the bike and parking lane in that case (Central Square, Cambridge) where identical to those on Columbus Ave. (Except that Cambridge, in an effort to comply with AASHTO standards, made the bike lane 5 feet and the parking lane 7 feet, versus 4.5 + 7.5 on Columbus Ave. AASHTO neglects to specify how wide the parking lane is, so you can comply with the 5′ bike lane requirement adjacent to parking — the extra width presumably having something to do with the door zone — by making the parking lane 1′ narrower!).

    See Other fatalities have occurred this way too.

  9. By Paul Schimek on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    In response to Aaron: T-shirts showing how to use bike lanes safely on a few bicyclists would not be effective to counteract the Power of Paint, coupled with the City’s official (but unsupported) statement “Bike lanes are proven to make the roads safer for all users.” (from the press release here:

    Anyway, why should we few “elite” bicyclists want to share our knowledge? The next thing ya know, they will want to learn how to safely pass double-parked cars, how to make proper left turns, how to handle rotaries, how to make quick stops and quick turns, how to use gears and get the seat the right height, and we will have taught an entire class!

  10. By Aaron Pikcilingis on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    Paul –

    Many good points.

    When I say “experienced cyclists” I man “cyclists who know to ride on the left of the bike lane, away from parked cars.”

    Perhaps the shirts could be included as part of the MassBike classes? That way anyone with the experience of the class could share a little bit of it with others? Maybe the shirts could also mention the classes.

    I agree that the paint and official statements are confusing (and misleading). I feel concern for cyclists who ride right up against the parked cars, but often feel it isn’t my place to give out unsolicited advice. Except via my wardrobe.

    I see a lot of people doing a lot of crazy things, but would feel better pointing out a shirt that says “wrong way” than shouting it.

    I learned my lesson by getting doored, though I’d prefer everyone else got to learn the lesson some other way.

  11. By Archer Stumey on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    It would be helpful the next time the streets are repaved to use a different color asphalt, perhaps the same red as the new Silver Line bus-way on Essex Street, for the extent of the bike lanes in addition to the standard line markings. The extra visual cue from a different color probably would be enough of, “hey that’s different maybe I shouldn’t put my car there” effect to deter many issues.

  12. By Archer Stumey on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    One other point,

    It would be a really good idea if everyone would take the time to record the location of massive pot holes and submit them online via this form:

  13. By Liam on Oct 10, 2009 | Reply

    After looking at these photos, I think it would be great if they just painted a red door zone right on the street.

  14. By J on Oct 10, 2009 | Reply

    I was there 3 weeks ago taking pictures and I noticed a car parked on top of a sharrow. I was taking a picture of the “illegal” parking when I decided to walk around the car and see what the sign on the light post said. Turns out, he was parked perfectly legally. I dont know what they were thinking with the sharrowd….unless there’s a plan to remove parking and make that lane an actual lane (not the best idea as it will encourage speeding)

  15. By J on Oct 10, 2009 | Reply

    Here the picture I was talking about

    The car is parked right before the pole which indicates available parking

  16. By cranky4life on Oct 11, 2009 | Reply

    Cool write up. I really like your sign idea.
    On the lighter side of things, here is a perfect bike lane:

  17. By Charlie on Oct 12, 2009 | Reply

    Great work on the measuring!

    The dimensions on Columbus Ave are actually the same as Hampshire St in Cambridge (7′ parking, 5′ bike lane, 10′ travel lane), however there is of course a cobble median on Columbus Ave giving motorists some extra wiggle room when passing bicyclists. These are pretty much the minimum dimensions for striping bike lanes. The fact that much of the bike lane is outside the door zone for most vehicles is encouraging.

    Cambridge did a before and after study of the bike lanes on Hampshire St and discovered that the bike lanes actually enticed bicyclists to ride further from the car doors than when there was no bike lane. More people ride in the danger zone when there is a not a bike lane present. Of course the best solution is to remove parking or remove the cobble median so that the bike lane can be wider and further from the car doors, but given the current cross-section, what we have now is certainly much better than what we had before.

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

    In response to Charlie:
    1) I took the dimensions from the South End Press article. “It will create a separate 12-foot boundary spanning from the curb to the inner bike lane line on both sides, dedicating seven and a half feet for parking and four and a half feet for bike lanes.”
    Anyway, the left bike lane stripe is 12 ft from the curb.
    2) It is not true that “much of the bike lane is outside the door zone.” If you enlarge the picture, you can see that the tape is measuring 24″, not 56″. The whole lane is only 54″ (4 ft 6 inches). Maybe a correction is in order? Also, doors and cars have different lengths from the one measured, and you can legally park up to 1 ft from the curb.
    3) The Hampshire St study found that marking a left bike lane stripe on a narrow road did encourage some bicyclists to ride further left — but not far enough left to be completely out of the door zone. There was already such a lane line on Columbus Ave, ostensibly dividing two travel lanes. The bike-lane symbols doesn’t change that, but does tell bicyclists to ride in the middle of the bike lane instead of the left edge or outside altogether, and tells motorists that it’s okay to honk and yell at bicyclist in the *motor vehicle* lane.
    4) Yes, removing the cobblestone median would have been better. (Maybe even a sharrow to the left of a parking buffer zone.) I suspect that removing it was off the table both due to cost (no repaving was included in this project) and due to the desire to preserve illegal median parking (usually on Sundays).

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

    More on the Hampshire Street study:

  20. By Boston Biker on Oct 13, 2009 | Reply

    paul is right, it is 26 not 56 inches, the post has been edited to reflect this. I still however stand by my claim that this bike lane is not all door zone.

    I was also unable to find any 2 door car to test, or any cars from the 80’s. I will let you know if I find any 30 year old 2 door cars and convince the owners to let me take pictures of them.

  21. By Con Trarian on Oct 30, 2009 | Reply

    So let me get this straight —

    Bike lanes get painted (mostly?) in the door zone. The remedy proposed, then, is to teach cyclists about what part of the bike lane to use. So we need paint, we need t-shirts, we need classes … etc.

    I agree, we do need education. But why not just teach cyclists to keep four feet from parked cars whereever they ride, and more for large vehicles like trucks? Isn’t that simpler?

    If the cyclist is four feet from the parked cars, and s/he’s in the bike lane, fine. If s/he’s not, fine too. Either way, the cyclist is safe.

    Also, nobody’s discussed the problem of left-hooks and right-hooks at intersections. Cyclists are more likely to be collide with moving motor vechicles when either the cyclist or the motorist is changing or crossing lanes of traffic, but guiding straight-going cyclists to the right edge at a point where right turns can be made is a sure set-up for being hooked. Yet I note that most all the new bike lanes I’ve seen in Boston are striped solid to the intersection.

    I realize that this violates some folks ideologies. So be it.

  22. By Paul Schimek on Mar 22, 2010 | Reply

    Boston Biker says twice that “bike lane is NOT all door zone.” This statement and the graphic showing half the bike lane as safe to ride in (Green) is dangerously misleading.

    It is certainly true that there are few car doors that will open up all the way to the left lane stripe, even if the motorist is parked 1′ from the curb. However, bicycles have some thickness. The handlebars are usually the widest part, and can easily be 2′ wide, sometimes 2.5′. The door in the picture came within 26″ of the left lane line. It could have easily come 1′ closer if the car had been parked further from the curb (left tires on parking lane strip, say) or if it had been one with a longer door.

    The question is not, then, how far does the door ope, but where should the bicyclist aim his or her wheel track? The only safe answer is on the lane line (the one separating bike lane from “car lane”), or at most 6″ to the right. Any closer and there is a risk of a handlebar catching on a door opened suddenly, potentially sending the rider leftward into overtaking traffic (this is what killed Dana Laird, and hers is not the only case).

    Thus it is fair to say that most, or even all, of the bike lane is not safe to ride in, if you consider that all of the 2′ width of the bicyclist must be out of the Door Zone, including a little shy distance.

    Boston Biker recognizes this by saying “I would recommend you ride on the left white line when using this bike lane.” But this is a contradiction: use the bike lane by riding outside of it! (The traffic law normally requires drivers–including bicyclists–to ride within a single lane.)

    How obvious is it to the beginners that the bike lane is supposed to attract that the only safe place to ride is with your wheel in the leftmost part of the lane, or maybe even a little further to the left?

    Also, how can you explain to passing motorists that it’s okay to be “hanging” outside of the bike lane?

    I have recently been frequently harassed for riding outside the bike lane on Columbus. Typically this is for being completely outside the bike lane, not just on the lane line. Usually I’m far outside the lane when I see that it is completely blocked by illegal parking (which, as this article suggests, happens about once per two blocks on average). It also happens when I want to exercise my newly-won right to cycle abreast of another bicyclist (to engage in conversation). In none of these cases was I preventing a motorist from moving forward, since the wide median means that there is almost always room to safely pass. They feel it is their right and duty to remind me that there is a “safe” bike lane that I should be riding in.

  23. By Paul Schimek on Mar 23, 2010 | Reply

    See more about the proposed door-zone bike lanes on Centre St in J.P.

    These would be just like those on Columbus Ave, except with slower traffic, much more parking turnover, no right-turn lanes, and no flush median.

  24. By Paul Schimek on Mar 23, 2010 | Reply

    Mr. Boston Biker, please be true to your own advice: “I would recommend you ride on the left white line when using this bike lane.”
    Change the red/green overlay on the pictures and the white & red diagram to show that only the left lane stripe is “green”.

    I looked again at the image with the measuring tape against the car door. For the record, it shows the edge of the door at the 24″ mark, not 26″. In any case, there is no way that a bicyclist with normal handlebars with wheel track centered in the “green” (left half of the bike lane) could avoid hitting that door if opened suddenly.

  25. By bostonbiker on Mar 23, 2010 | Reply

    Paul: What makes you think I am a boy? and also you are very persistent, some might even say annoying in your assertion that people are going to get hurt in these lanes, and while I am all for safety, I think that life caries a certain amount of risk, you are letting perfect be the enemy of good.

    Bike lanes get more people riding bikes, that is pretty solidly backed up by a shit load of studies. When all the surveys/studies/etc I have read show that bike infrastructure (even GASP imperfect bike infrastructure) does more good than harm.

    If you want to have a more suitable platform for your views why don’t you start a blog here and fill it with your views and opinions (that’s why I built this website)

    Filling up old comment threads isn’t really going to get your views out to very many people.

  26. By L on Apr 15, 2010 | Reply

    New sharrows up on columbus ave this week. Near Mass Ave and Columbus and near Back Bay Station.

  27. By Dorian on Nov 19, 2011 | Reply

    Drivers actually do think that cyclists only need 2 feet of space, with none to spare, to cycle safely. And drivers design the lanes.

  28. By Paul Schimek on Nov 4, 2013 | Reply

    After 4 years of daily commuting on this bike laned street I have the following observations:
    1. The widest doors are on two-door pick up trucks. They are pretty common, and the doors open 90 degrees. The truck in the picture has a 4-door cab and so is definitely not the worst case.
    2. When I ride just to the right of, or even on, the left bike lane line, I’m safely out of the door zone, but many motorists will pass uncomfortably close. The remedy is to ride just in the travel lane; then they will pass using the wide flush median and give plenty of space.
    3. Some clueless bicyclists will even pass on my right in the bike lane, and will pass right turning vehicles on the right!
    4. Double parking is down, thanks to the addition of resident and 2-hour parking to large stretches that previously had completely unregulated parking. But it is very rare to travel the whole corridor without encountering at least a few double-parked cars.
    5. The vast majority of north-bound bicyclists move to the road at Ruggles rather than continuing on the bike path that degenerates into a “cycle track.”
    6. Harassment has increased, and it always is related to the “crime” of not using the bike lane regardless of how much it is blocked by cars parking or pulling out of side streets, or the presence of slow or stopped traffic ahead, or the fact that double parked cars take up much more of the travel lane than I do.
    7. I can’t rely on police officers to enforce the law on double parking or to know that bicyclists have a right to use the travel lane even if there is a bike lane.

  29. By Boston Biker on Nov 5, 2013 | Reply

    I too have rode my bike down this street twice a day for the last four years, and never had any of these problems. I wonder what we are doing different?

  30. By brad4d on Nov 7, 2013 | Reply

    10 months ago I reported to the city of Boston the poor condition of the left side of the down hill door zone bike lane on Comm Ave that Christopher Weigl was riding on the morning of Dec 6 2012.

    Does Boston Biker want to comment on why thecity has done nothing to fix those conditions? Traveling safely in that bike lane requires speeds far below what most bikers could safely do in the travel lane adjacent to it.

    I would like offer to post some pictures of that lane, could you suggest how to attach photo files to comments?

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