On How Being Annoying Saved My Life

Written by Boston Biker on May 08

You wouldn’t know it from watching people use the streets in this town, but most people have a strong desire to NOT be annoying. They will self censor, keep their views to themselves, and in general try to get along with their fellow human. For the most part this works out pretty well, and most people are actually pleasant and good folks. However there are some times when being annoying is not only a good thing but can save your life.

Right!

Specifically when riding your bike. I have written at length about what a door zone bike lane is, and how to ride in them. If I think a bike lane is just too small, or (more likely) if someone has parked too far into the bike lane, I will ride further to the left, sometimes well into the car lane.

This, to put it mildly, is very annoying to some drivers. They have to slow down, move over, there is honking. Frankly I feel for them, poor things. I sometimes keep them from getting to that next red light by several seconds… I don’t want to annoy anyone, but I will without hesitation. At least two times last week I was riding down a busy street when I heard the sound no cyclist wants to hear, the “krrchiss” of a finely crafted car door opening right in front of you. Twice last week careless car drivers opened their doors RIGHT (like inches) in front of me. Had I been riding far to the right like a “polite” cyclists, I would have had one of two choices, scream and hit the door, or hit the door and then scream. I could have also swerved into the travel lane and been run over…so I guess three choices.

Instead I calmly kept riding, because I was well outside the area that door was going to open. I was safe, sound and happy. Sure the car driver next to me might have been a little annoyed that they had to move over 2 feet, and slow down (there is always a red light ahead of you anyway, so slowing down just saved them some gas), but I wasn’t laying broken and bloody on the side of the road.

WRONG!

Its a pretty good trade off, I annoy drivers just a little, and in return I don’t get any broken bones or missing teeth. Everyone keeps on going happily, the idiot carless driver opening their door doesn’t get sued, or have to deal with the trauma of my blood all over them, and we all get to where we are going safe and sound. The maximum good for the most people.

This strategy also protects you from the many (many) pedestrians who seem to want to walk out into the street from between parked cars. So get out there and annoy drivers (just a little) in order to ensure your own safety. They might honk, they might even rev their engines as they pass, but so what, your safety is more important than their convenience. Overcome that natural tendency to be nice, and take the space on the road you need in order to be safe. And always remember bike lanes are to keep cars out, not to keep bikes in, if you need more space take it!

One Last thing: It is THE DRIVERS responsibility to NOT open their door if ANYONE is coming (pedestrian, cyclists, other drivers), the legal responsibility is on the person exiting the vehicle, but that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t take an interest in your own safety as a cyclist


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Posted in advocacy, bostonbiker, education | 16 Comments »


16 Responses to “On How Being Annoying Saved My Life”

  1. By hihik on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    this is so wrong …

    what’s the point of having bike lanes in this case?

  2. By patrick on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    The whole honk and yell and rev engines at cyclists who are taking the lane has actually gotten me thinking about the red light issue lately. I think part of the reason people get so worked up about running red lights is that it gives them the moral high ground. But how often have you had a driver get aggressive and loud after you’ve blown through a red light (illegal, dangerous)? Now how about if you take the lane (legal, safe)? I honestly think the one thing whiny motorists hate more than bikers breaking the law is bikers following the law.

    This can actually be a bit of an issue where the safety benefits of taking the lane are undermined by drivers reactions two it. A couple of weeks ago I had someone tailing me, revving, his engine, spitting at me, and screaming that he was going to run me over because I was in the middle of the lane on a very narrow road (with another car in front of me that he had to wait behind), and today, I was taking one of two travel lanes on St. James, and had someone pass within what felt like a foot, and roll down his window like he wanted to start some shit. Obviously it’s important to be able to take the lane when it’s the safest option, but drivers who a) don’t know the law and b) don’t realize that they’ll still have to wait at the red light after they speed by a cyclist, can intimidate bikers into staying far to the right, even when that’s not safe.

    Great piece, as always.

  3. By William on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    @hihik: Even with the door zone, streets with bike lanes are demonstrably and statistically safer than similar streets without any bicycle accommodation.

    Ideally, we would have *better* bike lanes that aren’t in the door zone, or buffered bike lanes, or cyclo tracks, or various traffic calming measures to keep car speeds down. (My favorite are speed humps with cut throughs for bicyclists).

    Still, Shane isn’t telling you not to ride in the bike lane, but just out of the door zone. Most of the time that is the left-hand part of the bike lane, close to the car traffic. Occasionally it’s out into the car lane.

    He has a great illustration in a related post: http://bostonbiker.org/2009/09/29/how-to-use-a-door-zone-bike-lane/

    @patrick: Intimidating behavior is its own problem. Frankly, I’m tempted to say we should be dispensing some u-lock justice on those jerks, since the authorities are useless. Better would be to have the cops and DMV actually take action on harassment complaints.

  4. By Fenway on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    Bikes lanes become areas of refuge for cyclists from sometimes murderous drivers. They are perfect for those that ride very slowly and thus would be able to see inside each parked car. For those of us that ride more rapidly with the flow of traffic, taking the lane likely would be safer at speed.

    The other aspect of lanes is awareness. They are a big sign stating “BIKES BELONG ON THE STREET”. Which is an alien concept to many drivers for some odd reason. It seems several generations were taught a nonexistent sidewalk law.

  5. By Paul Schimek on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    Excellent post. However, the next thought is that it’s bad enough to be “annoying,” worse (from irate motorist’s view) when you are not riding where the pavement markings tell you to be (as with a typical 5′ bike lane next to 7′ parking lane). At least with an extra 2 feet (S. Huntington Ave, and a very few other places) you can be completely in the bike lane and completely outside the door zone.

    Shared lane markings placed outside the door zone, as in first picture, don’t have this problem, and may actually do some good.

    There is no evidence that bike lanes improve safety. Maybe they do attract beginner bicyclists. But we should be pulling them away from door zone.

    Also, the doored cyclist in the photo was identified as chef Didi Emmons; http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2012/04/27/chef-author-injured-in-bike-crash/

    She was lucky the bus stopped in time. The same scenario (but with door zone bike lane) produced a 2002 fatality in Central Square:
    http://www.bikexprt.com/massfacil/cambridge/doorzone/laird1.htm

  6. By James on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    To your point on pedestrians stepping out from between parked cars, this happened to me last week on Brookline Ave. A seemingly oblivious girl stepped right out in front of me, and I hit her pretty hard.

    A police officer who happened to witness the incident proceeded to explain that there was nothing he could do (despite me bleeding from several places and messing up my wrist), and that he would not cite her for jaywalking. Additionally, he noted that I was technically at fault because “bicycles go faster than pedestrians.”

    I was operating under the assumption that if a person runs out in front of me, outside of a crosswalk, and I hit them that I would not be at fault. Can anybody confirm or refute?

  7. By Fenway on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    James, the operator of any vehicle is responsible for traveling as a speed which is reasonable and proper for the conditions in order to stop if necessary in an emergency. This means both CARS and bikes aren’t allowed to run down people in the street.

    In NY trespass in a roadway does exist and drivers routinely murder people, even in crosswalks, without repercussions. You might not like what happened in your case, but please remember that as the law applies to operators of all vehicles, placing fault on pedestrians for being in the street would be granting the vast majority of motorists the right to murder. Any law which puts most vulnerable road users, pedestrians, at the bottom of the food chain is dehumanizing and leads to the same entitled to kill mentality so many cyclists fear from drivers.

  8. By James on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    Thanks for the response Fenway. I do understand that it is necessary to travel at a reasonable speed and by no means am I advocating hitting pedestrians. It does seem like a legal gray area, given that a bicycle or car does require a certain amount of distance to stop,at any speed. Is reasonable speed different from a posted speed limit?

    My concern is that in the case of a pedestrian stepping into the street without looking (and outside of a crosswalk or visible area), that I can be doing everything correctly and still end up with criminal liability.

  9. By Erik on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    James, most of the information is contained in 720 CMR 9: http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/source/mass/cmr/cmrtext/720CMR9.pdf

    Namely, it states…

    “Furthermore, notwithstanding the provisions of 720 CMR 9.00 every operator of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon the roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precautions which may become necessary for safe operation.”

    However, in sec 9, the duties of pedestrians are enumerated, including…

    “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a sidewalk or safety island and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield the right of way.” Additionally, 9.09(1) states that a pedestrian must use a crosswalk if there is one within 300ft.

    Your case is probably a gray area where there’s no simple answer. If a “reasonable person” might have through the pedestrian might enter the street, that might put some responsibility on you to slow down in anticipation of this (lots of “mights”). However, the pedestrian also clearly violated her duties to use a crosswalk and to give you time to stop. How these would be weighted is up to the judge.

  10. By James on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    Thanks Erik, this is excellent info. I did upgrade my bell after this incident to a Crane solid brass model, which to tie back to the original point of this post, is incredibly loud and annoying and therefore safe.

  11. By Eoin on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    A similar incident happened to me in 2010. I was riding in the bike lane on Mass Ave in Central Sq, when a man stepped out from between two cars into the bike lane right in front of me. We collided, and I was thrown from the back of my bike into a parked SUV.

    I broke three ribs, had internal bleeding, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. The guy I hit, who was 77 years old, was fine.

    I was bedridden for a week, and was in significant pain for three months afterward. My injuries occurred right after my wife and I had moved, but before we had unpacked. My wife was 7 and a half months pregnant at the time.

    I took the guy to small claims court in Boston, claiming negligence. He said that there no law against jaywalking and that I was unkind to him after the collision. The clerk-magistrate ruled in the defendant’s favor without explanation.

  12. By Rebecca on May 10, 2012 | Reply

    I am a slow cyclists but I stay far to the left of the bike lane & on occasion ride outside of the bike lane. In particular the stretch on Comm. Ave near St. Paul Street on the inbound side because the pavement along the white line of the lane is wavy. I feel no remorse for impeding the flow of car traffic. If they honk at me I honk back with my AirZounds. I am not the problem, it is the parked cars to my right that are the problem. They simply should not be allowed to be there or if it is necessary to have parking, that second or third lane of traffic should not be there so we can have bike lanes out of the door zone. Cars all the time open car doors in my path but I ride far enough over so I don’t hit their door. When the driver is particularly egregious about opening his door & if I would have been anyone else & would have truly gotten doored, I give them a blast of my AirZounds. They get the message in the way that a bell or even a voice doesn’t. The other day I had someone swing their door open just as I was going by; I said “watch it & she said “watch what.” My biggest fear now is having cyclists pass me on the right, between me & the parked cars. If they get doored they will fall into my path:(

  13. By Charlotte on May 11, 2012 | Reply

    Well I certainly feel very lucky after reading all these posts. Last Sunday in Harvard Square in front of Peets an SUV stopped in bumper to bumper traffic in the travel opened it’s passenger door into the bike lane, hitting me and instantly breaking both bones in my left wrist. I know everyone says this, but I really am an experienced rider… The main problem was that the car had completely tinted windows so I couldn’t see there was a passenger in the rear getting ready to open the door. I was actually going relatively slow because I had just stopped for a pedestrian. I guess it was just perfect timing and space that ended up with me having a broken wrist. To let you know, the Cambridge cops responded immediately and were very helpful. They cited the driver for not having the drivers license and registration as well as for opening the door into my pathway. The law is definitely on my side in this case. And, I am so lucky that I wasn’t hurt worse. There is definitely a feeling I get from some people that I shouldn’t have been riding my bike in the first place because it’s “so dangerous” and therefore somehow my fault. However, most people have been quite compassionate. I guess the point of my story is that accidents happen despite our own preventative measures. Luckily, the law can help in certain situations. How long has the dooring law been on the books in Massachusetts? I feel like it’s relatively new in the past few years. So a big thanks to Mass Bike for that! I guess the moral of the story is…watch out for tinted windows!!

  14. By Erik on May 11, 2012 | Reply

    Looks like the dooring law went into effect 1/15/09: http://massbike.org/resourcesnew/bike-law/bike-law-update/

  15. By Charlotte on May 11, 2012 | Reply

    Thx Eric- that’s what I thought…well, that’s definitely a big thanks to MassBike that I know made this happen.

  16. By terry on Sep 2, 2013 | Reply

    http://www.insweb.com/news-features/cyclist-getting-doored.html

    above is the website I checked for advice before writing to Boston Biker after getting door-ed last Saturday. If you read it, you’ll see I followed none of the advice of the lawyers after surviving a door-ing.

    I had just crossed Rt 9 onto Hammond St just about a 1/2 hour before the start of BC football game (which I assume was one of the reasons the intersection off Rt 9 was so busy). Its my first time getting door-ed in 33 plus years of cycling.

    I told the driver of the car how embarrassed I was, because as Rebecca wrote above, I know full well that when I travel in a door-zone bike lane I ride on the extreme left side of the lane to avoid being surprised.
    I even told the driver that even tho there is no bike lane I still felt stupid that I was caught off-guard. The only thing that saved me from serious injury was my slow speed and the fact that my hands were on my brake levers when the door swung open while I was already within 3 feet of the door.

    Like I was taught in drivers ed not to swerve to avoid hitting an animal I did not swerve to avoid the sharp edges of that car door. At the time,I had no idea if a car was speeding up behind me so I employed Emergency braking technique and my only bruises were to my ego and the three smashed fingers of my right brake hand that pushed his car door back about 6 inches.

    After my confessions to the driver of the door, I did tell him that despite my own feelings of embarrassment that I believed according to Mass Law he would be legally libel in the future if he were to cause injury, I assured him that my two minute assessment of my injuries did not warrant
    a report of this incident.

    He wished me a better rest of the day and I did to him.

    One final point about the section of Comm ave that Rebecca is writing about …it is a downhill section and I hope BU is alerting all the students who ride in it, that going downhill will mean that you will most likely be traveling too fast to be able to react to an opening car door without serious injury if you pass her on the “right” side of the door-zone bike lane..

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