You are now entering: the Door Zone

You are now entering: the Door Zone


If you cycle, you will be at least somewhat aware of the door zone. Maybe you know it quite well, having been formally introduced, or maybe you’ve only had a passing brush with it, and if not, then you’ve at least heard the stories.

I bring this up right now for two specific reasons. The first is that in Melbourne there has been a proposal to redesign the bike lanes on Sydney Road to accommodate both cyclists and the opening of car doors at the same time, which is primarily in response to the unfortunate death of Alberto Paulon earlier this year.

I’m not going to get stuck into discussing this particular bit of infrastructure, but rather, why this bit of infrastructure?

Not “why are they trying to tackle this problem?”, because that’s obvious: it’s a problem that needs tackling. Simply telling drivers to be mindful of opening their doors into cyclists hasn’t worked any better than telling them to stop driving into each other. No, to put an end to dooring we will have to design the problem out of the equation, one way or another.

The question that is going through my head is, “why Sydney Road, specifically?” Someone was killed by an opening door, or more precisely, an opening door sending them under a truck that killed him, and our response to the problem of doors randomly flying open into the path of cyclists everywhere is to make a huge deal out of improving one stretch of road in a city of millions.

Clearly, if the plan goes through and proves to be effective, then that’s great. That’s a win. But…

Let’s say you have a gun problem in your town. Let’s say it’s as easy to get a hold of a gun as walking into the Walmart at the end of your street, or friendly neighborhood gun shop, or any of the 51,000+ gun retailers in the USA. Let’s say that someone gets killed by a person shooting a gun in a certain street (not “killed by a gun”, just like it’s not “killed by a car”), and the response is to close down that gun retailer, put up signs in that street reminding people to not shoot other people, and you even ban guns in that street altogether.

“Phew!” You say. And let’s say that for some reason, that street that no longer has a gun shop or guns in it, no longer has anyone getting hit by flying bullets. Let’s say that they’ve solved that problem.

And then you wander over to the next street, and BLAM! Shot in the face.

You see, I don’t necessarily have a problem with reacting to a specific instance of a very widespread problem with a very specific and localized solution. I just have a problem with anyone thinking that that’ll be the end of doorings. Like that problem is solved. Like people opening car doors into you probably won’t happen anywhere else in Sydney that isn’t Sydney Road.

At first I thought it may be a particularly door-prone street because of the trams, but then I remembered that it was a truck that hit Alberto, so that’s that.

And that brings me to my second point (which is actually two points). Until cycle lanes and car doors are sufficiently separated everywhere, which obviously won’t happen, there is another rather astonishingly simple way of solving this problem for yourself, without the need to do anything. Well, almost anything (and let’s be realistic, there are more ways than one to decrease the occurrence of doorings).

I’ve brought this up before, but it still amazes me how incredibly simple yet amazingly effective it is, and I had another clear example of this just a couple of days ago.

Recently I’ve been refining my journey to work and back into a pleasant mix of quiet residential roads and shared paths. As a result, I don’t spend as much time in heavy traffic anymore. It’s far more pleasant, far less stressful, and far less dangerous. It’s just as quick, too.

So just a couple of days ago I found myself coming home from a different location and was on a somewhat unpleasant bit of rather busy main road, and quickly realized that I had unthinkingly taken the conditioned gutter-position, which was made all the more apparent by the cars whizzing by me at extremely close range.

“Hang on a minute”, I said, coming to my senses. “This isn’t where I should be.” So I moved one foot, ONE FOOT, further away from the gutter, making myself just enough of an obstacle and inserting myself into the consciousness of the drivers so that they actually took note of me, noting especially that they couldn’t pass me within the lane without driving straight through me (I almost wrote “their lane”… aaaarrrrgh! The conditioning!). Wouldn’t you know it – with 100% consistency and instantaneously, I kid you not, everyone gave me an astonishingly comfortable amount of space when passing.

I’m telling you, time, after time, after time, after time, when I make that tiny shift further into the lane – not taking the lane like someone trying to make a point, mind you, but just taking a nearly imperceptible, tiny bit more of it – I experience the same thing: heaps of room when people pass me. It’s a beautiful and quite frankly surreal experience.

It’s kind of like, year after year, in order to get to work, you have to cross a moat full of crocodiles and sharks, followed by running through a gauntlet of swinging and spinning blades and unreasonably large spider webs all Indiana Jones style, and then one day realizing that, just to the left, just over there a couple of feet, there was a door that led you straight to your office the entire time.

It’s exactly like that.

Sure. Yes. Of course, now and then the odd driver does pass me a bit close, but no closer than would have happened were I hugging the gutter, and it’s rare. I have zero statistics to back this up, but my reasoning says that your chances of being hit still remain, insofar as someone not watching the road at all will still not see you, but for the 99% of people who do, they will also see that they actually have to move their steering wheel a tiny bit before passing you. And they will. Even the douche-bags, because as much as they may not care about you or even see you as a person, they don’t really want to kill anyone. They probably don’t even want to actually hit someone with their car, if for no other reason than they might damage their car. If they actually have to get into the other lane to get around you, then they may as well just really get into the other lane.

Oh yeah, we were talking about doorings. Well, as it happens, if you leave yourself a little more space from the kerb, then you can also get into the habit of leaving yourself a doors width amount of space from parked cars at all times. Then, presto! No door zone, and no more doorings!

Here’s how this works.

1. You see one or some parked cars up ahead.

2. Before you reach them (and this is important), you check behind you to ascertain the gap in the traffic that you will want to slip into.

3. If need be, you signal your intention to move into said gap.

4. You insert yourself squarely into the space found at least a doors width away from one or all of the parked cars until you are past them, and then move back over to the left (or right, for the rest of you), only a tiny bit further from the kerb than you used to ride.

That’s it.

Now, I can’t, and won’t, be so bold as to suggest that riding away from the kerb and giving parked cars lots of space is to be done on all roads in every single context. I mean, in theory, if it works anywhere, it should work everywhere, right? I stand behind that theory, but it’s a bit more difficult to work the nerve up on higher-speed roads, for example, and you don’t need to have the effect of higher speeds on collisions explained to you, so the hesitation is well founded, and the fear of the potential is real. In any case, parked cars usually do not feature on higher-speed roads.

Nevertheless, in most cases, in much the same way as with F1 cars, the faster you drive the better the car handles (for various reasons), and the more assertive a cyclists you are, the safer you will be.

So, have you noticed the invisible safety-bubble that you have now created around you on both sides?!? That’s right, because you have moved a tiny bit further into the lane, you are now away from the danger of opening doors, while also quite effectively causing motorists to give you a wider berth when passing you on the other side. Double-whammy.

A quick note on roundabouts. Take the lane here. This is primarily for single-lane roundabouts, but in that case, most certainly take the lane, and this is because, very simply, there isn’t room for both you and a car even if you squeeze, so you need to make certain that only one of you is going through it at once. You want to do this no later than the point at which a car can still pass you and move back in front of you without it being a close call, and you will start planning this move well before that.

So, there you have it. Getting doored sucks, not being in the door zone is pretty easy, making a big deal of “fixing” a single section of one road so that doorings are unlikely is really a bit like making one politician pay back some extravagant expense claim but leaving the rules under which it is allowed unchanged, and effectively altering the way that cars pass you usually requires only subtle changes on your part.

Go forth, enjoy your weekend, and ride safe.


Header image: source