Tips for safe cycling #1: Door Zone
When I was 18 I moved to Manchester to start a music degree at Manchester University. To get from my student house to campus I had to cycle up Wilmslow Road through Rusholme – the Curry Mile – a busy route shared with vans unloading at the kerb side, buses, drivers in a hurry, and rows of parked cars. One day, as I was cycling home from lectures, a man who’d just parked his car opened his door and I went crashing into it, and was knocked into the centre of the road. There was no other traffic using the road at that moment – thank goodness, because had there been a bus behind me, I would probably not be here right now.
Being ‘doored’ is one of the most common causes of accidents for cyclists in London. Every day I see cyclists riding close to a line of parked cars, in prime position to be hit if one of the doors should happen to open.
The best way to avoid being hit by a car door is simply to not put yourself in that position in the first place. Ride wide of the door zone: at least an arm’s length away from parked cars. The width of a door and a little bit more (otherwise you’ll end up on the floor).
This may mean you are towards the centre of a narrow road, leaving little room for traffic to pass, which can be daunting if there is a car behind you. Stick to your position and look around to make eye contact with the driver – this should encourage them to give you a bit more time and space. In this situation, you actually have right of way: you are the road user in front, and it’s up to the person behind to overtake when it’s safe to do so. If there’s no room for them to pass, they simply have to wait. If there’s someone in the oncoming lane, again, hold your position. Moving over is giving the driver ahead an invitation to pass, potentially too fast and too close. Staying wide means the driver will be forced to slow down, and as you get closer, you can negotiate past each other, in exactly the same way that you would if you were driving a car. Eye contact works wonders – not only does it make you a person rather than a ‘cyclist’, it shows you know what you are doing and the driver behind or ahead is more likely to act patiently towards you.
On wider roads it can be even more daunting to hold your position out of the door zone – traffic will probably be going faster, and there’ll be more of it. But there’ll also be more room for it to pass.
Another advantage of riding wide of the door zone is visibility. A driver is more likely to open the door in your path if you are riding in the door zone, simply because they won’t have seen you. A cursory glance in the wing mirror won’t pick you out if you’re hidden against a line of parked cars. Ride wide and you’ll be more obvious as an object.
More space gives you more reaction time and more room to manoeuvre. As cyclists, we have been historically taught to ‘stay on the left.’ But you must ride in a position that’s safest for you, even if it means taking more space than you think. Other road users will overtake when it’s safe; it is not up to you to get out of the way. Take the space you need.
And always keep the brakes covered just in case!