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Her Name was Maia.
The blood is on the hands of Government Engineers and Platitude-Driven Cycling Visionaries.
Last month, a father went out for a bicycle ride on Lakeshore Avenue, a two lane street that snakes along Oakland’s scenic Lake Merritt. Behind him, strapped in to a children’s seat was his four year old daughter, Maia. According to reports, the driver of a car parked in the adjacent street parking opened their door in their path. The two, being attached to the same bicycle, fell to the ground. Maia hit her head upon impact - hard enough to crack her helmet. Paramedics attended the scene, the two appeared to be fine at the time and were released. Later, she reported having a headache, then after that went into a coma. Maia never woke up from that coma and eventually died. The cause of her death likely attributed to a blood clot the size of one’s hand inside her head.
The amount of pain and suffering her loved ones are likely suffering at the moment are incomprehensible. Nobody deserves to be placed in a such a position. The person who opened his or her door too is likely traumatized.
Collisions when bicyclists strike or narrowly swerve to avoid opening car doors are known as “dooring” collisions1.
It’s unlawful for vehicle occupants to open their doors into traffic without ensuring that action doesn’t cause harm to others. Sadly a ticket, increased insurance, and the mental anguish2, isn’t going to bring back the life of a victim of dooring.
Dooring collisions can be categorized in roughly three types: the direct hit, the edge strike, and the avoidance swerve. A direct hit is hopefully obvious by the name. A car door opens directly in front the the bicyclist’s path resulting in a collision with the door directly. Depending on a variety of factors, a direct hit may force them to come to a complete stop, throw them over the door, or throw them left or right. An edge strike is one where the bicyclist’s handlebar instead nicks the edge of the car door. This often results in throwing the rider and the bicycle in the opposite direction, in many cases directly into the adjacent traffic lane. The avoidance swerve refers to a bicyclist who managed to successfully avoid either a direct hit or an edge strike but instead has crashed as a result of the sudden avoidance move - which is often into the adjacent traffic lane.
In the case of any of any dooring “type”, there’s the possibility of the bicyclist ending up in an adjacent lane, with overtaking traffic whose drivers (like the bicyclists) are unable to react in time to the situation. Sadly many of the fatalities as a result of doorings are such instances where the bicyclist is hit by an overtaking motor vehicle. That’s what happened to Lenny Trinh, in 2018 while he was cycling in Burbank, CA and in 2002 to Dana Laird, in Cambridge, MA. Laird was run over by an overtaking bus in the adjacent travel lane.
The area where bicyclists are susceptible for dooring collisions is known in (some of) the bicycling world as the door zone.
A lot of bicyclists ride in this area as it’s often “out of the way” of same-direction motor traffic often times insisting it feels safer but that it’s also not a “burden” to motor traffic.
Unfortunately there’s no shortage of faulty advice on how to deal with door zones. Consider this advice from a paper bicycling map published by the City and County of Denver in 2006.
The authors of the map define the door zone as being “3-4 feet” from the left hand side of a parked car (apparently ignoring that doors exist on the passenger side of cars), then suggest to ride “at least 3 feet” away. They further suggest to “look inside each parked car” as they cycle by, but to also monitor behind in case one needs to move our to avoid the opening door. That was for a large city, who now has proudly adopted the Vision Zero ideology. Fortunately Denver’s modern bicycle map has lacks this horrible advice.
The recently published Colorado Department of Transportation Bicycling Manual suggests to “watch for parked car doors opening unexpectedly” and to “ride at least three feet from parked cars to avoid unexpected doors opening on you.” The cover CDOT’s manual does not set a good example either. The child cycling is easily in the door zone while the adult is likely just outside of it. If someone opened their car door at this moment, both could easily be injured or worse, killed. Note as well the black SUV in the background just moments away from overtaking both bicyclists.
Contrast that to the advice given to motorcyclists in the state’s motorcycling manual.
PARKED CARS: When passing parked cars, stay toward the left of your lane. You can avoid problems caused by doors opening, drivers getting out of cars, people stepping from between cars and cars pulling away from the curb. A car making a sudden U-turn may cut you off entirely, blocking the whole roadway and leaving you with no place to go.
Some bicyclists even believe their crash avoidance skills from bicycle racing transfer to cycling in the door zone.
One of the arguments of bicycle lanes is that they provide a place for bicyclists “of all ages and abilities.” Even if Flax had superhuman capabilities, does everyone else?
But this all foolish advice that ignores realty.
Bicycles are vehicles and the operating characteristics of a vehicle prohibits them - no matter the skills or attentiveness of the rider- from being able to come to a complete stop or change direction in an instant. Both maneuvers take time and distance.
Such time and distance matters immensely.
These concepts are taught to all civil/transportation engineering students in the first entry-level transportation engineering course.
Consider a bicyclist cycling at a modest 10 mph. This is a speed easily achievable on flat or downgrades with little effort by someone with even novice skills and is a no-brainer for anybody with an e-bike. Ten mph is fast enough for the bicyclist to not wobble. That 10 mph converts to approximately 15 feet per second or the time it takes to ride the length of one Honda Civic. That’s not remotely enough time to be able to see inside vehicles or to react an opening door.
The advice to look cycle slow or look inside vehicles is also nonsensical. One would need to much slower than 10 mph, at speeds that cause most bicyclists to wobble due to the instability from cycling at such slow speeds. Each motor vehicle is different, too. Head rests have been standard equipment for decades now and can obscure a shorter motor vehicle occupant. Car windows are regularly tinted and of course there are the pillars of the vehicles themselves. By the time a bicyclist has already seen into a vehicle, it would be too late if someone in that vehicle opened their door. Human attention is a limited resource and the bicyclist would also need to focus forward - where they ideally wish to go.
There’s also the question of how much does a vehicle door open? Wayne Pein compiled a list in a 2003 paper comparing 2-door and 4-door cars.
Most of them exceeded three feet.
The advice from the two Colorado-based sources above (which are only a sliver of poor dooring advice from the bicycling advocacy world) which claim the minimum distance one should ride (minimum three feet) is sufficient to not get doored. But such a suggested position would put a bicyclist directly in conflict with all but three of the cars’ open doors in the above table. For those few vehicles that are just one inch below three feet the bicyclist’s handlebar would likely strike the edge of these doors. Bicyclists need a “space cushion” too, that is a buffer to each side.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities suggests a minimum of 4’ but ideally suggests 5’.
Those figures are only for a standard bicycle.
Maia’s death is a horrific tragedy no matter how one puts it but it’s further exasperated by the fact the road she and her father were cycling on had a bicycle lane. The bicycle lane, an official traffic control device, was located fair-and-square in the door zone. Lenny Trinh, Dana Laird and several others who lost their lives in dooring collisions were in door zone bicycle lanes (DZBLs) too.
Paradoxically, much of the advice given about cycling in the door zone often shows DZBLs in their imagery. Governments, the owners of the roadways themselves openly endorse using them. It would seem like a no-brainer to at least not place an official State-sanctioned traffic control device in such a hazardous area, would it not?
Far from it.
It’s largely a multi-headed monster consisting of Platitude-Driven cycling visionaries, incompetent and protected bureaucrats, and the engineering profession’s inability to remember basic principles.
DZBLs and other manufactured conflicts are also often pushed by Platitude-driven bicycling advocates who rely on faulty reasoning such as they “feel safe for all ages and abilities.”
Platitude-driven bicycling advocates tend to adhere to the Woke3 religion too, with its tenants mapping well onto onto Shellenberger and‘s chart, Woke Religion: A Taxonomy.
There’s original sin (motor vehicle usage, suburbia, Capitalism, even white supremacy / whiteness , white supremacy again), guilty devils (“drivers”, “vehicular cyclists”, straight white men, old white men, old white men again), myths (streetcar conspiracy, Robert Moses’ racist bridges, general 1619-Project type historical revisionism), sacred victims (“people who bicycle/walk/roll” “intersectionality”), The Elect (bicycle non-profits, Streetsblog, NACTO, People for Bikes, LAB), taboo speech (traffic accident, personal responsibility), purifying rituals (“die-ins”, saving the planet, Vision Zero) and purifying speech (“crash, not accident” “traffic violence” “transportation/mobility justice”).
Just witness a conversation between the ideology’s followers.
Then there’s also the Cluster B, as in the the borderline, histrionic, anti-social, and narcissistic behavior that is the core operating system of its believers.
The DZBLs on Lakeshore were pushed as part of a road-diet, a project that transformed the road from two general-use traffic lanes in each direction down to one, plus a center turn-lane and DZBLs. Road-diets, are often pushed by many bicycling groups, both Platitude, and Principled-driven, as well as other alternative transportation groups that focus on walking, transit, and micro-mobility. These projects in the correct context and with backing from local residents (and not parasitic special interest groups and politicians) can revitalize a roadway such as San Diego’s Bird Rock Avenue, which was converted in the late 00’s from a high speed 4-lane arterial to a two-lane with intersections controlled by traffic circles.4
A document from the city of Oakland5 intended to showcase the city’s various bike projects even boasts of the road diet project elaborates in more detail.
This really pisses me off. The door zone bike lane that led to this tragedy was advocated for by Bike East Bay many years ago, on the pretext (which I eyewitnessed at one of their meetings) that cyclists feel safer in a door zone bike lane than on a street with no bike lanes whatsoever. Many door zone bike lanes now exist within the coalition's service area, of their own doing and approval years ago.
If that’s indeed the case - specifically that Bike East Bay pushed in the past for door zone bicycle lanes, then that makes their presence on this recent call to action grotesquely unforgivable.
Given the obvious hazards of the door zone, and in placing bicycle lanes there, how is it even possible that the State allows for such?
The first two in the image below, taken from the Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT) are especially sinister. Most passenger cars (including pickup and SUVs) are roughly six feet wide, minus their side-view mirrors. Their drivers may or may not park completely adjacent to the curb. Even if one’s to assume the lowball figure that the doors on such vehicles open only to three feet, this places the edge of such a door at least two feet (assuming the vehicle is parked touching the curb) into the adjacent bicycle lane in the “12’ width” configuration which uses a 7’ wide parking lane and a 5’ wide bike lane.
That makes all of the bicycle lane unsafe given that its entire width falls well within either the direct strike zone or the “startle zone.”
Visually one can see the absurdity of this hazard in this image.
The “13’ Width” and “14’ Width” options suffer from the same issues.
Oakland bureaucrats can simply state however, when confronted with the issue, that they’re “just following standards.”
That’s indeed true.
It doesn’t matter how flawed standards are, so long as bureaucrats follow them the State is largely protected from lawsuits due to design immunity, a legal concept similar to qualified immunity, the doctrine that protects police abuses. Engineers in the private sector have no such protection and instead must carry insurance policies to cover legal liabilities should they be sued over their work.
The rot goes up the State and Federal Government too and Oakland is far from the only city that permits them in their own standards.
The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) sets state-wide standards that cities and counties must follow by law. Their primary “guiding document” is the California Highway Design Manual (HDM)7.
The HDM permits 8’ wide parking lanes with 5’ wide bicycle lanes.
Again, 6’ wide vehicle, assuming it’s parked with its right wheels touched to the curb, with at least a 3’ wide door places the edge of the door 2’ into the bicycle lane.
The City of Oakland’s bare minimum (7’ wide parking lane w/ 5’ wide bike lane) is not-to-standard. For the lawyers paying attention, OakDOT updated their bike lane design standards in 20218, after CalTrans revised the HDM in 2020. This presents a contradiction- if Oakland installs any 7’ parking lanes with 5’ bicycle lanes in the future, they could be held liable for breaking the law.
State Governments defer further up the chain.
The Federal Government have no such standards themselves. Individual states typically have to play nice with the Federal Government though in order to receive Federal funds. In place of their own standards, the Federal Government typically defers to third parties such as AASHTO, the authors of the Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities. While AASHTO’s Guide nails the concept of the optimal operating space for bicyclists, it also unfortunately calls for hazardous door zone bike lanes.
The Guide states9:
Where bike lanes are installed adjacent to parallel parking, the recommended width of a marked parking lane is 8 ft (2.4 m), and the minimum width is 7 ft (2.1 m). Where parallel parking is permitted but a parking lane line or stall markings are not utilized, the recommended width of the shared bicycle and parking lane is 13 ft (4 m). A minimum width of 12 ft (3.7 m) may be satisfactory if parking usage is low and turnover is infrequent.
Fellow bicyclist Wayne Pein demolished10 AASHTO’s incompetent endorsement of such hazards noting among many things that the authors completely threw out their own operating space concepts, scaled down bicyclists to just a meager two feet wide and included the gutter, space intended not for vehicular travel but for the drainage of water, as included space.
AASHTO’s standards for bike lanes with on-street parking are poorly conceived pseudoscience, are at odds with its own lateral clearance specifications for vehicles, result in benighted policies regarding bicycling, and should be abolished. The specifications are misleading and dangerous even at their most liberal width. They fail the principle of First Do No Harm. Prudent practice and the Engineers Code of Ethics require maintaining a margin for safety: “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” Bicycle drivers should expect an obstacle-free travel way, as do motor vehicle operators. Bike Lanes that invite and constrain bicyclists to ride in the Door Zone create an unacceptable hazard with a potentially suddenly-appearing fixed object. Bicyclist safety is more important than motorist overtaking convenience. Marking BLs within the Door Zone is either a breach of safety by the unaware, or a negligent act by those who are mindful of the hazard. Educational interventions and engineering practice must be targeted in concert to result in bicyclists operating outside of the Door Zone. It must again be strongly emphasized that bike lanes are non-standard structures that are inconsistent with standard roadway design practice and traffic theory for drivers of vehicles. Attempting to draw lines between motorized and non-motorized traffic simply based on the type of engine used is guaranteed to result in operational, logistical, fiscal, educational, and social difficulties
AASHTO didn’t learn between their 1999 revision and their 2012 revision it seems.
The Guide is currently in revision (again), and it’s likely going to contain more “designs” that include manufactured hazards which will endanger bicyclists. The engineering profession, especially those fields that deal directly with the public, on the public’s dimes, are far more susceptible to ideological capture.
Door zone bike lanes will seem like child’s play. This saga is probably worthy of an entire post of its own but much of the work AASHTO have contracted out to Toole Design Group, one of the foremost prominent pushers of often unsafe so-called “protected” bicycling facilities for help on revisions to the Guide. Can you say, “conflict of interest?”
One of the key figures in Toole Design Group is Bill Schultheiss (not be be confused with the investor.) Years ago on Streetsblog, he lectured readers on engineering ethics - honestly with some good points. Yet Schultheiss contradicts his own demands when he tried to virtue-signal the apparent advantages of “protected bike lanes.”
He’s in no place to lecture others on engineering ethics whose fundamental canons are clear.
I. Fundamental Canons
Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:
Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
Perform services only in areas of their competence.
Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
Avoid deceptive acts.
Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.
Schultheiss is probably no dummy either. He likely took the same entry-level transportation engineering course most civil engineers took in college - the one that introduced concepts that demolish based on basic engineering principles the hazards of the “designs” he and his “industry” try to sell on to the public.
And for the record, right hook collisions he mentioned in his post are hazardous, often to the point of being deadly to bicyclists regardless of the speed of any involved party.
As are doorings.
Lastly, there’s NACTO.
NACTO have their own “design guide,” which oh boy, deserves to be in quotes. Many jurisdictions, including California, have “adopted” NACTO’s “design guide” allowing it to become part of “the standards.” Any potential contradictions with other guiding documents be damned, however. But the Urban Bikeway Design Guide is far from a legitimate engineering document. Among the many flaws, both their “designs” for standard bicycle lanes and so-called protected bicycle lanes place bicyclists smack-dab in the door zone.
Unlike AASHTO, CA-HDM, and OakDot’s standards, NACTO leaves out specific dimensions.
Schultheiss’s employer, Toole gets millions in your money each year for various projects whether it be city planning, “engineering” or projects such as revising standard. They’re a part of what’s often called the Bicycle Infrastructural Industrial Complex. This complex also involvers nearly all bicycling non-profits, People for Bikes, and the League of American Bicyclists. Many of these groups previously advocated for the rights of bicyclists, their integration of bicyclists as road users, and had far better positions on safety. Now they’re the opposite. Safety is indeed high on their priority list in theory but their actions prove their “treatments” often have the opposite outcomes. This forms a huge part of why they’re labeled here as Platitude-Driven.
PM Summer, the bicycle planner in Dallas who was ousted out of his job by Platitude-Driven visionaries (likely now Cluster B(ike) activists) writing:
There is a whole new breed of bicycle professional out there. They aren’t what we usually think of as cyclists, much less traffic engineers or transportation planners. They are most often urban planners and landscape architects, who have become virtual social engineers. They see their job as changing the way dumb old Americans live in favor of the ways enlightened Low-Country Europeans live.
The bicycle is a means to that end. In their eyes, the bicycle isn’t a vehicle (as code defines it), and never has been.
It’s one thing to be ignorant of unfamiliar subjects outside one’s domain but it’s another to be one whose supposed to be somewhat of an expert, yet still advocate for obviously hazardous conditions despite decades of overwhelming evidence to the contrary12.
There is no penalty imposed on any of these individuals for what they do.
The death of Maia falls point-blank on these cretins. She’s the one who paid a penalty. With her life.
There are also rare instances of motor vehicle occupants intentionally opening their door as a bicyclist passes by. While such an incident could result in any of these types of doorings, the intent on causing harm the bicyclist places these incidents in the category of assault making this fundamentally different from the doorings discussed in this article.
Neither will the Dutch Reach, which is overcomplicated, ineffective, and needs every vehicle occupant to understand it and remember to use it. It fails to address the fundamental safety hazards of cycling in the door zone in the first place.
Unfortunately AASHTO charge for copies of their publications so a full PDF cannot be attached without a potential DMCA strike.