Illustration by Warren Wheeler for issue 2 of dandyhorse.
More on Dooring: Toronto's most preventable cycle/car collision needs new laws, fines
Councillor Mike Layton shares his story
Story by Matt Talsma
If you cycle regularly in the city of Toronto, you've likely experienced the 'door prize'. If not, you've probably had a close call or two, or know someone with a dooring story. With so many bike routes in the city, laned or not, running next to on-street parking, 'dooring' is a near inevitability.
It's advisable to cycle a metre out from parked cars , outside of the swinging door radius, but at times road conditions, streetcar tracks, and other moving vehicles prevent this. If you are cycling in the door zone you need to be constantly alert, brakes and bell dinging at the ready.
The danger is likely worse for the inexperienced and uneducated cyclist.
I learned my lesson early on. I had only been cycling in Toronto for a year or two when I first received the 'door prize'. I was heading home, westbound on Bloor, and got the jump on motorists at the Bathurst intersection. Just after the light, a Toronto parking officer swung open his vehicle door directly in my path. It was too late to do anything but accept the meeting, and I remember seeing up close the surprised look on the man's face as I was introduced to his vehicle.
The impact threw me in front of the westbound traffic coming up behind me. My bike (actually a loaner from my friend - sorry Tom) crumpled beneath the vehicle that came to a stop so near me it's bumper actually brushed my face. There were screams from onlookers and people rushing to my aid, as well as the parking officer frantically explaining it wasn't his fault, and that he tried his best to avoid it. I was unconvinced.
Strapped onto a gurney, I was shuttled off to the hospital and, immobile due to constraints, spent the next few hours staring at an uninteresting ceiling in the ER. Doctors and nurses would periodically enter my field of vision, each of them asking for and giving me vague information on my condition. Eventually released with no major injuries, I went home and ate the cold falafel I had bought hours earlier, and contemplated the seriousness of my evening.
Ever since, I have been extremely cautious while pedalling in the door zone. I slow down, ring my bell, and search each parked car I approach for exiting motorists, to the point that I frustrate impatient cyclists behind me. But even with precaution, the experience of a careful cyclist can't entirely prevent a dooring when motorists or passengers are uneducated or careless about their vehicle exits.
Toronto Ward 19 City councillor and lifelong cyclist Mike Layton had managed to avoid a dooring incident for nearly all of his tenure as a Toronto cyclist. Layton commutes daily, year round, and grew up cycling with his family, often on tandem bikes. His father Jack taught him from an early age to be alert to the possibility of a vehicle door unexpectedly opening, offering tips for what to look out for: search the side mirror for a reflection of a vehicle inhabitant, watch for rear lights indicating a motorist's coming or going.
One evening last spring Layton's door-free record was besmirched, I spoke with him recently to get the details. Cycling from one community meeting to the next, he was headed northbound from Queen on Bathurst (a street he usually avoids). It happened at that really congested part by the hospital. Just north of Dundas where the taxis queue and there always seems to be construction.
A motorist visiting at the hospital had just secured a playoff parking spot right out front on Bathurst, and, perhaps so exuberant about his parking victory, neglected to look back for an approaching city councillor on two wheels as he prepared to exit his vehicle.
Coucillor Layton saw the door opening, slowly at first, but then, inexorably, quickly... Hitting brakes, horn and attempting last-second circumnavigation were all fruitless efforts as the bike and door collision course was already fully determined.
Knocked off his bike from a side impact, our municipal representative for Ward 19 was thrown frighteningly close to moving traffic, but thankfully avoided any further vehicle impacts. A woman in a passing taxicab called out encouragingly, "Hey, that's our councillor, I hope you're okay!" And aside from a few nicks and scrapes to the body, and a little dent to the frame, Layton came away from the incident otherwise unscathed.
"Motorist opens door into path of cyclist" is one of the most common types of bicycle/motor-vehicle collisions according to a detailed 2003 study, and often results in injuries more severe than other types of car/bike collisions. While the stories above are tales of survival that can be later told at parties, other dooring incidents can be much more dangerous and tragic.
In 2008, a 57 year old man was killed when he collided with an opening car door while cycling on Eglinton near Avenue road. The offending motorist was fined $110 for the fatal infraction, the same monetary penalty a cyclist would face for riding without a bell or failing to signal a turn.
Just this past summer Montreal saw two fatalities resulting from cyclist collisions with car doors. A recently released Quebec Coroner's report contains recommendations following the tragedies, including a province-wide educational strategy targeting motorist behaviour, as well as stiffer penalties for careless door flinging. The report notes that infrastructure and laws surrounding cycling have not kept pace with the enormous growth of the cycling population, which has increased by half a million in Quebec over the last 20 years.
While Toronto and Montreal are still playing catch up our sister city to the south has recently increased fines for both cyclists and motorists infractions in an effort to educate road users and create a safer environment in a city which has also experienced growth in cycling. Fines for dooring resulting in injury have been increased to $1,000. And along with a public education campaign on watching for cyclists, stickers warning exiting passengers to look first have been placed in Chicago's entire taxicab fleet of 7,000 vehicles.
The above-cited Toronto bicycle/motor-vehicle collision report was published ten years ago and used data collected in the two year period over 1997-98. A more current study of dooring instances would likely yield similar figures, but it would be difficult to conduct since the Toronto Police service has recently re-tooled the way they gather this information. Cyclist/car door incidents are no longer indicated on accident reports due to a 2012 redefinition of a 'collision' that excludes impacts with stationary vehicles.
Above: screen shot from the 1997-1998 dooring map/stats gathered by the City of Toronto.
The TPS have since been urged by a number of parties, including from within the ranks, to readopt the practice of recording these events. Due to the frequency, high risk of injury from, and need for education around cyclist impacts with opening doors, there is a clear need for reliable data on these events. The Toronto Police Service is currently undergoing a feasibility analysis to determine whether it's possible to resume doing something that up until last year was common practice. (Perhaps they could find the old .doc file of the previous accident report, and print out a stack). Results from the feasibility study are expected next month. The Toronto Star had reported that the TPS would report back to their board in November on dooring, but a phone message from TPS board spokesperson, Sandy Murray, this week confirmed that it was not yet ready. She said she expected the report to materialize next month (December).
In the meantime concerned citizens have stepped in where the TPS has dithered. Developer Justin Bull spearheaded the creation of a website that crowdsources a database of dooring incidents from cyclists themselves. Doored.ca's user-generated data tracks time, date, location and the severity of door inflicted injuries. Information collected can be sorted by category, and so far anecdotally indicates that Bloor and King streets are dooring hotspots. Justin is currently looking for developer contribution to help improve the site - source code can be viewed here, and feedback provided here.
We will have more on dooring and plan to report back on the TPS findings here on the dandyBLOG in the near future.
Related on the dandyBLOG:
Safety Dance: feature from issue 10 by Sarah B. Hood
Perception of doors: by Dana Lacey for issue 2 of dandyhorse (which this illustration first appeared with)