Learning Bike Safety the Hard Way

For cyclists who have been involved in a collision with an automobile, the thought of getting back on a bike can be both daunting and liberating. Whether the collision occurred because the driver was impatient or unaware, because the bicyclist made a dangerous or risky maneuver, or because there was insufficient infrastructure, accidents force riders like me to re-evaluate the connection between our bodies and our bicycles.

The relationship between person and bicycle is manifested by the physical work of the body on the bicycle, and it takes on an entirely new meaning after you are injured. Riding my bike today for the first time since my collision three weeks ago, I felt this connection once again, albeit with a heightened understanding of the risks associated with riding.

My Experience

On the morning of Wednesday, January 8th, I was “doored” while bicycling to work. Getting doored entails the occupant of a vehicle opening their car door while a cyclist is approaching in the “door zone” (the 3.5-5 foot zone which an opened door typically spans into or obstructs the roadway), causing a collision. The technical language that applies in the California Vehicle Code is:

22517.  No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open upon the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

Admittedly, this was not a typical incident because I was attempting to pass a vehicle on the right side.  (Oops.)  We’ll get to what’s wrong with that in the next post…

I was riding in the right-most travel lane on Bundy Dr. We were stopped at a red light and there was a Santa Monica Big Blue Bus loading passengers at a designated bus stop.  I was late to work, and rushing to catch this particular bus. There was only one car stopped behind this bus, which I decided to pass on the right in order to mount the sidewalk and hurry onto my cross-town ride.


Our back-of-the-napkin illustration of how the dooring accident took place

Unfortunately, I had a lot in common with that the people in the car: we were both rushing to catch the Rapid 10 to Downtown Los Angeles! As I passed through the 4’ space between the car and the curb, the passenger door opened into my path; it seems that in our rush, neither of us had taken a moment to be aware of the hazards in our environment. The passenger should have checked to be sure the way was clear, and I should have used more caution. But, I thought that the vehicle was at a far enough distance from the curb for me to pass on the right and I had no idea that she would be exiting the vehicle from the passenger side; I realize now that passing a stopped vehicle on the right is not a safe maneuver.

Her car door opened and hit my left hand just as I was passing, sending me tumbling to the curb. I broke my fall with my left hand and jumped up immediately (with the utmost integrity, of course). Me, pumped with adrenaline, and her, still determined to make the bus (I was actually still determined), ignored the “crisis situation” of our collision. Yet, I did not receive an apology from the woman after I suggested that she look for cyclists next time she opened her car door. She said nothing, but maintained a guilty look that I substituted for a verbal apology.

Walking my bike to the bus, I realized my left hand was bleeding profusely and that I would not make it to work that morning. As the bus left without me, I contemplated what to do and decided to call my girlfriend to take me to the emergency room. The whole situation happened so fast- I remained in a haze of confusion.

At the hospital I received three stitches on my right index finger and four stitches on my chin.  I had lost an entire layer of skin on the tip of the same finger (which was left to heal naturally), and left with a number of bumps and bruises on my legs. My mangled finger remained in a splint.

Over the past month, my finger has healed quite nicely. I finally got my stitches off on January 22 and my finger no longer requires any bandage, but it is kinda mangled looking. I decided then that it was time to get back on my bike.


Dustin Foster, Happy to be back on the bike.

In my next post, I will elaborate on my lessons learned, as I hope that others will learn from my missteps.

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