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'Dooring' top culprit in cycling crashes

Brendt Barbur (Alejandra Villa)
Newsday, November 18, 2004

By Graham Rayman

Brendt Barbur was riding along on his blue Bianchi Supersport one day four years ago when a car door opened suddenly and knocked him into the path of an oncoming bus.

The Manhattan resident, 33, suffered a sprained neck, a dislocated shoulder, a broken jaw and a torn meniscus in his knee. But the strangest thing, he recalled, was the reaction of the people around him.
"No one helped me, and no one stopped traffic, so I had to crawl to the gutter to save myself," said Barbur, who used the accident as the impetus to found the Bicycle Film Festival, now entering its fifth year. "The bus driver didn't say a word. The van driver mumbled something. At least, the paramedics were like angels."

The Barbur account illustrates that the kind of incident that police say killed a bike messenger Thursday is far from unusual.

Transportation advocates estimated yesterday that accidents involving abruptly opened vehicle doors, known as "dooring," are the No. 1 cause of bicycle crashes in the city.

It happens about 900 times a year across the city, causing injuries across the spectrum, according to Transportation Alternatives.

The group estimates that dooring accounts for up to a quarter of the 20 cycling fatalities recorded in the city each year. So far this year, the police department said yesterday, 14 cyclists have been killed, most of them struck by vehicles, including two hit-and-run deaths last month.

Computer consultant Amanda Hickman, 29, of Brooklyn who uses her bike to commute to work, said she has been doored at least three times, twice involving taxi cabs. She suffered bruises in each case, but escaped without serious injury.

"People just don't look; people getting out of cabs almost never look, and cabs don't pull over," she said.

Budnick said the group advises cyclists to ride outside the "door zone," or three to four feet from parked cars. In addition, he said, the group has tried to educate cab drivers and their patrons to look out for cyclists as they drive.

The city Taxi and Limousine Commission has moved to provide a text message about cyclists in cabs, but Transportation Alternatives argues there should be a bold graphic icon instead, especially since there are so many city visitors who do not speak English.

A state law bans people from exiting from a running vehicle on the traffic side, but Budnick said police rarely issue summonses for the infraction.

As far as parked cars, drivers are responsible for making sure they can open doors without interfering with the movement of other traffic, and that includes bicycles.


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