Danger: Drivers Dooring Cyclists

Thomas MacMillan PhotoBiking home on Orange Street, cyclist Alex Chojolan keeps an eye out for car doors opening into his path. To protect cyclists like him, the city is “reeducating” drivers with a new door-opening technique—the Amsterdam method.

Traffic department summer intern Ben Green spent part of a recent afternoon working on that reeducation campaign, distributing flyers to cars parked on Orange Street with instructions on how to safely open car doors using a “reach-across” method popular in European cities.

“Doors Hurt,” the flyers proclaim, in large orange letters. Below is a drawing of a cyclist slamming explosively into an open car door—getting “doored,” as the mishap is known among cyclists.

Dooring happens when a driver getting out of a parallel-parked car opens his or her door just as a cyclist is pealing by. It’s a rare occurrence, but can cause a nasty fall when it happens.

It’s enough of a problem that when the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop put out a call last month on its Facebook page asking for bike infrastructure improvement suggestions, a request for “A car-door-opening reeducation program for all Orange St/East Rock residents” was on the list.

City traffic czar Jim Travers saw the list and recognized the reeducation request as an easy one to meet. Green, a Yale President’s “public service fellow” spending the summer with the traffic and parking department, designed flyers and began sticking them under windshield wipers on cars along Orange Street.

On Thursday afternoon, Green (pictured) arrived by bike to the corner of Orange and Humphrey, where the dedicated bike lane on Orange Street begins. He locked up his Specialized road bike and pulled some flyers out of a leather shoulder bag. As he headed north to begin flyering cars, he talked about the dangers of dooring.

It’s never happened to him, said the 21-year-old rising Yale senior. But someone in the traffic and parking office recently got doored, and suffered a big bruise, Green said.

He called dooring a “rare but serious issue. It seems innocuous until it happens to you.”

A cyclist who gets doored can be knocked or have to swerve into the path of oncoming traffic, Green said. On Orange Street, the bike lanes are narrow, which can cause door-wary cyclists to ride as far away from parked cars as possible, closer to the traffic lane.

Green’s flyers includes several tips for drivers to avoid dooring cyclists, including: “Use your right hand to open the car door. This naturally turns your body, positioning you to easily scan the road for oncoming bicyclists.”

This reach-across door-opening technique is “second nature” in bike-friendly European cities like Amsterdam, said Green. He said the flyers are meant not only to prevent dooring, but to raise general awareness about bike safety and sharing the road with cyclists.

As Green was headed back south on Orange Street, flyering cars on the west side of the street, Chojolan and a friend came by on their bikes. Asked if he worries about being doored, Chojolan said, “That’s why I have this right here.” He slapped his red helmet with an open palm.

“I always try to stay on the left” side of the lane, he said. “And see people inside” the parked cars, getting ready to open a door.

Chojolan said he thinks Green’s flyers are a good idea. “Yeah, for sure,” he said. “A lot of people don’t ride” and aren’t thinking about passing cyclists when they park their car and start opening the door.”

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posted by: anonymous on August 5, 2013  2:55pm

Sometimes our city has good intentions, but focuses on the wrong solution.

By far the primary risk of “dooring” is that riders may be destabilized and fall into the path of another vehicle, such as a passing bus or truck. 

If these streets were slowed down to 20 miles an hour or below, like they are in most European cities and increasingly in the United States, this hazard would be much smaller.  Trucks and buses, in particular, should be limited to 10 miles per hour on densely-populated streets like Orange or Chapel.

If lights were timed to enable buses traveling at 10 miles per hour and buses equipped with traffic control signal transponders, doing this would actually improve bus service times over what we have now.

There’s absolutely no reason why people need to be traveling at more than 15 or 20 miles per hour in New Haven, except on a few main streets such as Whalley, Whitney, and Legion Avenue, which should be 25-30. 

Unfortunately, our city engineers have designed virtually every street in New Haven as a wide, high speed highway because they care far more about high speed travel to the suburbs than they care about human life. 

The recent widening of Whalley Avenue is a great example. Thanks to the DOT’s recent efforts, people can now travel at 50 miles per hour there. Hundreds of people protested, but unfortunately, Senators Looney and Harp didn’t do much to step in and the project moved forward. This kind of decision kills jobs, not just people. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/gabrielle_remembered_whalley_widening/

posted by: TheMadcap on August 5, 2013  3:16pm

Bicycle question: does Elm St have a bike lane now? They were repaving and repainting and they said months ago Elm St was going to get a bike lane. I don’t need to be there but if there’s a shiny new bike lane I might head over tomorrow to give a whirl and see what it feels like to go down Elm now.(because it use to just all around suck)

posted by: RCguy on August 5, 2013  3:33pm

I genuinely agree with Anonymous’s comment.
I started driving no more than 20-25mph around the city recently, I have actually felt so much more “free”. As a driver it just feels right to treat the city’s streets (a city I grew up in) with a realistically safer speed limit.

I also like the angle of anonymous’s perspective: It’s not so much the culture of flinging car doors open… the problem is more the culture of unsafe streets for pedestrians and cyclists.

This has been true of New Haven for some time, of course… but as we TRY to enrich New Haven for the 21st century, a much lower rate of speed from motor vehicles is a good place to start.

(except on the highway of course)

posted by: anonymous on August 5, 2013  3:35pm


The city has promised a bike lane there for many, many years. I would be surprised if one pops up there anytime in the next decade.

The city’s idea of a bike lane is the one on Grand heading westbound, near East Street. It might just be the worst example of a bike lane on the planet. I hope the people responsible for Federal stimulus money do an audit of this.

Sharrows are next to useless, but when the city does paint them, they are often placed underneath the area where cars park. 

There are a few exceptions, but it is fairly obvious that whoever has been designing our city’s pavement markings for the past decade has been doing them on a computer, without much regard to how the places he/she is impacting are actually used.  For example, it seems that we are always striping parking areas in areas where nobody is ever parked, which makes drivers think the road has a continuous 20-foot wide lane and causes them to drive at 50 miles per hour. Given that everyone lives in Westville or out of town somewhere, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a different result until we have a Mayor who cares about the details.

posted by: Curious on August 5, 2013  4:40pm

Lower speed limits are pointless in a town where the existing limits are not enforced by police.

If I ever saw a cop pull someone over for speeding in New Haven, I would crash my car into them…because I would be having a heart attack out of unsurpassable surprise.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 5, 2013  4:40pm

Here we go again.Blame cars.Check this out.

Recently there was a study on how rampant problem cyclists are.

- Nearly 57 percent of the cyclists observed failed to stop red lights.

- About 13 percent of cyclists (and a quarter of cyclists under the age of 14) were observed riding against traffic.

- Almost 13 percent of cyclists (and more than half of cyclists under the age of 14) were observed riding on sidewalks.

- Nearly 14 percent of cyclists did not use a designated bike lane when one was available.

- Only 36 percent of cyclists wore helmets. About half of female riders wore helmets, compared with just about one-third of the males.

- Nearly half of the children under the age of 14, and nearly three-quarters of commercial cyclists — like messengers and delivery workers — did not wear a helmet, even though the law requires that both groups use helmets.

I venture to say if 57% of motorists “doored” cyclists the biking community would be up in arms. Most cases of “dooring” are not willful or deliberate. The cycling community’s behavior cited by the stats above are.

posted by: Bill Saunders on August 5, 2013  4:41pm

The ‘Sharrows’ need to be repainted too, if you into that sort of thing.

Anonymous is correct in that we are dealing with a poorly designed ‘system’.  Poor systems always spawn their own, often well-intended, sub-systems, whose soul purpose becomes micromanaging the problems that the solution causes.

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on August 5, 2013  4:50pm

I think people speed in NH out of desperation just trying to make it through two lights in a row.  It is literally faster to ride your bike across town than drive, and interestingly when I’m biking in town it seems like the lights are perfectly timed for a bike rider.

posted by: Save1249Chapel on August 5, 2013  5:03pm

Thanks to the volunteers who put out the fliers! 

I just started riding my bike to work.  It has been fun, but I’m quickly realizing that not all motorists know how to share the road.  I’m glad you’re working at raising awareness!

posted by: Kevin on August 5, 2013  5:29pm

Somewhat to my suprise, I find myself agreeing with Anonymous on a couple of points (we have had our disagreements). First, the real risk of dooring is a cyclist swerving and exposing him/herself and potentially others to serious injury and possibly death. Second, the redesign of Whalley Avenue was a real lost opportunity and it now poses an even greater threat to pedestrians and cyclists than it did before the renovations.

A 25 mph limit, as suggested by RCguy, might help on the margins if it were enforced.  On the other hand, a 10 mph limit on Orange and Chapel? Even I, a middle-aged recreational cyclist, bike faster than that on those streets!

posted by: Ozzie on August 5, 2013  5:41pm

FYI   The problem to begin with is that the City wants to make everbody happy, so lets make a bike lane. The only problem is that biclylists are subject to the the same rules and regulations as motor vehicles per Ct. State Motor Vehicle Law . Therefore when riding a bicycle ( the same as riding a motorcycle) you have to pass a parked vehicle in a manner as not to collide with such vehicle. Going one step further regarding being doored , if the bicyclist collides with a car door and the the vehicle is not started ( running ) it’s not even a Motor vehicle accident because there is no operation of the vehicle . also the bicyclist is at fault for improper passing of a Motor vehicle . But most police officers know this.

posted by: anonymous on August 5, 2013  5:52pm

Kevin: The international standard would be a 20 mph limit, not 10. But a limit of 10 could be applied to heavy trucks and buses.

posted by: ramonesfan on August 5, 2013  6:34pm

@ ThreeFifths

You’ve gotta be kidding everyone.  Let’s suppose all your stats about cyclists are true.  That’s still no excuse for car drivers doing over 25 mph on city streets. That’s where a lot of the danger is.

People in Connecticut (and the rest of the northeast) generally want to break the speed limit as much as possible, operating their vehicles as if they were driving on the NASCAR circuit.  Most people in this state act like competitive jerks when they get behind the wheel of a car.  It’s a sad commentary on our character.

I spent six weeks driving in Missouri in the recent past.  I’ll have you know that not one car cut me off on the highway, and in the cities everyone came to a full stop when approaching a stop sign?  Not one driver one ran a red light.  In other words, people in Missouri drive as if they’re human beings.  I’d feel much safer riding a bike in the midwest compared to New Haven.

posted by: GregL on August 5, 2013  7:31pm

Many thanks to the Jim Travers for this - I was doored a few months back.  I was riding home on Orange Street, and a woman opened her door into my right in front of P&M.  She was very apologetic, and fortunately I wasn’t really hurt - just bruised a bit.

posted by: Ozzie on August 5, 2013  8:54pm

The last sentence of my posting should have read most police officers ” ” don’t ” know this !

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 5, 2013  9:18pm


Some of the things I’ve seen cyclists do.Blowing a stop sign and almost running me over.Blowing a stop sign and almost running me over, going the wrong way on a one-way street.Biking the sidewalk.Biking the sidewalk,crossing the street in the middle of the block,jumping the curb, and continuing on the sidewalk on the other side without stopping.How about those who are riding bikes drunk.Biking the sidewalk, deciding to turn around, and turning a 180-degree loop while still on the bike.Just as car drivers get tickets for breaking the law,so should the bikers.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on August 5, 2013  9:35pm

I’ve been experimenting with driving 20 mph in New Haven and have pretty much decided it’s completely ridiculous.  20 mph feels like a crawl on most streets other than downtown, and is just not going to happen.  If 25 mph were enforced that would be plenty.

As a grad student in the 70s I had no car and did everything by bicycle, including grocery shopping at the old Pegnataro’s on York Street (where the Walgreens is now) and biking home to the East Rock neighborhood with my rear-wheel wire baskets full of groceries.  I was doored once on Whitney Avenue near Audubon Street, with a full load of groceries that ended up spread out all over the street.  The driver was horrified at what he had done, and jumped out and helped me pick them up.

The Dutch maneuver to avoid dooring a cyclist sounds OK, but really all you need to do is cultivate the habit of looking in your driver’s side outside mirror before you open the door.

posted by: anonymous on August 5, 2013  10:12pm

Threefifths, some facts:

1. Driver compliance with traffic law is typically around 15%.

2. Not sure about CT but in New York State, more than 300 pedestrians are killed by drivers every year, while the number of pedestrian fatalities caused by cyclists averages less than one per year. And as you know, New York City is a busy place with hundreds of thousands of cyclist and tens of millions of pedestrian trips each day.

3. If you are concerned about safety and social “problems,” you should probably keep in mind that by far the best way to improve safety for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike, is to have more pedestrians and cyclists on the streets. According to Norm Garrick, the presence of large numbers of bicyclists changes the dynamics of the street enough to lower vehicle speeds. Not that there aren’t other factors at play, but slower streets also make people a lot happier. People who live along a busy and polluted road or highway are several times more likely to be isolated and unhappy than their identical counterparts living on a quieter street where children can play outdoors.

posted by: anonymous on August 5, 2013  10:22pm

Gretchen: This sounds arcane, but to enforce 25, you need to set the limit at 20. That’s why virtually every other city in the world, and many in the USA, are implementing 20 mile per hour limits on hundreds if not thousands of miles of city streets.

Also, Greenwich, Darien, and towns like that have 20 mile per hour limits. If it’s good enough for children in Fairfield County, how come it is not good enough for children here? We have far more young children than those towns.  Unfortunately, our city staff (who pretty much all drive everywhere), not our children, are the ones who currently set policy.

posted by: Doctor Who on August 6, 2013  4:46am

Not sure where all these people who think traveling through New Haven by car is fast.  New Haven has THE worst traffic light setups I’ve ever seen.  If there’s a way to desynchronize the lights, New Haven does it.  Lights are turning yellow just as the red goes green to release cars.  Huge waste of time and gas, but the city was more into subsidizing hybrid vehicles.

It is faster to get to Milford from the Hill than it is to get to Westville.

posted by: Doctor Who on August 6, 2013  4:50am

Is there a bicycle helmet law in Connecticut?  Because there doesn’t seem to be a motorcycle helmet law, or if there is it doesn’t seem to be enforced.  Most European city cycle programs don’t require helmets.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 6, 2013  8:28am

posted by: anonymous on August 5, 2013 10:12pm

Threefifths, some facts:

1. Driver compliance with traffic law is typically around 15%

Read the Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement Report.


Nationally, only about 30 percent of bicycle
injuries treated in emergency rooms involve collisions with motor vehicles and fewer than one in 700 bicycle injuries is fatal. Crashes in traffic are caused by avoidable errors. In 70 percent of police-reported bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, the cyclists involved
had violated traffic rules; in about 45 percent,motorists had violated the rules.

2. Not sure about CT but in New York State, more than 300 pedestrians are killed by drivers every year, while the number of pedestrian fatalities caused by cyclists averages less than one per year. And as you know, New York City is a busy place with hundreds of thousands of cyclist and tens of millions of pedestrian trips each day.

Did you know that most pedestrians that are killed by drivers is due to the fact that they do not cross at the cross walk and do not use the traffic control buttons to control the lights.Also some are hit when they are talking on there cell phones when they are crossing the streets.Also New york has a NYPD bike enforcement unit to make sure that bikes follow the law.I seen here in New Haven when Bikes break the law and the police are right there and do notihng to them.But drivers are give tickets.

posted by: DingDong on August 6, 2013  8:32am

@Gretchen.  What’s the Dutch maneuver?

posted by: Stephen Harris on August 6, 2013  12:38pm

I’m all for biking in the city but bikers, as a group, are guilty of some very serious infractions such as riding between lanes, running red lights and stop signs, going the wrong way on one-way streets and riding on sidewalks. Yet all we read about are bikers getting doored.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on August 6, 2013  2:03pm

@DingDong:  The Dutch maneuver is the one described in the article as the “Amsterdam” or “reach-across” method—make a habit of opening the driver’s side door with your right hand, which forces you to turn your body in such a way that an oncoming bike becomes visible.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 6, 2013  4:32pm

I don’t if it’s still true since it’s been 50 years, but in Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the then traffic engineer of New Haven makes an appearance in it and mentions the fact the streetlights at timed specifically to be as annoying as possible in the hopes of getting people out of their cars.(of course

@Stephen Harris
One of the things you mention is actually legal in many places, I can’t vouch for our state specifically. But cyclists, and for that matter scooters, can in many states go in between lanes.(or use the yellow lines in the median), one of them is something even the cops do(and really if someone is going at a really leisurely pace they should be on the sidewalk, this is another example on why it’s inane to treat cars and bikes fully the same, no one should be on the street going 7mph, although people who barrel down them at top speed are menace and danger), and the others are stupid but don’t put anyone in risk of harm beyond the cyclist.

posted by: Stephen Harris on August 6, 2013  4:56pm


If i see bikers I have to be very careful because I never know how or when they are going to suddenly dart back and forth like drunken sailors before they almost inevitably run the red light.

Share the road means just that. Most bikers need to learn the rules of the road. And I wish the police would start ticketing bikers for reckless road behavior.

posted by: K Harrison on August 7, 2013  1:26pm

As a driver, I definitely know what some of you are talking about re: cyclists driving crazy on the road. In particular it drives me insane when cyclists ride the wrong way in the street (as opposed to at a slow speed on the sidewalk, which does not bother me).

On the other hand, as a cyclist, I frequently run red lights after stopping and checking the cross traffic, treating the red light as a stop sign, especially at minor intersections or if there’s a walk sign for pedestrians. Flying through the light doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, as a cyclist sitting where I should be (on the right hand side) when the light turns green, I’m in a lot of danger if I try to go straight ahead—drivers often turn right without seeing me, and I’ve had a lot of close calls. It seems better for everyone involved if I go straight safely when there’s no competition. I know multiple people who have gotten into serious accidents this way, so I opt to break that particular law when it’s safe to do so.