Bicyclists can face many dangers while sharing the road with cars. But they can also be hurt by people who get out of parked cars. 7 Investigates shows you shocking videos of how this happens and ways it can be prevented. Dave Puglisi has the story.
Aidan Dunbar says he had a brush with death in May — as he rode his bike on Brookline Avenue in Boston.
“It was a real, you know, life flash before your eyes kind of thing,” Aidan said.
A surveillance camera captured what happened: The driver of a parked car suddenly opens the door — knocking Aidan off his bike and onto the street.
“I was in complete shock because it happened so fast,” Aidan said. “I had my hand on the handlebar, and I started to try and brake and avoid it. So, my hand and the handlebar got crushed by the car door. I flew over the handlebars.”
It happened to Charlie Philbrook, too, while he was riding through Kenmore Square last month.
“It was pretty scary,” Charlie said.
His bike camera recorded a video of him being bashed by a car door.
“There was no time to react,” Charlie said. “Before I knew it, I was going over the handlebars. I didn’t know what I was going to hit. Was I going to hit another car? Was I going to hit the ground? I didn’t know. It just it was such a shock.”
Charlie suffered minor injuries.
“I had a pretty bad bruise and scrape here on the elbow and then here on the hip,” Charlie said. “My situation could have been a lot more serious.”
Aidan needed two surgeries to fix his hand.
“I’m so undeniably lucky, and it should have been so much worse,” Aidan said.
But other cyclists were not as lucky.
A woman was seriously injured in Dorchester. Police say she was struck by a car door and swerved toward a bus.
And in Somerville, a man was killed.
“It’s incredibly serious. Anything that puts you into the roadway — knocks you off your bike in the roadway — you’re in incredible peril,” said Boston attorney Joshua Zisson. He says he has represented nearly 300 cyclists who were hit by car doors.
“When someone opens the door of their car without looking into the path or at a cyclist who’s riding by, that is specifically prohibited by Massachusetts law,” Joshua said. “I think that not enough people are aware of it, and it’s definitely not on the public’s radar.”
There’s a simple way to check for cyclists before opening a car door: Reach across your body and use your hand farthest from the door handle to open it — that makes you turn so you can look behind you and check the side mirror to make sure the coast is clear. (If you are a passenger in a car, you can also use your opposite hand to open the door and look behind you — to make sure there are no cyclists as well.)
Cyclists are calling for a better state-wide network of protected bike lanes with barriers that separate cars and bikes.
“There may be the need to remove travel lanes for vehicles in order to make people on bikes safe. But I think the flip side is that you are saving people’s lives, and there’s no cost too high to save somebody’s life,” said Galen Mook, Executive Director at MassBike, a nonprofit cycling advocacy group.
Charlie and Aidan hope with awareness and safer bike lanes — what happened to them won’t happen to others. And just as we interviewed Aidan, a car parked in an unprotected bike path.
“This is why we need protected bike lanes,” Aidan said. “If it’s just a line on the ground, they’re going to drive over it. Unless you have an actual physical barrier there, this is what happens, and you can’t change the culture; you have to change the way the system’s built.”
City officials in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and other communities tell us they’re committed to building more protected and connected bike lanes.
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For more information on those plans and cycling safety, here are some resources:
City of Boston:
For bike-friendly information and discounts on Bluebikes, check out the Boston Bikes website.
The city says: Protected lanes include buffers between parked cars and bike lanes to create space for people on bicycles to ride far enough away from doors to avoid dooring. The city continues to expand its bike network so that 50% of residents will be a three-minute walk from a safe and connected bike route, prioritizing links with a history of safety incidents. When a protected bike lane isn’t available, riders should stay 3 to 5 feet away from car doors. It is legal to ride a bike in the travel lane and a rider should do so when necessary for safety.
City of Cambridge:
Cambridge passed the Cycling Safety Ordinance, which mandates the installation of 25 miles of separated bike lanes between 2020 and 2026. These lanes increase comfort for people biking by using a physical barrier or curb to separate them from vehicles. Here is where to find up-to-date information on the project: Projects – City of Cambridge, MA (cambridgema.gov)
The city recently released a Biking in Cambridge Data Report: Bicycling in Cambridge Data Report 2023 – Cambridge Massachusetts
and an updated guide called “Street Code” with rules of the road: 2023streetcode.pdf (cambridgema.gov)
City of Somerville:
The MA RMV says police can issue citations for opening a vehicle door and hitting a cyclist or pedestrian under Mass General Laws section 14, chapter 90. If a person is found responsible they could face up to a $100 fine and a license surcharge of two points.