Last week, riding home on College Street, I encountered a territorial idiot in the bike lane. This individual decided to open his car door into the bike lane, then stand beside it chatting on his cell phone. On seeing me, he closed his car door enough to leave me six inches to pass. I told him, politely but stiffly, that I needed more room than that, and he closed it almost completely. I rolled by him. From his comments about me not leaving the bike lane, he clearly thought he had the right to use it as a substitute living room.
Today, I ready the comments of Kerri from the CommuteOrlando Blog about "door zone" bike lanes, and I thought on one hand she has a point, but on the other hand, the term "door zone" seems to concede public space to the motorists who open their car doors carelessly, and leave them open.
Toronto does not have the road space available to give motorists who chooses to park on the street permanent control of the space a metre to the right of their cars. If we tried to exclude vehicles (all vehicles, including bicycles) from the zone three feet from any (legally or illegally) parked car, our traffic problems would go from bad to terminal. For that reason, the HTA quite properly places the onus on the person opening a car door or proposing to use a travel lane for chatting on a cell phone or looking for their keys, not the traffic trying to move.
Accidents in which cyclists get hit by car doors cause plenty of injuries and deaths. Good infrastructure design definitely plays a role in keeping cyclists safe. But in calling for better infrastructure design, it matters that we not use language that has the effect of conceding to motorists public space that the law does not grant them and which we cannot afford.
Infrastructure changes I would advocate to prevent dooring accidents include automotive construction standards: the safety standards for "crumple zones" of a car should include a prohibition on selling any car in Canada with a swing open door which will resist a force of more than 500 Newtons (enough to stop an adult cyclist in about a second) when hit in a typical "dooring" position.
Educational changes I would advocate include educating motorists, some of whom clearly do not know the law, but also educating ourselves as cyclists: what do we do when a door snaps open in front of us? If we can't avoid a collision with a car door, can we hit it in such a way as to minimize injury to ourselves and our bikes? It might actually help to research this, if we can.