How to Dutch Reach
Back in October, I was coming home from an intramural “Midnight Soccer” match when someone threw open their car door causing me to crash, flip over their door while my bike crashed into it, and roll across the asphalt road. The accident happened less than a block away from my apartment, and despite my initial thought that I would shake it off, resulted in me being treated at the hospital and (eventually) being diagnosed with a concussion.
I was one of the lucky ones, coming away with no life-long damage, while some people can land in comas from such accidents, and a few cases have even resulted in death, due to swerving and being hit by other vehicles, or complications from the dooring itself (Streets Blog, see sources linked in article). Although I am physically healed now, I will forever be at elevated risk for a second concussion, and won’t soon forget the trauma caused by such a simple act of negligence. It would be nice to say this was a freak accident that rarely happens, however that is simply not the case. In Chicago, there are somewhere between 0.5-1 doorings everyday on average, and that is just the reported number (source-Chicago Tribune 1).
Many bike lanes being built do not actually prevent doorings–for instance one recent installment sandwiches bicycles between cars and the curb, meaning that if an oblivious passenger opens their door too quickly, a biker could still be stuck with no where to go. In my experience, bike lanes on the sidewalk are the ideal solution. Although these need to be installed and maintained, better bike transit options are a crucial part of building the cities of tomorrow.
However there is some hope, as educational programs can have a difference. After my accident I taught the person who doored me the “Dutch Reach” a method for increasing the chances of opening your door safely. Recently, Lyft created an article to promote its riders and drivers of the technique, which you can learn here. As someone constantly getting stuck behind normal appearing cars which stop suddenly to let their ride-share passengers out, the leadership taken by Lyft to even acknowledge that they share the road with others is to be commended.
Further, Illinois lawmakers, among others, have added the procedure into state driving manuals (source-Chicago Tribune 2). While this demonstrates an excellent first step, there still remains much to be done. For starters, many experienced drivers do not refresh their knowledge each time the handbook is updated, as while as many new drivers simply skimming the book enough to pass the basic questions on the test, and then forgetting the material immediately afterward.
Even if electric cars some day eliminate the environmental benefits to bike commuting, the simple joy of the wind in your face on a beautiful day as you ride to your destination will not cease to exist-at least until a door stops it unexpectedly. So whatever your transit preference might be, take some time to learn the dutch reach, and share it with a friend or two! Who knows, it might just save someone’s life one day.
Photo is of bikes on a bridge in Amsterdam taken back on a trip around Christmas 2016.