See.Safe.Smart: Stay safe, avoid the ‘door zone’

With summer finally here, I have seen a lot more people bicycling out on the streets during my bike commute to work. New Ulm is fortunate to have the beginnings of a complete network of streets marked with bike sharrows for people to use to get to work, play, school, run errands and recreation. About half of the designated bike routes in town have been painted with sharrows to indicate to drivers to expect more bicyclists along the route and to help bicyclists position themselves correctly in the travel lane. I have enjoyed being able to follow these designated routes on my commute to work and meetings throughout most of New Ulm.

Bicycling is a great family activity and provides the perfect opportunity to teach everyone about this month’s SEE.SAFE.SMART. safety campaign message, which is “To stay safe, we avoid the ‘door zone.'”

Did you know that being “doored” is one of the most common causes of injury for bicyclists? This happens when drivers unknowingly open their car doors into the path of bicyclists who are riding too close to the car. That’s why it’s important for people riding their bicycle to pay attention to the bike sharrows painted on the street. The sharrows are specifically placed where they are in order to help keep bicyclists out of the door zone for cars parked along the street.

To avoid getting doored, follow these tips when riding a bicycle on streets where cars may be parked:

In order to avoid riding into an open car door, ride your bicycle 3-4 feet from the parked cars along the street.

If riding with more than one person, ride in single file past parked cars to give you plenty of room to maneuver if the door should suddenly open. Being predictable and maintaining a fairly straight line of travel is preferred by drivers and increases safety rather than weaving in and out of parked cars.

When approaching cars parked along the street, look in the car’s side view mirror to see if there is a driver in the driver’s seat. Also look to see if the car’s rear brake lights are on, as this will tell you if someone is in the car and it is running.

Slow down and keep your hands close to the brakes so you can stop quickly if needed.

Drivers can play an important role in protecting bicyclists from doors as well. To avoid opening your car door into an oncoming bicyclist, open your car door using your right hand. This positions your body so that it’s easy to look over your left shoulder to see if anyone is coming. It also allows you to see approaching cars. This technique is called the “Dutch Reach” and is used in the Netherlands where bicycling is extremely prevalent and is part of the driving exam. By making this simple change in your habits, you can help save lives as well as avoid damage to your vehicle door.

Thanks to everyone in New Ulm for making the commitment to SEE people biking and walking, act SAFE, and be SMART!