Back to the Drawing Board: Another Attempt at an Anti-Dooring Bike Lane Design

When cyclists ride too close to parked cars, they're in danger of getting doored. But my original anti-dooring bike lanes proposal wouldn't have solved that problem. Photo: John Greenfield
When cyclists ride too close to parked cars, they're in danger of getting doored. But my original anti-dooring bike lanes proposal wouldn't have solved that problem. Photo: John Greenfield

On Friday, in the wake of three recent cases in which cyclists were critically injured or killed after biking into open car doors, I proposed a bike lane layout intended to help prevent doorings by encouraging cyclists to ride a few feet away from car doors. Unlike traditional “buffered” bike lanes that include a foot or two of dead space striped to the right of the bike lane to move cyclists farther to the left of car doors, my design featured a three-foot buffer on the right. That way, I argued, the rideable part of the bike lane would be largely out of the door zone.

I asserted that this would work on streets as narrow as 44 feet with parking on both sides, which dictates that the bike lanes be five feet wide, the narrowest bike lane width that the Chicago Department of Transportation will install. On such streets, CDOT stripes seven-foot parking lanes and ten-foot travel lanes. Here’s the layout I posted on Friday.

My anti-dooring bike lane layout proposal from Friday. Image: John Greenfield
My anti-dooring bike lane layout proposal from Friday. Image: John Greenfield

I got negative feedback about this design from several people in the comments and on Twitter. Folks argued that it places the cyclist dangerously close to moving traffic, and makes it impossible for drivers to obey the state law requiring motorists to pass cyclists with at least three feet of space. (A bike handlebars is typically about two feet wide, so if you ride with the center of your wheels a foot to the right of the left edge of the bike lane, as shown in the above sketch, the outside edge of your handlebar would be on the border of the travel lane.)

When I did the sketch, I thought that the layout I drew reflected the way I ride in bike lanes, keeping to the left side of the bikeway to stay out of the door zone, which I partly credit for the fact that I haven’t been in a dooring crash for decades. I assumed that I always keep my wheels at least four feet away from parked cars (with the right end of my handlebar at least three feet away), so that I ride within the leftmost two feet of a five-foot bike lane.

But after reading the comments, I took a closer look at my original sketch, and it occurred to me that I might have been wrong. So I went out yesterday with a tape measure and cycled on bike lanes of various widths. I found that, rather than always pedaling with my wheels at least three feet from parked cars, I consistently ride with them about two feet to the right of the travel lanes.

I consistently ride about two feet from the left edge of bike lanes of various widths, and it appears many other cyclists do too. Photo: John Greenfield
I consistently ride with my wheels about two feet from the left edge of bike lanes of various widths, and it appears many other cyclists do too. This stretch of Damen in Lincoln Square is a 44-foot-wide street with five-foot bike lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

That means that there’s roughly a foot of space between the left end of my handlebar and the travel lane, which more-or-less allows for three-foot passing by drivers.  It also means that in a five-foot bike lane, my wheels are only about three feet from parked cars, not four, and the right end of my handlebar is roughly two feet away, not three. I apologize to Streetsblog readers for this oversight.

My observations were that many other cyclists seem to ride the same way, with their wheels about two feet to the right of the travel lane. Obviously, it was time to go back to the drawing board.

A cyclist rides about with his wheels about two feet away from the travel lane, three feet from the parking lane, on a five-foot-wide bike lane on Halsted in Lincoln Park. Photo John Greenfield

If I were to tweak my original design to encourage people to ride the way I do on a 44-foot street with five-foot bike lanes, that would require striping a one-foot-wide buffer to the left of the bikeable portion of the lane. But that would only leave room for a two-foot buffer on the right, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling people they should ride with the right end of their handlebar two feet from car doors, even though I’ve apparently been doing that in five-foot bike lanes for years with no issues. That means that my concept wouldn’t work on a 44-foot street after all. Again, sorry for the error.

However, it does appear that my idea would work on a 46-foot-wide street with six-foot bike lanes, which would allow for adding the one-foot buffer to the left. Here’s a new sketch showing that layout. (Since people complained that my doodles of motor vehicles in the original drawing weren’t to scale, the new sketch shows cars that are about 14 feet long and 5.5 feet wide, roughly in line with average car sizes.)

A revised version of my proposal, shown on a 46-foot-wide street with six-foot bike lanes. Image: John Greenfield
A revised version of my proposal, shown on a 46-foot-wide street with six-foot bike lanes. Image: John Greenfield

For the sake of argument here’s a sketch of how CDOT might handle this situation with traditional buffered bike lanes. (Sorry, I didn’t feel like drawing all those vehicles again.)

How CDOT might stripe 6-foot-wide buffered bike lanes on a 46-foot street. Image: John Greenfield
How CDOT might stripe 6-foot-wide buffered bike lanes on a 46-foot street. Image: John Greenfield

In this scenario cyclists are supposed to ride with with their wheels lined up with the point of the arrow by the bike symbol, so they’d be in the same lane position as under my new proposal, with center of their bike two feet from the travel lane and four feet from parked cars.

I’d argue that the advantage of my version is that it dictates to cyclists exactly where to ride, where as CDOT’s arrow is more like a subtle suggestion. Therefore, more timid cyclists might tend to ride on the right side of CDOT’s bikeable area, closer to car doors, with more danger of dooring.

A cyclist uses adouble-buffered bike lane as intended, cycling in the center of the bikeable area, in the middle of the arrow. A more time rider might cycle closer to parked cars. Photo: John Greenfield
A cyclist uses a double-buffered bike lane on Broadway near Halsted in Lakeview as intended, cycling in the center of the bikeable area, in the middle of the arrow. A less confident rider might cycle closer to parked cars. Photo: John Greenfield

To wrap up this discussion, since there’s apparently no way to stripe bike lanes on 44-foot streets with parking without cyclists either riding close to the travel lane or within the door zone, should we stop doing it? I debated this issue on Twitter with Denver-based bike writer Robert Hurst, who argued that such streets are fundamentally unsafe places for bike lanes.

Hurst isn’t necessarily wrong. But I’d argue that Chicago has plenty of 44-foot streets with parking and five-foot bike lanes, plus lots of retail and parking turnover, that are decent places to ride. Stretches of Halsted in Lakeview, Armitage in Lincoln Park, and Damen in Lincoln Square are examples.

A cyclist rides on Halsted in Boystown. Photo: John Greenfield
A cyclist rides on Halsted in Boystown. Photo: John Greenfield

It seems to me that, even though cyclists who bike in these bike lanes generally aren’t riding completely out of the door zone, the bikeways do more good than harm. They advertise the presence of bikes; they narrow the travel lanes, which calms traffic; and they encourage drivers to keep left, which gives cyclists more space.

(I’ll brace myself for angry comments from followers of “vehicular cycling” guru John Forester, who argue that cyclists are safer when they ride in the center of the travel lane, and generally dislike bike lanes.)

  • rduke

    Part time VC here.

    I’m still not seeing any way these aren’t just fancied up DZBLs. Again, I’m either in the door zone, or simply hoping that the motorists in the travel lane are going to pass me safely. A CTA bus is wider than a 10′ travel lane. I’ve been buzzed way way too many times by busses, so rather than hope that they’re eventually going to follow the law (fat chance), I simply have to ride somewhere that physically discourages their behavior, ie, right in the middle of the travel lane, or in the right tire track where I can at least bail to the right if someone tries to pass me too close.

    I get the sense that infrastructure design is fundamentally at odds with that close passing law. If three feet is required, why not design the lanes and roads to absolutely engender the behavior, rather than leaving it to bull-headed jerks like me to scold drivers at stoplights and put my hide at risk.

    There’s a simple solution. On roads where there absolutely MUST be parking, and there isn’t room for a decent buffered or protected bike lane that places cyclist well outside of the door zone or the risk of close passes, road diet the hell out of it so most drivers don’t feel the need to go faster than 15-20mph, throw in a BMUFL, or better yet, a nice Dutch style “Bike Street, Cars Are Guests”.

    We’re trying to eke out millimeters and rekajigger this buffer or narrow this lane by a foot here and there, and trying to squeeze cyclists into a unsafe space simply because we can’t admit there just isn’t effing room. And if there isn’t effing room, we take bold steps to make that room (eliminating parking, making motor traffic one way, etc), or bolder steps to just take the whole damn road back. We can either prioritize cycling or we won’t.

  • rduke

    Also, not many car doors are 2′, and a 2′ buffer assumes that the motorist is parked sufficiently close to the curb such that their open door won’t encroach into the bike lane, not an assumption I’m willing to risk my collarbone or jugular on.

    Some two door sports cars and trucks have absolutely massive doors.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Modern CTA buses are 102 inches, 8.5′ wide.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    My design has a 3′ buffer. Of course on wider streets the buffer by the car doors could be wider.

  • rwy

    Makes sense. If they where 10 feet wide, they wouldn’t be able to drive down Ridge Ave.

  • roberthurst157

    Does that include the mirrors?

  • Alex

    Why does parking always have the be to the further right side of the road? Why can’t you have the travel lane, then parking, and then the bike lane to the right of that? That way the parked cars buffer bikes from traffic, and dooring becomes less common. There’s some small stretches that do this (like Broadway in Uptown), but why isn’t this more common?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    That’s the body of the bus. Per the CTA, the width with mirrors for non-articulated buses ranges from 10.1 to 10.3 feet, but the buses are already running on 44′ streets with 10′ travel lanes and 5′ bike lanes, and there doesn’t seem to be an epidemic of bus drivers striking cyclists (or each other) with their mirrors.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Chicago has roughly two-dozen miles of protected bike lanes at this point, mostly with the layout you describe. From my previous post on designing non-protected bike lanes that discourage riding in the door zone:

    “Well-designed protected bike lanes are an effective way to virtually eliminate dooring crashes. In Chicago, the lanes are typically installed curbside with the parking lane to the left, and the parking and bike lanes separated by a wide striped buffer with flexible posts, and/or concrete curbs.

    With this layout, cyclists can’t be struck by doors opened on the driver side, and they’re far enough away from the passenger side that it’s unlikely they would make contact with an open door. And even if they did have to swerve out of the way, they’d be heading towards the curb, rather than into moving traffic.

    However, protected bike lanes are relatively expensive compared to non-protected lanes, and they require a significant amount of road width. They can also be politically challenging to install because they usually involve eliminating a few parking spaces near intersections so that turning drivers and cyclists can see each other, and they sometimes require converting mixed-traffic lanes, taking space away from drivers.”

  • Blackcatprowliii

    Take the lane for safety. Being aware is the best defense. The poor road design pushed for years now needs major revisions. Five feet? The small lanes, small bike lanes, the obstacles, accidents, injuries, deaths up. The failure of design does not call for more of the same, it calls for seriously stepping back & taking a good look.

    The design is a failure & it is time for something different. The failure to understand how people bike in the United States, as well as those designing having many alternate agendas, has endangered everyone on the road & it is time for an account to be made. It is no longer acceptable.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    As predicted in the last paragraph of this post! It’s like clockwork.

  • Jacob Wilson

    I like this idea and I think it’s also important for motorists to not see large, mostly empty bike lanes with cyclists riding on the outer edge. Better to have that open space filled in so it’s clear to everyone. Would even be better if we could somehow label it “DOOR ZONE” like those “LOOK BIKES” markings at crosswalks. Would help educate motorists and cyclists alike for the cost of paint.

    I know sharrows get a bad rep but I would propose when they’re used correctly and placed out of the door zone and partially in the main travel lane they send the much needed message to motorists that cyclists are in fact entitled to that road space.

    I think this could actually be a really good configuration for those 44′ roads if the buffer was wider places the sharrows further inward:

  • Blackcatprowliii

    Yeah, it is really sad that the attacks on vehicular cyclists still continue. (It is pathological.) Yet, we will not be put down & be pushed into the shadows or into poor design that is endangering everyone, as the facts show.

    The design is bad. We agreed with “share the road” until we found out it was a scam with a hidden agenda, with the activists groups taken over by developers & others. The result has been abysmal.

    Trying to rationalize attempts to make poor design work, while constantly attacking others, just shows how weak it is. It is time to widen the roads & allow everyone to use the roads safely. It is time to incorporate greenspace, allow for a greater diversity of design & listen to more voices. The new urban design movement is a bust & will be over soon. They had their chance & failed utterly.

    Take the lane for safety, if needed. Keep one’s options open. Fight bad design! : )

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Kind of wonky topic :)! I believe that, and would like to see, both the previous post’s design and the design proposed in this post should be tried/tested/piloted. [Though I don’t think a 1′ buffer with diagonal striping will work — that narrow of an area is usually marked/markable with two parallel lines only (since minimum striping width is 4″. We also note that, in these designs, there would be no room for the standard bike lane symbol, which fortifies the lane markings)]. In reality of course no one rides for very long in the same exact position — all kinds of debris, pavement conditions, moving/turning cars, obstructions (like double-parked cars, peds wading out in to street, construction crap, other cyclists, car doors, etc.) all mean that urban cyclists need to maneuver and remain (constantly) alert and responsive to all kinds of changing conditions when riding along any given roadway, regardless of the specific striping or other design elements — heck, this is the case even when riding in separated bike lanes. Everyone who rides on-street is, in fact, partly “vehicular” in riding style. However, while we must acknowledge this reality, we can at the same time also say that higher-quality, lower-stress, safer, bicyclist-specific, and separated facilities (given roadway constraints and the need to have a connected network that gets cyclists everywhere), are the way to go. I myself typically ride on, just outside, and/or just within the striping of a traditional 5′ bike lane in order to avoid the door zone — except when I don’t. When I don’t, it is for a specific reason related to objective conditions and in those cases, I slow way down — slower if I’m in an area with high parking turn-over (i.e. lots of folks getting in and out of cars) and a bit less so when I’m in an area with what appears to be longer-term parking. (I admit that this evaluation or judgement about turn-over is at best an educated guess.) I like traditional bike lanes when that is all that space allows. I like buffered bike lanes (of all kinds — left side buffer, right side buffer, both sides buffered) even more. I also like more ‘rudimentary’ markings that give information about the door-zone and about the distance between me and cars passing on my right (like those ~2′ hatch stripes, as seen on some Chicago bike lanes). I also like sharrows markings when that is all that can (or will?) be done. I like “barrows” (sharrows and buffer area in door zone) (as in the Streetview link in the previous Comment). And above all, I love separated bike lanes. Of course, as a cyclist, I’d like to take space away from motor vehicles to make more room for bicycling, but until that can/will be done (political and community-support, and funding are the key issues, as well as progressive, enlightened engineers), then I’ll take all that I can get and when that “all” is increasing/improving at a decent clip, then that is much better than when it isn’t.

    Infrastructure/design/engineering is of course only one strategy, which is used to improve conditions for cycling, and engineering/design alone cannot keep people in the public ROW — cyclists, pedestrians, and others — 100 percent safe. Education, enforcement, and encouragement are other key “E”s. Slower, more cautious operting of motor vehicles is really important. As the author points out, a major benefit of any kind of bicycle facility striping or markings (as well as signage and other physical elements) is that they alerts drivers to the presence of cyclists and legitimize cyclists’ presence on the roadway, wherever cyclists happen to be riding. Cyclists ride differently and in different positions based on their skill, knowledge, experience, and habits (good and bad). Riding out of the door zone, whatever the striping pattern or lack thereof might be along a roadway, is very much recommended — necessary, in fact, if you want to avoid getting doored. If you absolutely must ride in the door zone (which will inevitably be the case in some, hopefully short/brief, situations), then you simply must slow down and keep your fingers on the brakes — i.e. be ready to stop quickly enough to avoid a door crash.

  • Blackcatprowliii

    The double buffered lane doesn’t look too bad (though, just having a wider lane may work better). Yet, moving into the car lane to avoid dooring, or in the case where parking makes it more likely that a car can back out & into the way of he bicyclist, it is just prudent to do so. It is people riding on the streets & fully utilizing the roads (in all its fashions) that makes it safer for bicyclists to use the roads.

    Social engineering, rather than just good design, is not the way to control driver’s actions (& speed). It has, actually, failed. It is unfortunate that a point has been reached that the roads, nature & property rights have collided so severely, yet, effectively privatizing the roads by such extreme control, the fact that nature suffers from the slow method of private initiative & governmental exception & the the result of poor design, that claims to be bike & nature friendly when it is not, is a reality that calls for a more direct & forceful approach to preserve these elements for the future.

    It is categorism to keep attacking vehicular cyclists on the basis of someone from The Seventies, supposedly claiming that there is not compromise offered or that there can be no progression or modification in theory or concrete approaches. That it continues still is simply outrageous.

    The fact is, having been involved in various issues over many years now, that these presented views are either distorted or simply untrue. To continue to refuse input & barrel over everyone following some theoretic view is just authoritarianism unanchored from reality. It is false from the perspective of refusing to acknowledge the actual conditions & topography as being different, as well as the local perspective & use which varies as well.

    I am a vehicular cyclist, yet I have progressed beyond a book written in 1976. I am calling for a much more comprehensive infrastructure plan to be implemented. This includes everyone in a fashion that is not as discriminatory, nor consistently & constantly putting the various elements, people, at odds with each other, while satisfying none, nor offers the safety & use proposed.

    The present ideas are failing as they are uncompromising, refuse input, are not based on the actual Earth or locality, having alternate agendas that are not fully embraced by all, & are using tactics that undermine its ultimate success.

    Why does every article have to attack vehicular cyclists as proposed by one man 42 years ago? It was a convenient way to seize control of organizations, yet can have no other effect than division, poor & incomplete designs, & inherent resistance. What does proposing safer bike lanes have to do with attacking vehicular cyclists~ the ones who have been riding on the roads all these years?

    It is time to stop.

    Protected bike lanes~ as well as striped lanes & full use of the roads~ better, more complete road design, better infrastructure is needed. Yet, making every design idea an attack on vehicular cyclists & cars, in general, & certain types of propulsion, more particularly, strongly suggests that it is an inchoate concept that will only live as long as political & other power is maintained. As evidenced in the election of Trump (or conservatives & libertarian individualists or others). It is a direct result of these failures. As well as the refusal to allow any other views or to make any input other than “this way or the highway” approach to bring more forces more closely aligned.

    Such shortsightedness shows lack of conviction, in the end, a lack of an actual goal of sharing the Earth & having a truly viable system into the future. It is something to really think about if one is truly interested in an infrastructure that will last into the future, in nations that respect their people, than rather an authoritarian world that is controlled by certain interests~ one that will ultimately, fail, as all such do Yet having a successful world where people can live in peace & move about freely.

    It is time for this movement to step back & have a reality check.

  • Elihu Blanks

    I understand John and I think protected lanes may equate to non-plowed lanes or icy lanes in the winter. I like them but question their viability in our political climate…

  • Elihu Blanks

    Here are my thoughts John: I commute to work on 83rd and have found mostly courteous drivers. I haven’t been doored or threatened by a door (thank God). However, does our speed on the roadway play any part into the calculus of dooring?

    I mean my new bike has disc breaks that are a little better than my old rim breaks. But if my average speed is 12mph then couldn’t I see a dooring potential (shadow of a head on my side or door cracking open or evidence of a newly parked motorists), keep my breaks covered and coast safely past.

    I mean maybe that’s why my average is 12mph, cause I’ve seen strava say I’ll push close to 20mph on some lft sections.

  • This design is predicated on the idea that it’s safer for cyclists to be closer to moving traffic than it is for them to be in the door zone. It’s really between a rock and a hard place, since the growing number of SUVs and trucks on the road are changing the pros/cons equation for traditional painted bike lanes. Even if a large bodied moving vehicle doesn’t accidentally swipe you, their mirror might. A 5′ bike lane (even buffered) between a row of parked SUVs and a travel lane filled with SUVs is becoming the equivalent of sharrows – that is, paint on the ground with little benefit for cyclists.

    It increasingly seems like the added financial and political costs required for curbside, protected bike lanes are worth it given changing (and often distracted) driving habits and the increasing size of vehicles on U.S. roadways.

  • rohmen

    Not that I disagree with many of your points, but at least on an anecdotal level in Chicago (and I’m sure there may be real figures out there that gets to the heart of it) dooring incidents seem to be occurring at a much higher level than drivers actually hitting a cyclist from behind in traffic.

    IMHO, I do feel safer riding to the left of a bike lane (and therefore closer to moving traffic) versus in the door zone, and I’ve never seen anything that suggests my subjective feeling is off base.

  • rohmen

    If I practice VC as a daily rider, what am I suppose to do during rush hour where cars back up sometimes as much as three to four blocks in the loop and other areas? Just cue up and deal with the gridlock?

    If the answer is yes, fair enough, but you’re taking the speed and efficiency incentive out of cycling that gets many to use it as their commuting option in the first place, and I’m personally not going to wait in a line of cars, sucking up fumes, and moving 5 mph for most of my time on a bike.

  • Blackcatprowliii

    One, go by the cars. Two, take an alternate route. Three, do a different time. I VC & I rarely am going five miles an hour. It is a misconception how to bicycle in The States. There are sideroads, parking lots, even sidewalks & there are protected lanes.

    The new present design has not taken into account actual users’ use, nor good design practice. The bicycle is a vehicle like a car, yet it has some very different characteristics.

    Added design features of the past few years, even with the “bicycle friendly” banner bantered about, have, actually, made biking harder, if not more dangerous. This is from false conceptions, bad ideas for appropriate use, & not understanding how the streets are used in the safest way, most efficiently, & in connectivity. It is really a mess.

    The refusal to accept input into designs & not understanding what is safest for bicycles, as well as drivers, & even, pedestrians, has led to faulty design ideas, some of which have been implemented to ill effect.

    It is time for revision, rejection, & new adoption. We will no longer put up with incompetence & inability to implement the proper traffic solutions. Using feelings, biased organizations, the misuse of statistics, & some radical activists’ opinions has led to bad design which will no longer be accepted as the gospel truth.

    The fourth alternative is a much better, more comprehensive design plan that would allow options & alternatives that are safe & usable.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “The new present design has not taken into account actual users’ use.” Uh, the new design tells people to ride in the part of the bike lane where most of the people in the above photos are already riding.

  • Blackcatprowliii

    The new design & actual users’ riding habits are different. Take the lane if there is the possibility of a door or car getting in the way (or an alternate route or sidewalk or protected lane or even a grassy area or parking lot). If there is a car behind you, they have to slow down (or pass on the other side of the road). Drivers need to learn to pass bicyclists safely. Bicyclists need to do what is safe rather than what some engineer deemed is right. The roads will never be safe if the interaction between bicycles & cars {& pedestrians) is not worked out. The roads need to accommodate bicycles in a way that makes them usable for bicyclists. Bicyclists need to be assertive at times to be safe. Moving them off the roads does not make car/bicycle interactions safer. Crowding more people onto smaller roads will not make anyone safer. Look at the buffered lane. The cars are infringing on the buffer because the lane is too narrow. That makes for fussy & nervous drivers which is not any safer. Going too slow in a car is, actually, very hard to do because it is too easy to be distracted. Drivers should be aware that there are bicyclists on the road & understand how to deal with them. There can be much more advance design that can control speed & activity rather than the blunt & ineffective methods now used. The major hurdle is getting people to pay for that & to put the effort into using the roads in a better fashion. The facts show that efforts of recent have failed, so a re-evaluation is called for.

  • Michael

    This system of parked cars in the middle of the street dramatically increases the problem of blind spots when cars are making right turns and leaves bicycles vulnerable… especially since they have a false sense of protection that does not exist when SUVs are parked and cars are turning and blinded – especially when SUVs are parked in the last spots at the corner.

    This is a huge problem on Elston south of north avenue and north of Chicago. The answer – at a minimum – would appear to be to eliminate the last parking spots near the corner so both drivers and bicycle riders can see each other. The only problem with that solution, is we have to pay 70 years of parking meter revenue to Morgan Stanley for every spot removed, or find replacement spots per the contract that Daley signed.


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