Tuesday, July 28, 2009

while on my bike, I recently hit a car door

On a Tuesday morning, May 12, 2009, around 7am, I was bicycling on this stretch of road, just leaving North Oakland and crossing into South Berkeley:

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Traveling at a high rate of speed, I was on the right side of the road northbound on Martin Luther King Jr Way, having just passed Angel Light Books & Gifts. I crossed in front of the fenced playground area of Shelton's Primary Education Center (Since I wrote this, Shelton's moved, and the building is now occupied by American International Montessori) when suddenly a car door flipped open directly in front of me. My right shoulder caught the top of the door corner and my right pedal the edge of the lower door, and I was thrown off my bike, landing on my back in the middle of the street. After I heard a female voice ask if I was alright, I got up, dusted myself off, and took notice of the driver standing before me, dressed for an early summer morning and ready for work, possibly at the very school we had collided in front of; on the other side of the vehicle stood another woman, who may have been a passenger, dressed similarly and carrying her purse and some papers. I made sure I was ok, asked the driver if she was ok, and picked up my bike to inspect for damage. The African American female driver seemed genuinely concerned about my well-being, and I noticed that the tip of the lower metal edge of her car door was bent and protruding, having clearly been struck by something, which I later surmised had been the right pedal of my bike, the force of which had spun me around and thrown me out onto the street on my back. I seemed to be in one piece, though my bike had some minor damage; I was still in a hurry to get to Kinko's in downtown Berkeley to print out a document before riding into work. I felt embarrassed for not being more attentive to the parked vehicle immediately ahead of me and to my right, whether there were any occupants to worry about, and I remarked to the woman that I was ok, but that the repair to her car door would cost a lot more than the repair to my bike. I was operating under the assumption we were both at fault for the incident, and given the possibility in the back of my mind I might be held liable for any damages to the woman's car door as a result of my haste, I didn't see the need to exchange information with the driver. I remarked to both ladies that it was an interesting way to start the day, got back on my bike and rode off, noticing the slight wobble in my now out-of-true front wheel.

Over the next two weeks I saw a noticeable dark bruise appear on the upper part of my right chest where it had caught the car door's corner and felt severe pain in my right shoulder area whenever I picked up my bike and lifted it, or made certain motions with my right arm; luckily for me, gradually the sharpness lessened and over time the ache in my shoulder disappeared.

On Saturday morning, July 18, 2009 at 11:15am I was at Missing Link's repair shop to get my wheel trued. I asked the bike mechanic Bill about his summer plans for his two kids, then described the incident that led to my being in his shop, and was surprised to hear from him that the woman was almost surely responsible for the incident, that a driver is almost always at fault for a bicyclist being "doored". This idea was reinforced when on Thursday, July 23, 2009 I was listening to my favorite radio personality Len Tillem's noon to 1pm call-in radio show. A woman named Sunny called saying her daughter, who was driving, had opened her car door and a female cyclist had collided with the door, breaking her wrist. Sunny claimed the bicycle rider, a woman in her early 40s, caused the accident and so was liable for any damages resulting from the impact of the bicycle against the car door when her daughter opened it. Sunny explained her rationale for defending her daughter as not motivated by the expected protective instinct a mother might have for her child, but simply that the woman on her bike was riding too close to the vehicles. In her daughter's defense, Sunny, herself a cyclist, pointed out how some states have the door zone law, but in California there is unfortunately no such law, only a pending statute. Len seemed skeptical, saying Sunny's daughter, if she had just checked over her shoulder, would have seen the cyclist, and was in a better position than the woman on the bicycle to prevent the collision. Later, Jim, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, called in to confirm Len's initial assessment, saying that whenever a bicyclist hits a car door that opens into traffic, the person who opened the car door is at fault, quoting California Vehicle Code section 22517. In response to Sunny's rationale, Jim added that a bike rider is required to ride as close as possible to the right side of the roadway:

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