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Old 09-12-14, 07:30 AM   #1
mconlonx 
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Durham NH cyclist doored, dies

Bicyclist dies after crashing into car door
John Kavanagh, 58, of Durham, killed
Aug 19, 2014

DURHAM, N.H. —A 58-year-old bicyclist died Sunday night after crashing his bicycle into a car door, according to authorities.

Durham police said John Kavanagh was riding his bike on Main Street in a marked bike lane when a driver, who was legally parked on the side of the road, opened his driver's-side door. Kavanagh struck the open door, and was thrown into the road.

-----------------------------------------

This is the way it was widely reported, locally. In both the Portsmouth Herald (seacoastonline.com) and Foster's Daily Democrat (fosters.com), there was similar reportage. The Fosters editor pointed out that it is not media who reported it this way, they took it directly from the police report. While I would debate that -- isn't it responsibility of media to also report on veracity of police reports based on their own understanding? -- I'd rather have had my letter to the editor in response published. And it was, in the two local papers who reported the story:

To the editor: If it weren’t so common, I would be appalled at police reportage regarding the death of cyclist John Kavanagh, “Bicyclist dies after striking car door.” He did not strike a car door; he was struck by driver Zachary A. Field with a car door, resulting in Kavanagh’s death.

According to NH Motor Vehicle Statute 265:96 Opening and Closing Vehicle Doors — No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.

This death was not the cyclist’s fault, it was the driver’s fault for failing to make sure he wasn’t opening his door into traffic, in this case a cyclist riding in a bike lane. Mr. Field was negligent while operating his vehicle and is responsible for the death of John Kavanagh.

Cyclists: always remember to ride 4-6 feet away from parallel-parked cars along the side of the street, regardless of painted bike lanes.

Motorists: understand that when a cyclist in front of you is in the middle of the travel lane with parked cars to the right, they are doing it out of self-preservation and defensive driving, not to intentionally hold you up or bug you. Also, a glance to the mirrors and an over the shoulder check of your blind spot before opening your door may save a life.

This was a preventable tragedy. My feelings go out to those who knew and loved John Kavanagh.

Mike Conlon

Berwick, Maine


And it was heartening to get support from another writer:

I could not agree more with Mike Conlon's letter about the tragic death of John Kavanagh, who was struck in Durham by a car door an inattentive driver opened into a designated bike lane ("Motorist was negligent, resulting in cyclist's death," Aug. 23, Portsmouth Herald). Clearly, the driver did not check behind him; a fatal mistake. The boneheaded media coverage by both press and television suggests that Mr. Kavanagh just plowed into an open door and that he was responsible for his own death.

The media reporting of this accident reflects a generational ignorance of how cycling could be a safe, healthy alternative to driving. Policing often reflects this. I'm a cyclist, a motorist, and an advocate for improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. I gladly acknowledge the majority of drivers in the Seacoast who routinely give cyclists the wide berth they need. However, aggressive education is needed until cycling is a respected part of our culture (the same goes for walking). Drivers who have not been on a bike since they were 6 years old need to learn about safely negotiating the roads with cyclists. Municipalities should do everything they can to buffer cyclists young and old from vehicular traffic. Thanks to the efforts of the Portsmouth Planning Department and volunteer citizens, Portsmouth is about to embark on such an effort during the coming years.

Cyclists, too, need to improve their use of the roads. I see far too many parents misguiding their young children as they start out as road-using cyclists. They routinely ignore stop signs, red lights and directional imperatives. A concerted effort by all parties will help support the slow revolution that has already begun: reducing car journeys in favor of transportation which is healthier for citizens, communities and environment alike.

My thoughts also go to John Kavanagh's family and friends. I hope the driver is treated justly as the negligent party. As Mike Conlon says, these deaths are avoidable.

Gerald Duffy
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Old 09-12-14, 07:37 AM   #2
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The other part of all this I did not get into in my letter, is that the cyclist was riding in a painted bike lane... adjacent to parallel car parking. Classic FUBAR bikelane placement, which was part of a new traffic pattern instituted over the summer, before classes in this college town. Parking was expanded, the bike lane added, and the one way road went from two lanes to one. There were plenty of people who wrote letters to the editor slamming the bike lane in the door zone design.

Reaction from officials was that this was an engineered plan, planned to code and various guidelines. One town official was quoted as saying "If people wore helmets, less accidents would happen."

Net result: town has quickly reconfigured the road plan -- back to two lanes of traffic, but the right lane is now marked with sharrows. Kudos to them for taking action so quickly and removing a dangerous, lethal bike lane.
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Old 09-12-14, 08:42 AM   #3
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I attempted to leave a rebuttal comment on the linked site, and my comment was quickly deleted, leaving the last word standing from one commenter as cyclists being road hazards if they cannot maintain the speed limit.
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Old 09-12-14, 11:19 AM   #4
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Not a "freak accident" as described by the news cast but one that could be easily anticipated given the new design of the road. I'd be curious to know of the discussions during the design process, specifically if any one raised the possibility of the bike lane/door zone conflict.
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Old 09-12-14, 11:44 AM   #5
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Durham Police Deputy Chief Rene Kelley: "I don't know what the bicyclist or the driver could have done differently."

Seriously???

From the OP: "According to NH Motor Vehicle Statute 265:96 Opening and Closing Vehicle Doors — No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic."

I'll tell the uninformed Durham Police Deputy Chief what the driver could have done differently ... he could have obeyed the law.

I also find it beyond incredible that design standards exist anywhere in the world that allow bike lanes to be routed through door zones. What the hell are they thinking?

Think about the double standards that exist between bike infrastructure design and automobile infrastructure design. Imagine some type of stone pillar that could suddenly pop up in a travel lane and stop cars dead in their tracks and possibly kill all the car's occupants. Would this be permissable design? When opened, the car door in the video blocked one-half of the bike lane. Can you imagine a design that would allow something to suddenly appear and block one-half of the main travel lane that cars use? When it comes to cyclist safety, we are still very much second class citizens.

We can argue about vehicular cycling and whether we should have bike lanes at all, whether we should have separated facilities or some other design. Whatever school of thought you endorse one thing's for sure, cyclist safety is still a secondary consideration for far too many planners and engineers.

How many more must die so needlessly?
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Old 09-12-14, 01:48 PM   #6
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many states or towns are introducing bicycle awareness training for their police forces. sounds like a good town to include in that
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Old 09-12-14, 02:06 PM   #7
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The crappy AASHTO standards allow for the bike lane to be included in the twelve feet nearest the curb when there is adjacent parking. Since some motor vehicles can legally park and still have their open doors extend to twelve feet from the curb, this makes for quite a hazardous design. A half-measure improvement is found in the newer NACTO standards that recommend the parking plus bike lane extend to fifteen feet from the curb, which only leaves half the bike lane in the door zone. Sadly, the jurisdictions most likely to employ NACTO over AASHTO are also the ones that like to take out eighteen inches from the traffic side of the bike lane for a buffer hash.

We really need a national standard that places bike lanes entirely out of the door zones. Cities that try to look "bikey", like the one I am currently residing in, take great pride in squeezing in as many door-zone bike lanes as possible since that allows them to claim to have ever-more miles of bike lanes. Unfortunately, this gives cyclists the choice of playing the door-zone lottery or dealing with angry, entitled motorists who get furious at any cyclist who dares to eschew the dzbl and legally ride in the adjacent lane. All to often, former cyclists have chosen a lower hassle option: they simply give up on transportation cycling.
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Old 09-12-14, 02:51 PM   #8
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A half-measure improvement is found in the newer NACTO standards that recommend the parking plus bike lane extend to fifteen feet from the curb, which only leaves half the bike lane in the door zone.

My experience with a wider parking lane inside of the bike lane is that a lot of drivers make no attempt to get closer than 3 feet to the curb negating the intent to protect the bike lane.
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Old 09-12-14, 06:05 PM   #9
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My experience with a wider parking lane inside of the bike lane is that a lot of drivers make no attempt to get closer than 3 feet to the curb negating the intent to protect the bike lane.
Like everything to do with safety on our roadways relative to cars, enforcement is essential.
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Old 09-12-14, 06:38 PM   #10
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It seems to me the best compromise would be eliminating parallel parking on both sides of the road, and change it to diagonal parking on just one side. it eliminates the door hazard and backing lamps would give warning that a car is about to back out.
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Old 09-12-14, 07:09 PM   #11
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It seems to me the best compromise would be eliminating parallel parking on both sides of the road, and change it to diagonal parking on just one side. it eliminates the door hazard and backing lamps would give warning that a car is about to back out.
Diagonal parking can create serious line-of-sight problems. Consider a situation where you're parked in your little car and just to your right is a big pickup truck or a van that completely blocks your view. You start to back out but you won't really be able to see the oncoming traffic, be it car or cyclist, until you are well out into the traffic flow.

From a cyclist's perspective, you won't be able to see the car backing out until the back of the car clears the pickup truck or van. The risk is that you might not have any time to react at all. As you said, it's a compromise but parallel, on-street parking seems safer to me.
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Old 09-12-14, 11:07 PM   #12
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Diagonal parking can create serious line-of-sight problems. Consider a situation where you're parked in your little car and just to your right is a big pickup truck or a van that completely blocks your view. You start to back out but you won't really be able to see the oncoming traffic, be it car or cyclist, until you are well out into the traffic flow.

From a cyclist's perspective, you won't be able to see the car backing out until the back of the car clears the pickup truck or van. The risk is that you might not have any time to react at all. As you said, it's a compromise but parallel, on-street parking seems safer to me.
I've encountered it in a few locations, not a perfect solution, but it seems better to me.
I sincerely doubt we will ever see a widespread ideal "solution" for the urban environment other than using our own judgment, move out of the danger zone when we can, and slow down when we can't.
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