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Cyclist speaks: ‘I was doored!’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A driver’s carelessness in opening a car door — not a collision with another vehicle, as witnesses reported — caused a serious cycling accident on Sixth Avenue last week, according to the biker who broke a hip and an arm in the ugly crash.

Witnesses originally reported that 60-year-old rider Stan Baum had been sideswiped by a car, but Baum told us on Monday that he slammed to the pavement after a driver opened his car door into him.

Baum, a long-time biker, remains at New York Methodist Hospital, where he is recovering from hip-replacement surgery and a broken left arm. He doesn’t remember anything after he hit the roadway in the Nov. 8 crash — but he does know what caused it.

“The guy opened his door right into me,” said Baum, who was between St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place en route to his family when the car door flung open.

“There was nothing I could do,” said the city Sanitation worker, who was riding with head and tail lights.

Baum’s elbow and left hip shattered when he hit the street. Witnesses thought he had been struck by a car because the driver of another vehicle got our and talked to Baum before driving off.

“But two people knew that wasn’t the case — me and there was the person who opened that door,” he said. While Baum crumpled in pain, the car-door opener slinked away into the night.

“I would appreciate if the driver would get in touch; his or her insurance could help me out a little bit,” said Baum. “I’m not sure it’s right they just melted away like that.”

A spokeswoman for the bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives reminded that it’s illegal to open a car door without looking. The spokeswoman, Caroline Samponaro, said that three fatal dooring incidents this year — in the Bronx, Harlem, and the September crash that killed Jasmine Herron on Atlantic Avenue — as evidence that the law is being ignored.

“To call dooring an accident is a misnomer,” said Samponaro. “It’s a preventable collision. And it’s the responsibility of the driver.”

The best way for motorists to avoid dooring a cyclist is to simply look before opening the door, Samponaro said. Cyclists can avoid doors by claiming an entire lane, which is legal, but most riders would rather not anger drivers by getting in the way.

Baum took his first steps this Monday. He hopes that his recovery will draw attention to the dooring crisis.

“If all goes well, I will ride again. I will play guitar again. I will be close to who I was, and that’s to be thankful for,” he said. “But the short term is nine miles of hard road. I would just like to raise awareness.”

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Reasonable discourse

Joey P. from Greenpoint says:
Excuse me, but I just had to comment. As an experienced bike commuter I want people to know that drivers DO NOT check for bikes before opening their doors, and probably never will. Law or no law. Fact of life. To avoid getting doored keep your eyes on the cars in your path. If you see either a driver or passenger on your side of the street assume they will open their door and move a foot or two over while being mindful of the cars behind you. Not easy, sure, but that's biking in the big city. As far as the driver not stopping to offer assistance, that's another matter.
Nov. 17, 2010, 8:01 am
Al from Park Slope says:
I applaud you Joey P. for explaining that bike riders should have a defensive mentality. Being an experienced defensive car driver in brooklyn, it is getting harder and harder to anticipate both bikers and pedestrians that seem to come out of nowhere. Especially on 6th Ave.

A big problem I always notice are the bikers that dont want to wait for traffic and start weaving all over the road to get by, like when a car is waiting to turn for example. When riding on the street, a bike rider is supposed to adhere to the same traffic rules that cars do. When you don't, you put everyone at risk as it is impossible for someone exiting a car to see you in their sideview mirror because you were in the middle of the street 3 seconds ago and not where you should be riding, in the sight of a drivers mirror.

While Im at it, why is it that when Im parellel parking a car, there is always a pedestrian that decides to get off the sidewalk ant stand right in the middle of the spot WHILE MAY CAR IS MOVING BACKWARDS RIGHT INTO YOUR PATH. Some defensive pedestrian sense would be great as well, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE HOLDING A CHILDS HAND.
Nov. 17, 2010, 9:14 am
Larry Littlefield from Windsor Terrace says:
This is exactly why I want to use the new Prospect Park West bike path to ride northbound, rather than ride on 8th Avenue as its opponents would prefer. Eighth Avenue is equally narrow.

My daughter and I once tried to ride to church on 8th Avenue. I kept yelling for her to move to the center away from the doors, but she was more terrified of the cars whizzing by and honking. She didn't want to ride anywhere for a while after that.

There are two places where I've run into seriously dangerous agressive drivers -- 8th Avenue and Downtown Brooklyn. Using a PPW route, I avoid both 8th Avenue and Downtown Brooklyn entirely.

Cyclists need routes that allow them to ride four feet from the cars without running the risk of being nailed on the other side by a passing SUV mirror.
Nov. 17, 2010, 9:17 am
Gary from Park Slope says:
Of course bicyclist must ride defensively. But the laws of physics tell us that bicyclists and pedestrians do not come out of nowhere. If you think they do, you are not paying enough attention. Please look before opening a car door.
Nov. 17, 2010, 9:36 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
No excuse for the driver to door the biker, but how many avenues have bike lanes, and why was he on the avenue that does not have a bike lane????
Nov. 17, 2010, 10:19 am
Chris Mcnally from Crown Heights says:
This was a good, informative article! I hope Stan has a full recovery, but it is a tough road of rehab for him. I remember my first bike ride 5 months after breaking my leg. It was a year before I could run.

I take 6th ave in Park Slope all the time. Like any driver I take the road that goes to where I need to go. The only bike lane in the area is 5th ave, which is out of the way, and like 7th ave is full of double parked cars which makes for a cyclist obstacle course. On the other hand, 6th ave , because it is two way and residential has very few double parked cars. The problem is though that it is narrow and cyclists are forced to ride too close to the parked cars putting them in danger of being doored. There is no way to see inside cars to know this is about to happen. you have to keep 5 feet away from car doors or you will end up like poor Stan or worse. Drivers have to be more accommodating and stop honking at us for doing so.
Nov. 17, 2010, 10:54 am
trace from park slope says:
we need bike skyways...Should be constructed with public transit money..
Nov. 17, 2010, 11:14 am
Brooklyn from Kensington says:
I ride a stretch of 6th Ave daily on my bike. My defensive tactic is to take the entire lane - the traffic lights on 6th are timed so no one's going anywhere fast anyway.

At the same time, I feel for this guy --even a few seconds in the door zone are too many; it can really come out of nowhere.

And I agree with Larry above -- this, right here, is the best reason of all to keep the bike lane on PPW.
Nov. 17, 2010, 11:33 am
also from crown heights says:
It's worth noting that dooring a cyclist is also against the law in New York.

Not that any citizen alone has the power to get the NYPD to issue a citation to any driver who hits or kills a pedestrian or a cyclist.... but that's another story.
Nov. 17, 2010, 11:40 am
Bruce from Montague Street says:
First thing to say about the idea that bikers don't occupy a lane because they want to "not anger drivers by getting in the way." Well, that's partly true, but it's the next step that's actually at issue: They don't want drivers to try and kill them. I got doored once. The cop looked at me and asked, "What do you want me to do about it?" Great attitude, eh?
Nov. 17, 2010, 12:45 pm
Or from Yellow Hook says:
"Like any driver I take the road that goes to where I need to go. The only bike lane in the area is 5th ave, which is out of the way"

That would explain why bikers ride the wrong way and blow thru lights.
Nov. 17, 2010, 2:42 pm
Bob Scott from Brooklyn says:
Why are bikers on Sixth Avenue when we have (to the annoyance of many) a protected lane on PPW. (There's also a bike lane — although pretty dangerous, I think — on Fifth Avenue.)
Nov. 17, 2010, 4:23 pm
Bob from PLG says:
Why isn't this being treated as a hit and run accident and why aren't the Police looking for the criminal who fled the scene of the accident?
Nov. 17, 2010, 5:28 pm
common sense from bay ridge says:
I've been trying to get in the habit of opening my car door an inch after looking, just in case I miss seeing a biker in my rear view mirror. I figure that second will give the biker a chance to let me know that they are there before I open my door all the way.

Another problem is that some cars have really small, crappy mirrors. Maybe it's time to have stricter rules for rear view mirrors, make a law that they have to be a certain size, and that they are usable.

I was always afraid of getting hit by a truck if I open my door without looking, that is just as likely as dooring a biker. Now I'm afraid of both.

When I'm on a bike, I'm not going to be near any car doors, bike lanes be damned.

P.S. @ Bob from PLG. I'm sure it's being treated at least as leaving the scene of an accident. I'm not sure how the laws work considering that the car was not moving at the time.
Nov. 17, 2010, 6:44 pm
common sense from bay ridge says:
@BobScott: Bikes are allowed on any road. If everyone has a little common courtesy, meaning bikers stay to the right if possible, and cars only pass them when it's safe, it should work ok.

Personally, I think the protected bike lanes are a sad statement. If everyone didn't behave like savages on the road, we would all be able to share them.
Nov. 17, 2010, 6:54 pm
Bob Scott from Brooklyn says:
@common sense— you are correct, of course. but bikers should pick one: expensive and (to some) annoying bike lanes, or street shares. sharing the streets, ultimately, is a better choice. now, can't we all just get along?
Nov. 17, 2010, 7:16 pm
Kings County from Flatlands says:
Get well soon!
Nov. 18, 2010, 1:41 pm

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