It was bound to happen sooner or later: After five years of biking in D.C., I finally got doored.
I was biking home from work yesterday evening on 11th Street NW, when the passenger-side door of the car on my left swung open into the bike lane. I had maybe a quarter of a second to react, during which time I probably swerved slightly to the right, because next thing I knew, my body had flown into the parked car on my right and hit the ground.
I got up and looked myself and my bike up and down, and everything seemed to be fine: I didn’t see any cuts or bruises on my hands or knees, or on my trusty Trek. The guy who had opened the door was genuinely apologetic, and I found myself in the strange position of feeling bad for him. It was his birthday, it turned out, and he was hopping out of the car to join friends for a birthday dinner at Meridian Pint. He said he was a cyclist himself, and he gave me his number and left a note on the windshield of the parked car whose door I had dented in.
And I, checking myself once again for any injuries, told him I was miraculously OK, shook his hand, got back on my bike, and went home.
It wasn’t until I reached into my freezer to put some ice on my slightly bruised knuckles that I realized there was blood on my shirt. Turned out I must’ve caught the edge of the car door on my way down, and there was a painless but pretty wide gash on my left shoulder.
Eight hours in the Howard University Hospital emergency room and five stitches later, I was back home, left to ponder what lessons I could draw from the experience.
The most salient one is to avoid that hospital like the plague—-there’s a reason it’s been hemorrhaging patients in recent years. (As I calculated around hour seven, I could probably fly to Canada, get treated, fly back, and grab dinner at Toki Underground in the time it took me just to see a doctor in the Howard ER.) And as a car passenger, I’ll be extra-super-duper careful when opening my door into the bike lane, or better yet, I’ll encourage the driver to pull over before letting people out.
But as a biker? I’m afraid there’s not much I can change. I was riding at a moderate speed, in a bike lane, wearing a helmet, and it was light out. The unfortunate reality is that these things happen from time to time. How often, we don’t really know. Sure, there’s a Twitter account tracking struck cyclists and pedestrians, and there’s a map of bike accidents for which police crash reports are written up—-but my accident wasn’t recorded in the former and won’t appear in the latter. Anecdotally, I can say that just about every regular longtime biker I know has gotten doored or sideswiped or caught in the streetcar tracks at some point, but how often this truly happens in the city remains a mystery.
I just hope accidents like mine don’t discourage people from biking. The one sure way to improve driver and passenger behavior around bikers is to increase their awareness, which comes with more biking.
Today I took a break from biking, inching my way down to the office on the 14th Street bus. Tomorrow I’ll be back in the saddle.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery