Following up on earlier post about death-by-dooring in Melbourne

Via twitter and email, I’m being asked to point to the line in the coroner’s report, where Garry Brennan of The Bicycle Network, blames the cyclist, James Cross, for his own death by dooring. Look on page 6: “[t]here are clearly riders of less experience and with an undeveloped spatial sense of safe positioning in the bike lane.”

http://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/resources/3/6/36f3f70049020dfcb4bdfec4cdff2827/jamesbernardcross_104110.pdf

Subsequent advice betrays Gary’s own habit, of riding to the extreme outer edge of the bike lane, with his left shoulder exactly(??) 900mm from parked cars, and his right shoulder out in the car lane—but then only when bike lanes are wide enough to allow this, as only most of them are. It is only due to sheer luck that people like Garry (and me) have lived to develop the experience and spatial sense needed to walk this fine wire. Even then, our luck may run out.

James Cross was a victim of criminally negligent design standards, still applied by Australian road engineers. Assuming Australia follows America’s lead, as we have since WW2, we should at least do what many American cities have done, and paint meter wide buffers between parked cars and road-side bike lanes. Alternatively, if we want bike modal shares higher than America’s 1% average, we will eat even more into driving space, with protected bike lanes, of the kind we know potential cyclists are waiting for. And while we’re battling herd politics for a safe slice of main street, we should take even greater advantage of every waterway, rail easement and park, to build off road paths where we can. If you leave a comment that betrays your own ignorance, it won’t appear. My blog isn’t your school.

16 Comments

  1. @CycleTerrorist says:

    The fact is, James Cross was killed by inappropriate use of a motor vehicle. Where was Mrs. Richards’ experience as a driver coming to play in this? Any experienced driver, not taking driving for granted, looks and looks again before opening their car door.

    Mrs Richards, was upset by the incident, certainly, but the police should have charged her with the relevant offences. She “was aware of the bike marker” and knew it meant “bikes would be driving down there.” While I feel for her for the shock of what a seemingly inconsequential act could cause, for the police to exercise discretion was to deny justice its course.

    Police discretion is the very definition of a police state. In a just, rule-of-law society, the courts are there to examine the merits of incidents, the police role is to investigate incidents, and not “rule” on them. When police officers let people off, they create an inequity between those charged and those not charged. The police in Victoria are noted for an allegedly bigoted culture and, here is yet another example of it – motorist “not guilty” and cyclist “guilty” – and this culture has perverted the coronial process.

    • Steven says:

      All true, but, this is not the discussion we need to have. Penalising human error won’t stop it. Recent deaths on the pacific highway have led to calls for a dual carriageway, not more police or driver-revivers. Dooring incidents highlight the need for protected bike lanes (ideally), or else compromise solutions, such as door-zone buffers, or 20k zones that allow cyclists to occupy the whole road.

  2. Jose says:

    I think that the relevant section is on page 8,
    “A person must not cause a hazard to any person by opening a door of a vehicle … (rule 269 Victorian Road Safety Rules 2009)”

    The ambivalence shown about this rule scares the f*ck out of me.

    • @CycleTerrorist says:

      I agree Jose. Where police have authority to exercise discretion just ice dies.

      And, Steven, while charging one motorist won’t make a difference to past or future, requiring police to act strictly according to the letter of the law will see bookings rise as fast as doorings and the motoring public will suddenly care enough to look first, simply because they won’t want a big fine and a (potential) loss of licence. We have to believe in deterrence or rule-of law can’t work at all.

  3. @CycleTerrorist says:

    I hasten to add that, while I’ve been near doored many times, I’d still rather be on the traffic side of parked cars than the footpath side. The footpath side leaves no escape, unless it’s at footpath level and, where I’m crossing a junction and a motorist behind me plans to turn left, because the parked cars hide me, even though I have legal right-of-way, I still have to give way because I can’t assume the motorist will have seen me behind the parked cars.

    If we go Copenhell everywhere in Melbourne, we’ll replace doorings with either junction knockdowns or cycling journeys will take twice as long as they do now because cyclists will, just from common sense have to give way to everything. For me, with a 15km commute in and 20km out, that means an hour each way (and 3x the energy burn from all the extra stop/start) instead of 35 minutes each way.

    • Steven says:

      Your quick long trip to town is important. But so is the city kid’s need for safe bike trips in town. It’s this old chestnut that has led to the recommendations you’ll find in earlier posts.

  4. @CycleTerrorist says:

    And I reckon we’re best served by making it as hard to own a car as it is for the inexperienced to cycle safely currently. A longer, harder fight, but worthier 🙂

    • Steven says:

      Like fighting for any minority rights, fighting to hinder driving to enhance cycling can’t be achieved by democratic process. What actual acts of civil disobedience have you incited? My advice would be to study those that worked in places like Holland, Denmark, and perhaps San Francisco. Less talk and more action my friend (unless you’re a psycho, in which case, I never knew you).

  5. […] not enforced if it is a motorist who is at fault (for a recent example of this in Australia, see this discussion and read the coroner’s report if you like – an instance of a cyclist killed and no […]

  6. Vicki says:

    The outcome of this report amazes me, that no charges are laid after a death and at least one transgression of the law is apparent. To be upset after such an incident has been a mitigating factor here for the car doorer. Alternatively, why aren’t the authorities’ actions being held liable in creating this situation?

  7. Lukas Junker says:

    Regarding the copenhell comment and junction knockdowns, I do not know any stats, but lived in Denmark for a couple of years. I was astonished at how terrified car drivers were of bikes. I learned, that while they are at times hard to see on their seperate bike lane, their right of way remains intact. So if turning right (remember: Denmark), the car driver has to make absolutely sure not to have missed a cyclist. I was told that in a collision between a bike and a car, the driver of the car will be found at fault pritty much at all times, which explains their jumpy nerves. I did not like the seperate bike paths either, and stuck mostly to back streets to get around my town (Aarhus). The alternative view and judgement of responsibility, combined with its driver educational effect however was most impressive and would likely follow even in Australia, if we could get the kids and young teenagers out of Mum’s car and back on their bikes.
    Most annoying about the bike lanes along bigger streets with traffic lights was turning left, when you have to get two green lights to get diagonally across a street from the bike lane. Safely.

    • @CycleTerrorist says:

      And that “fear of cyclists” in Europe is a cultural difference that brings segregated cycling undone in Australia. I don’t care how green the road paint, there’s no way I’d ride through without giving way to everything while riding behind parked cars, yet when out in a lane next to traffic, I’m confident I’ll be seen and do ride through. In Europe I’d probably ride like the locals, so in Australia, where the local drivers are dressed like gods, I want to be visible to them so that SMIDSY holds no water.

      Infrastructure is important, but recognising the dysfunctional car culture in Australia and mitigating that first is more important. Segregated lanes just entrench the mindset in motorists (and many cyclists) that we’re second class citizens and should know our place, when really, our place is on the road with as much respect as any human.

  8. Lukas Junker says:

    On a different note, my wife once attempted ‘dooring’ a truck on Maitland Rd, Islington. She got fined about $600.00 and had to get a new door. Needless to say, the truck (and luckily my wife) were just fine. Would she have been better off dooring a cyclist?

    • @CycleTerrorist says:

      And that’s the very injustice in a nutshell. The Police charged her for opening her door in front of a truck, so why is a cyclist any different? One law for “them” another for “us.” Now, I’m totally opposed to Us v Them approaches, but not when it comes to how law is enforced.

      Dooring is on the rise because the police don’t enforce. By not enforcing it, there’s no message of deterrance. Without deterrance, motorists won’t think about what they do. Not just dooring, but any road rule. It’s up to the courts to decide guilt or no case, not the police.

    • Steven says:

      Man, you’re not scary at all. I want to see ACTION! Maybe letters to politicians aren’t quite you’re style, but posting blog comments? When did Bin Laden do that!

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