To The Bicyclist Who Was Doored, The Driver Who Doored Her, And The Bikers Who Didn't Help

(Janet Lee/Flickr)

(Janet Lee/Flickr)

While biking to work this morning, I saw something happen that’s all too common in Boston: A driver opened her car door into the bike lane without looking. As you might’ve guessed, a biker in front of me, unable to avoid the door in the split second after its opening, slammed into the door, flipped over, and landed very hard on her shoulder.

Now, I had never been close enough to really call myself a witness — maybe just a passerby who saw only the impact, but never enough to see who was at fault. This time, however, I saw it all. And there were a few things I saw that really irked me.

First, the way the driver behaved after the accident was unacceptable. And it really suggests only one thing: an honest lack of understanding of the law regarding motorists’ responsibility to bikers and bike lanes. So, to be clear, this is what the law states, from Chapter 90, Section 14 of the Massachusetts General Laws regarding Motor Vehicles and Aircraft:

No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.

It’s really that simple. And the police officers who arrived on the scene agreed. The opening of the driver’s door caused the accident. The driver is at fault, which I’m sure will be good news to the victim since she said she’s a massage therapist who relies on the use of her hands and arms to make a living — and thus could likely be out of work for a while.

So to the woman who was “doored” on her bike near St. Paul Street and Commonwealth Avenue, rest assured: You are not at fault. I made a statement to the police assuring them that you were not at fault in the slightest.

And that brings me to my next point.

Of the four bikers who saw the accident, only a guy named Will and myself stayed until the ambulance came. Soon after it arrived, however, Will had to leave, admitting he hadn’t seen the accident well enough to feel it would help if he stuck around. Otherwise, not one of the other witnesses stayed to help. In fact, one of them — the biker who rode directly behind the victim when the accident happened — didn’t even get off of his bike before saying, “Which one of you guys is going to take care of her?” Mind you, the woman was still lying in the street, crying, and writhing in pain.

And while his question was bad enough, the silence after the question was even worse. Almost no one bothered to swing their leg over their bike frame and help. Almost no one stayed until the ambulance came and no one else stayed to give a police report.

I understand we live in a city and we’re trying to get from point A to point B with as few obstacles as possible. But there are obstacles and then there are people. People who actually need your help and might be saved a lot of grief if you just stuck around for 15 minutes. As I said, the woman who was hit is a massage therapist. She makes her living on the ability to move her shoulders, arms and hands. If no one had been there to back up the biker, the driver — who tried to leave after suggesting she just leave her name and number — would have taken off without making a statement to the police, stiffing the biker with the cost of an ambulance and other costs incurred as a result of the accident.

I think the lessons learned from this experience are two-fold, and this goes to both motorists and bicyclists alike: Familiarize yourself with Massachusetts law regarding bikes, bike lanes and motorist responsibilities, and for goodness sake don’t avoid doing what’s right just because it’s inconvenient. Be a Good Samaritan when you get the chance. It’s often more important than you think.

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  • A Casual Observer

    Hi Hurrdurr – Nope, not in a mental facility and don’t belong there. I did read the article…the 35 mph figure was provided by another reader in a personal response. Since I don’t have his/her e-mail, I can’t reply any other way but publically here. I’m sure hearing it from others who think that most cyclists follow the laws. Not in my experience they don’t, and then we’re into a he said, s/he said, which gets no one anywhere. I did read what someone wrote about how the law reads…problem is, that’s all most people in Boston do…they read the laws, then ignore them. When that changes, exchanges such as these will be minimalized.

  • A Casual Observer

    Hi Jonathan – Nice level comment, unlike most of mine (among others). I know speed wasn’t the issue here…and it’s correct that the driver should be cited and should pay for the rider’s medical bills. My gripe is with the cyclist types (from several of whom I am hearing) who do things like whistle to try to get someone’s attention instead of slowing down. They are not immune, and when they layer rudeness on top of it, the willingness of the public to endure riders decreases.

  • A Casual Observer

    Hi Dotrider – No question that a driver who doors a bike is wrong. None at all. I was just ranting at select replies (to me) who basically upheld the historic position that cyclists can do anything they want. I also read an article about a SF cyclist who killed someone last week who basicly said, “There was no way for me to stop; I was going 35, the light changed, and all these people *stepped in front of me!* What was I supposed to do?” Um, not go downhill on some of the steepest hills in the US? It’s really not brain surgery….but Boston is a place where too many people think it’s their god-given right to do whatever they want. Violates the social contract all over the place, and that’s what makes certain places a real drag to live in.

    • Hasben

      If the cyclist wants the right to use the road as a vehicle, he is responsible for being in control of that vehicle, just as motorists must control their cars. 

      • Callenwo

         Hasben– re-read the story; it is against the law for the motorist to open a door into a bike lane when a cyclist is there.  The motorist broke the law and hurt someone as a result.  Period.  Should you, a motorist, be responsible for handling your car when another car runs a light and hits you?  No.  This is the same thing.  It is against the law to act as the motorist did.  Period.

  • mf

    Maybe bikers should have insurance if they are going to be on thoroughfares too

    • http://www.facebook.com/Scott.McElhiney Redorblack Nigelbottom

       And right on cue… story about a motorist being at fault for and accident involving a cyclist… and someone wants the cyclists to be insured.  What sort of victims insurance do they need mf since the next statement is usually… they run red lights or other complaints that have absolutely NOTHING to do with the accident at hand… and usually don’t.

    • Joyrider

      That’s a flip remark. What are you suggesting, that 10 year old bicyclists carry insurance? Come on, be real.

      • Anonymous

        How many 10 year olds ride bikes on busy city streets?  It might be a good idea for them to be insured by their parents.

  • Markcobrien

    The last time I checked, Boston still holds the title as the worst city in America for drivers to navigate. Add to that the fact that being a pedestrian in our city seems to grant one a license to walk pretty much where ever and when ever one wishes no matter the traffic in addition to watching out for people riding bikes and it’s no wonder we get the reputation for being really nasty drivers! Drivers and Bike riders both need to have a lot of patience with one another in Boston. Accidents will happen. Insurance for Bikers who ride in traffic sounds like a very smart idea.

    • Hasben

      I’ve ridden in all the major cities.  I’ve heard all the complaints, but found that generally, courtesy is respected and repaid. 

  • Melimuffin

    Any news on how the biker is?  The lack of compassion and common courtesy breaks my heart.  As a massage therapist myself, it’s devastating to have your livelihood involuntarily taken away from you in a situation that could have been avoided in the first place.   

    • Nate Goldman

      Hi Melimuffin –

      Yes, I received word from the biker’s lawyer and they are in the process of settling the incident in court. Expect a follow up story in the coming weeks. Thanks for your concern!


  • Wingedunicorn0205

    we were out riding a few weeks ago with a LARGE group, over 40 cyclists, when 4-5 guys went down [no car involved, just wheels touching. my BF and I were behind the group, saw the crash, and were the only two that stopped to help one guy who had a separated shoulder, really scared [from out of town too] verge of shock. then two of our mountain bike friends rode up, one went to get the EMTs while other went to look for guy’s friends.  we waited 30 or 40 minutes for the ambulance, for the guy’s friends to come with a car to get his bike, etc etc.  it made me ashamed that we were the only ones helping this guy.

    • http://twitter.com/easyashell Ed Ellis

      Generation Cupcake On the Move ! Rehearsing Opera as they glory in their entitled status….MEMEMEMEMEEME!

  • walkingkat

    This is highly unfortunate but doesn’t change the fact that many drivers are so inconsiderate of bikers because the same is true of bikers to drivers. As both a frequent pedestrian and driver, I see regularly bikers not know they should not be riding on sidewalks, need to stay in the bike lane, and neglect to signal to drivers when they are turning, changing lanes etc. Not to mention the amount of times I see cars using bike lanes as a new lane just for them. My favorite however is bikers frequently blowing through red lights and nearly running over pedestrians (myself included) when we have a walk sign, because they think they have the right of way always.  It would be nice if either the BPD or some city arm would spend time and maybe a little money on a conscientious commuter campaign. So much money is spend on educating T riders, it would be nice to see some literature reminding drivers and cyclists alike to respect each other and pedestrians.

    • walkingkat


    • Anonymous

      there is a lot of dummy behavior by bikers. and also a lot of dummy behaviors by drivers. the difference, drivers are often endangering OTHER people while the pedestrians and bikes mostly endanger themselves. occasionally, a bike will be whipping super fast and slam full on into a pedestrian, injuring or even killing them. but for the most part we should be able to admit that driving is a bigger responsibility than walking or biking, because your mistake could quite easily kill someone

  • http://chainreading.com/profile/baiskeli Baiskeli

    That is pretty sad, and I’m sad on one stopped. You did a good thing, and sounds like the cop who responded to the scene did their job.I hope the cyclist heals okay. Being doored is always a possibility, so I’m always on the lookout for it.

  • Anonymous

    I saw two cyclists crash into each other.  No one appeared to be hurt and it was entertaining watching them yell.  I’m tired of dodging bikes on the sidewalks, running red lights, and going the wrong way on streets. 

    • Anonymous

      i am frustrated with those things too. and I RIDE A BIKE. bikers are just more people.  some of us are more thoughtful than others. many drivers are very courteous to me, and others are a nightmare. we ALL ought to think about being more courteous.

  • Anonymous

    I worked as a bike messenger for 5 years and currently use my bike to get around.  I know three cyclists who have been killed by motorists.  I have been doored many times and more often than not the party at fault, who opened their door without looking, takes an aggressive tone, off-put by the situation and showing more concern for their car than the injured party.  I hate to say it but the culture in this city regarding cyclists is barbaric.  The cyclist must anticipate what everyone else, motorists and pedestrians, are doing (often when they are jaywalking and running lights and stops signs, John.)  Just because the city slapped down some white paint for bike lanes does not make Boston a bicycle-friendly city.  Often those “lanes” are often filled with gravel wash, broken glass and debris and are not maintained as proper bike lanes.  The culture here must change and motorists must recognize cyclists as legitimate travelers on the road.  It’s the law.

    • Jwaltz

      Wow, you got doored once and continued to ride in the door zone for another few bashes? 

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