Uber, Lyft act to reduce ‘dooring’ injuries to bicyclists in the US


Dooring incidents have increased in recent years, along with the surge of Uber and Lyft usage, said Weiss. — TNS

Dooring incidents have increased in recent years, along with the surge of Uber and Lyft usage, said Weiss. — TNS

A ride-hailing car swoops into the right lane, double parks and a passenger thrusts open the door as he prepares to jump out. The door strikes a passing bicyclist, throwing her onto the pavement. 

Scenarios like that have become increasingly common as Uber and Lyft grow in popularity. Now both companies are actively alerting drivers and riders in San Francisco and other cities to exercise care to avoid “dooring”, the term for opening a car door into a cyclist’s path. 

“Dooring is among the top reasons bicyclists are injured in San Francisco,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We’ve been talking to Uber and Lyft about this for years. But once they each acquired a bike-share company, they started to get serious.” 

Last year, Uber acquired Jump Bikes while Lyft bought Motivate, the company behind the Ford GoBikes. Neither company relished “the prospect of someone who’s riding one of their bikes being injured by someone getting out of one of their cars”, Wiedenmeier said. 

Uber and Lyft are sending in-app messages to drivers that stopping in bike lanes is a safety hazard and illegal in most cities, and encouraging them to do pickups and drop-offs elsewhere. 

Uber this week began reminding riders and drivers in the US and Canada to use the “Dutch Reach” when they get out, opening the car door with the farther-away hand, which causes the rider’s head to pivot toward the window so she can look over her shoulder for bikes and scooters. Lyft started promoting the same technique last month in 22 cities, including San Francisco. Lyft also is distributing window decals that say “Look for bikes & scooters”. 

“As we become a truly multimodal network that includes bikes and scooters, we are in a unique position to influence safety on our streets,” Lyft wrote in a blog post. 

“Increasing awareness of safe behaviour increases safety,” Uber wrote in a blog post. 

Uber will send in-app alerts to drivers and riders in San Francisco, New York, Washington and Toronto when an upcoming drop-off is near a bike lane. 

Elizabeth Gjelten of San Francisco, who relies on her bike and public transit to get around, said she was doored by an Uber passenger two years ago on 16th Street. 

“A car in front of me didn’t signal, stopped in traffic and suddenly the door opened and I hit it,” she said. 

She suffered a chest contusion, a painful injury that took more than six weeks to heal, during which she couldn’t ride her bike and had trouble sleeping. Still, “I was lucky that I was going slowly,” she said. 

She took a taxi home from the hospital and was impressed that it had warnings to prevent dooring. 

“There was a sign saying ‘Look before you get out’ and a little rearview mirror on the window so you could see if anyone’s coming,” she said. 

Door incidents are particularly prevalent on some corridors, Megan Wier of the San Francisco Department of Public Health said in an email. Almost half of cyclist injuries on Valencia Street were from dooring, double-parking or vehicle parking manoeuvres, with dooring alone accounting for a quarter of Valencia injuries. 

An analysis of police data from 2011-15 showed more than 300 cyclist injuries from dooring or parking manoeuvres, but the department thinks many bicyclist injuries are not reported to police. 

Dooring incidents have increased in recent years, along with the surge of Uber and Lyft usage, said Michelle Weiss, managing attorney at Bay Area Bicycle Law, which handles personal-injury cases for bicyclists. 

Injured bicyclists sometimes report that ride-hailing drivers drive away after a dooring incident, assuming it’s not their responsibility but actually making it a hit-and-run, she said. 

“I was pleasantly surprised to hear they are starting to take measures to avoid these” collisions, Weiss said. “It’s shocking how many calls we get about them, especially considering how preventable they are.” – The San Francisco Chronicle/Tribune News Service