Featured Post

Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Rhode Island Needs to Educate Drivers About Dooring

RHODE ISLAND NEEDS TO START educating drivers about dooring.  Although it recently fixed errors in its DMV manual that had said that cyclists needed to stay on the sidewalk, it still more or less leaves drivers with the (erroneous) impression that cyclists must always stay to the right.

Here's what the DMV manual does say:
Although techically, someone could read this and come away with something approaching an understanding of the law, the wording of this is awful.  Cyclists are given their rights as a negation here.  Instead of forthrightly saying that cyclists can take a lane just like any other vehicle, it treats cyclists' choice to ride anywhere but on the right side of the road as an unusual aberration.  It also does virtually nothing to explain what would constitute unsafe conditions to be on the righthand side in the first place.

Although you could fit a bike between the white truck and the parked cars here, it would be neither safe nor legal.

Today I rediscovered the annoyance this can present when a motorist got behind me and my partner on Washington Street and honked at us for taking the lane.  On Washington, it's safest to ride down the middle of the lane, because of the parked cars.  And in fact, not doing so is technically illegal.  But the motorist in question didn't know this.  Maybe she read the DMV manual.

After expressing her annoyance at our presence in the road, she sped through Kennedy Plaza, bursting through two crosswalks where pedestrians were trying to cross, and then almost hitting someone trying to get across Exchange Street.  We yielded to the pedestrians, but still ended up catching up to her at the light with Memorial.  In other words, ironically, she gained absolutely nothing in terms of driving time by being obnoxious. 

I tapped on the window and attempted to calmly explain this to her, but got very little traction with my argument.  As conversations with motorists go, it was relatively productive.  The lady didn't curse me out or threaten me by revving her engine at me.  But because the DMV manual implies that cyclists have to stay to the right, she just stonewalled me by saying that I was wrong.

Dooring does have serious impacts at times, and so I hope RIDOT will take it seriously.  I personally broke my collar bone and needed two surgeries because of a dooring incident in Philadelphia.  In my case, the police refused to give me a police report, because they insisted that I was at fault for the accident and wanted to protect (in their words) the other driver.  More recently, in Chicago, a cyclist was doored, and then run over by a second motorist, and ended up with "a cracked skull, broken shoulder blades and hip, 23 cracked ribs and a punctured lung," according to Streetsblog Chicago.  The second motorist fled the scene and has not been located, while Chicago Police--perhaps trying to humorously demonstrate my point that most people don't know the law--cited the first driver for "falling to yield to a horse".

It would be great to see Rhode Island get ahead of Illinois and Pennsylvania on driver education.


  1. I've always thought cyclists getting doored comes from not feeling comfortable taking the center of a lane and riding farther to the right than is safe. And it's hard to blame them when they get honked at any time they're in the middle of a lane. It needs to be made clear that it's OK for a cyclist to ride in the middle of a lane and there should be strong enforcement against honking at a bike (it's SO loud when you're not encased in metal and glass).

    Certainly a dooring law would be helpful, but most Rhode Island drivers suffer from the common problem of being completely bewildered when encountering bikes on the road. Hopefully getting more total bikes out on the road will help this a bit, but even that faces some pretty structural difficulties.

    1. Our first comment! Woot!

      Thanks for the support.

  2. RIBike worked with the DMV to completely re-write all sections related to bicyclist in their drivers manual. The changes should be included in the next printing of the manual... stay tuned.