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Chicago cyclists riding in streets without designated bike lanes ride inches away from parked cars and their doors.

Experts struggle to explain decline in “dooring” reports

by Vince Dixon
Oct 30, 2012



Dooring data from 2010 to October 2012 show a drastic increase in reports in 2011 and significant drop in 2012. City officials and analysts say more state data needs to be gathered  to know why. Click on image to see full-size chart.

It’s a peril cyclists face every day: a car door suddenly swings open into their pathway, knocking them into the air and often breaking bones, or worse.  

Those bicycle-car encounters, known as "dooring," made headlines earlier this month when 32-year-old cyclist Neill Townsend was struck and killed by a truck as he swerved to avoid a car door on the city’s North Side.

Although hundreds of doorings occur in the city each year, reliable figures are hard to come by. Analyzing exactly how widespread such collisions are in Chicago is a challenge, according to state transportation officials and bicycling groups, because dooring data has only been collected in Illinois for less than two years.

Beginning this summer, the number of crash reports involving dooring began to drop significantly, but experts aren’t sure why.

Spokesmen with both IDOT and the Chicago Department of Transportation speculate that city initiatives and collaborations with bike advocacy groups could explain the decrease. Chicago’s “Bike 2015 Plan,” which enjoys the strong backing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is a product of such collaborations, and added 17 new bike lanes in the city last year.

Steven Vance, a cyclist and blogger who tracks bicycling safety data and crashes, questions whether such initiatives have made much of an impact on dooring reports.

“I doubt the increase in bike lanes from last year to this year has an impact on this trend,” Vance said.

Instead, he added, “I think it’s based on media attention on the issue.”

Last year, after Gov. Pat Quinn announced that the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Police Department would start tracking dooring cases for the first time, reported doorings skyrocketed. But dooring has received less news coverage this year, Vance noted.

In all, there have been more than 600 reported dooring incidents in Chicago since 2010, and at least 80 percent resulted in some kind of injury. And despite the hard-to-explain statistical fluctuations, cyclists say, dooring remains a daily strain that shows little sign of fading.

“The dooring thing is a huge problem,” said Jack Crowe, who often bikes to his job in the Loop. He has close calls with car doors on a weekly basis, he said in an interview, but so far has managed to avoid getting doored.

“I look out for it every time,” Crowe said. “I have shut doors back on people before.”

More information is needed before Chicago cyclists get a full scope of how dooring is affecting the city, said Ethan Spotts, spokesman for the nonprofit bicycling advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance.

“We can’t say for sure if [the decrease] is actually happening, or what it means,” Spotts said, adding that a number of reasons could be behind the decrease, including the possibility of inconsistencies in police reporting.

“We still think it’s too early.”