The door zone is a scary place for cyclists who know what it is. Not knowing gives one peace of mind, but increases one’s danger.
Now that spring has arrived, and people have begun to emerge from their winter hibernation, thoughts of car doors flung open by oblivious automobile occupants fill cyclists’ minds. It is the season of egression for both flora and automotive fiends.
In this environment, I set out to take a typical early spring ride. This year I’m not as fit as I would ordinarily be due to injuries which reduced my cycling time over the winter. Consequently, my recent rides have been followed by sore muscles and an occasional touch of stiffness.
Such a condition does not make one want to have to dodge moving objects, let alone endure the harsh jolt of falling from one’s bike onto unyielding asphalt. Not that there is ever a good time to crash a bike, but strength and flexibility make it easier to tolerate, should the unexpected yank a cyclist out of the saddle.
With longer days, I’ve been riding in the evening. Theoretically, less traffic should fill the roads at this time of day. This does not always hold true, particularly if one is riding in the Boston area, where traffic seems to develop at the oddest times, almost out of nowhere.
My destination was the suburbs. Narrow roads plagued by SUVs are the norm in these areas; taking the road is a necessity.
I rode through Brookline, Massachusetts with tense attention to the traffic around me. Brookline seems like a civilized place until you mount a bicycle. Then you notice the open season on anyone not encased by a car.
Cars pull out from all sides without looking. Drivers dart across two lanes in an attempt to secure a parking space. Red light running is the norm. Or more accurately, yellow light accelerating is the norm.
A cyclist doesn’t dare stop on a yellow light in Brookline, or anywhere near Boston for that matter. But, none of this is specific to the door zone, which has a life of its own.
Early spring door zone riding is fraught with peril. Roads may still be wet from melting snow. Mounds of salt, reminiscent of mid-winter snow removal efforts, line the sides of streets, making braking on a dime more difficult. Overall, bike handling is a precarious affair.
Taking the lane, in many places, is next to impossible. Spring impatience overwhelms drivers who lay heavy hands on deep sounding horns. The sudden booming sound is enough to drive any cyclist out of the way. And that away is to the door zone.
Staring intently into every car window is the only defense against getting whacked in the door zone. Preparation for swerving without falling into the path of passing cars is a must.
Squeezed in between moving cars and parked cars, waiting for a moment to try to take the lane can seem like an eternity. So little space exists in that no man’s land.
Just as a driver drops his foot onto the road, I call out to alert him. He doesn’t even look in my direction. Hey, bicycle on your left, I yell out again, with more clarity this time.
I watch him look around as if a deity is summoning him from the heavens. He is as clueless as they come. Someone like him doesn’t belong behind the wheel of a multi-ton machine.
Quickly, I turn my head to take a peek behind me. My brakes are responding to a gentle press of the levers. For once, luck is with me and the oncoming driver slows in response to the situation.
With his eyes on my back, I make my move. I pull out quickly and boldly into the driving lane, away from the car door and the clueless driver. His rear end is now protruding into the road as he pulls an undisclosed object out from the interior of the car.
Vibrations from the engine of the approaching car inch up my back. The driver sees me so I hold my course. In a moment the lane will be mine, and I will be out of the path of the unpredictable doors.
A bit of poetic justice unfolds as a passing car blasts the horn at the driver who nearly nailed me. His door is still wide open because he is too foolish to unpack his car from the passenger side.
Part of me wishes that a car would take off his driver’s side door. It would teach him a lesson about the door zone. But such things rarely happen unless one driver deliberately assaults another in an act of unmitigated road rage.
Not today. I have the lane. My early spring legs have lost their stiffness from the constant peddling. They are growing stronger with each passing day. And soon, my door zone instincts will also be back up to par, in readiness for summer car door dodging.