By Aaron Blevins, 3/21/2013
Man ‘doored’ while riding on Vine Street
A cyclist has died after colliding with an open door from a parked vehicle and being flung from his bike near the intersection of Vine Street and Banner Avenue in Hollywood at 6:30 p.m. on March 3.
Christopher Spychala, 49, whose residence was listed near the intersection where the collision occurred, died at a local hospital on March 8 as a result of his injuries. Officers with LAPD’s West Traffic Division said he was not wearing a helmet.
According to police, a 26-year-old female driver from Los Angeles had parked her 2009 BMW southbound on Vine Street near Banner Avenue. After she opened the car door to get out, Spychala collided with the door and was thrown into the roadway.
Det. Nelson Hernandez said Spychala was not struck by another motor vehicle, but was injured from the fall. He said that in his experience, it’s very rare for a cyclist to die from such an accident.
“I see [people open their doors in traffic] a lot, and we should probably have more accidents,” Hernandez said, adding that people will check their side mirrors for cars, but sometimes forget to check for cyclists. “I guess that’s the nature of the beast.”
He said cyclists generally ride in a way that lessens the possibility of striking an opening door, but motorists should be on the lookout for bicycles when parking, especially in areas with bicycle traffic.
“The problem is that it’s very hard to see,” Hernandez said.
Colin Bogart, education director for Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said that people opening their car doors in front of cyclists is “incredibly common,” so much so that the coalition has a term for it — being “doored.”
“It’s prevalent, and it’s scary as hell,” he said, adding that he has personally encountered the issue multiple times.
Bogart said both cyclists and motorists can make adjustments to prevent such occurrences. He said motorists can use their right hand when opening the driver-side door, which forces them to look behind their car.
Drivers are legally responsible for “dooring” incidents, though many motorists are not aware, Bogart said. He cited California Vehicle Code 22517, which states that “no person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so.”
“Unfortunately, it’s not well known for some reason,” Bogart added. “The main thing is for drivers to understand they need to look before they open their door. They need to check for cyclists. That’s super important.”
According to police, the driver in the Hollywood incident was not cited as a result of the accident, and the investigation revealed that neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to be a factor in the accident.
He said cyclists should try to stay away from the “door zone.” Bicyclists are under pressure to stay out of motor vehicles’ way, but they are legally allowed to drive in a lane if necessary, Bogart said.
“To avoid being ‘doored,’ you should always ride at least three feet from parked cars,” he said.
Bogart referenced a recently launched Metro campaign: “Every lane is a bike lane.” He also cited California Vehicle Code 21202, which states that cyclists moving slower than traffic are to ride as close to the curb as “practicable,” with some exceptions. In some instances where the road is too narrow, the cyclist can actually ride in the center of the lane, which can irritate some motorists, Bogart said.
He added that it is quite possible Spychala was not aware of the hazards of riding close to parked cars. Bogart said it can be counter-intuitive to ride closer to traffic, but there is “very great risk” in “door zones.”
While there are no bike lanes on Vine Street, the thoroughfare does have “sharrows” in some areas, he said. Bogart said the original intent of “sharrows” was to steer cyclists away from the “door zone.”
While he has heard of other “dooring” fatalities, there is little data to calculate how frequently it occurs in Los Angeles County, he said. Typically, the fatalities occur after the cyclist is thrown into the roadway and run over by a second vehicle, Bogart said.
“The helmet is never an absolute guarantee, but it definitely improves your chances,” he added.
Bogart said another Metro campaign should help alleviate the problem. Metro is planning to create a window cling — like the reminders to get oil changes — that could prompt drivers to look before they open their doors, “which I think is a fantastic idea,” he said.
“I couldn’t tell you how many times people have opened their door right in front of me,” Bogart said.
Anyone with information regarding the incident is advised to call West Traffic Division investigators at (213)473-0234.