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 pick-ups and drop-offs elsewhere.
Uber this week began reminding riders and drivers in the U.S. and Canada to use the “Dutch Reach” when they get out, opening the car door with the further-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 behavior increases safety,” Uber wrote in a blog post.
Uber will send in-app alerts to drivers and riders in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Toronto when an upcoming drop-off is near a bike lane.
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.
Damages for dooring are generally split between the ride-hailing company and the passenger, she said, with the driver’s liability covered by Uber’s or Lyft’s insurance. Awards can range from a few hundred dollars for a damaged bicycle to millions in case of a fatality.
“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.”