Yesterday morning, 32-year-old attorney Neill Townsend was biking to work when a man in a Nissan Altima opened his car door into the bike lane and Neill’s path, causing him to swerve suddenly and fall under a flatbed semi truck passing to his left. He died on the scene. The man who opened the car door was cited for a traffic violation. You can read more about Neill’s life and a vigil held in his memory in this Chicago Tribune story.
I mourn for Neill and his family and friends. This sad news has shaken me, as I bike past the exact spot every day. The bike lane lines are faded to almost nothing. There are severe pot holes through the bike lane that force bicyclists either to swerve far out into the main traffic lane or inch closer to parked cars than is comfortable. There is a high school where parents park in the bike lane to drop off their kids.
This exact type of collision occurred only one block over in 2008, when Clinton Miceli was doored and struck by passing traffic. The city needs to build protected bike lanes to the right of parked cars, which would avoid collisions like this. At the very least, it needs to keep existing and heavily used bike lanes well-striped, buffered, and free of dangerous potholes. Drivers and passengers need to take a second to look for coming bicyclists before swinging their car doors open. The city must do more to educate and remind drivers of this. Bicyclist should try to avoid the door zone, but I well know that is not always possible in Chicago. The entire bike lane where the incident occurred basically is the door zone. Grid Chicago wrote a more detailed examination of this infrastructure problem.
Biking home from work yesterday with this tragedy fresh on my mind, I took care to bike extra far from parked cars. Almost immediately, a driver in an SUV honked at me. I assume he wanted me to move over to the right. We have a long way to go in Chicago.