The following information was prepared by Tucson attorney Eric Post:
In Arizona, anyone who opens the door to a vehicle has the duty to make sure it is safe to do so. This is by statute in the Arizona Revised Statutes as follows:
28-905. Opening vehicle door
A person shall not open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic. A person shall not leave a door open on a side of a motor vehicle exposed to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload a passenger.
Unfortunately, there is a common perception that people on the roadway should watch out for parked vehicles and combined with the well known American love for our automobiles, this results often in motorists blaming the cyclist for hitting the door when the motorist opens it after parking.
The cyclist often does not have the ability to see if there is a driver or passenger in a parked car. Tinted glass, light reflections, and lighting conditions all work to obscure vision into the vehicle while riding. Further, the cyclist must look for road hazards including debris, glass, potholes, and whether or not the lane is free to move into for adequate clearance. As such, the law placing the duty on the door opening person is appropriate.
There are certain situations where a bike lane, or a route with striped shoulder will parallel an area of vehicles parked on the side of the road. This places the cyclist in a zone of danger. To be safe, the bike lane / route should be at least 3 feet from the parked vehicles.
In the common event that a cyclist must take evasive action to avoid a door swinging open, there has to be a good solid roadway to the cyclist’s left to allow the diversion.
In the situation of 6th Avenue in Tucson just South of Congress, the bike shoulder is in the zone of danger, however, there is a lane to the left that may be passable depending on traffic.
In the situation of the proposed trolley tracks on 4th Avenue just North of the downtown area, the bike route that is in the zone of danger is bordered on the left with trolly tracks and the cyclist cannot safely perform an evasive maneuver.
Bicycle wheels on trolley tracks require a near 90 degree crossing or the front tire may easily slide along the metal and cause a catastrophic loss of control.
Therefore, it is my opinion that cyclists should not be placed in a danger zone where they have the trolley and the tracks to the left and vehicle doors to the right. This is unsafe and similar to Russian Roulette in that sooner or later, an injury will occur.
I do not recommend banning cycling on such roadways. A cyclist is a legitimate road user with the same right to the road as the driver of a vehicle under A.R.S. 28-812.
The solutions would be to ban parking completely because parking vehicles do not necessarily have a right to the roadway. Also, post signs reminding drivers of their responsibilities (including rear seat passengers who have a door), or relocating the bike route, or relocating the trolley tracks. Regardless of what solution is chosen, it must be a good working solution.
In the future, it is important to design roadways in such a manner as to not create a hazard for cyclists and non-motorized traffic.
There is a Federal statute that requires the preservation of safety of non-motorized traffic on our roadways.
23 U.S.C. 109 (m) Protection of Nonmotorized Transportation Traffic. –The Secretary shall not approve any project or take any regulatory action under this title that will result in the severance of an existing major route or have significant adverse impact on the safety for nonmotorized transportation traffic and light motorcycles, unless such project or regulatory action provides for a reasonable alternate route or such a route exists.