That's why it is critical that any bicycle lanes that are designed be far enough away from opening car doors that they cannot be opened in the path of a bicyclist, or cause the bicyclist to suddenly veer out into a traffic lane.
Take a look at these pictures of New York Street bike lane between West and Capital Streets. All the car doors can be opened within the bike lane. (Two door cars are particularly dangerous as they have longer doors.) Some of the vehicles even are parked partially in the bike lane because the parking lane is so small. Any bicyclist using this stretch of bike lane is risking their health, even their life.
Bicycle facility design is serious business. Done wrong it kills. Some communities squeeze bike lanes into roads that do not have enough room. They create serious safety compromises.
Believe it or not, most streets are better off without bike lanes. Bike lanes have a lot of physical requirements to be safe. If you bend these requirements too far, you wind up with a bicycling environment more hazardous than the same street without the bike lane. These requirements can includes factors such as sight distance, driveways, intersections, pavement quality, edge dropoffs and slope. But the most common factors that leads communities to bend the requirements are overall available width and parking.
Simply stated, if you shoehorn a bike lane into a narrow street with parking, the bike lane will be in the door zone, where car doors can -- and do -- fling open at unpredictable moments. These accidents are dismaying common. Quite a few fatalities have been documented.
For more than 30 years, the safety literature has warned cyclists to avoid riding in the door zone. But now we use our tax dollars to pay for traffic control devices that instruct us to ride in the door zone! This is a sad situation.
The city of Cambridge Mass. installed door zone bike lanes on several busy streets with narrow lanes, including Massachusetts Avenue, despite warnings that they were unsafe. The bike lane ... proved fatal for Tufts University graduate student Dana Laird in 2002. If you look carefully at the photo (sorry couldn't get it to post), you can see that the open car door blocks almost the entire bike lane. There is not room to avoid the door without encroaching into the motor lane. (Remember, a bike is about 2 feet wide. There is less than two feet between the open door and the left stripe.) You can see a larger copy of this photo from the photographer's website.
Unfortunately, many other cities also install bike lanes in the door zone (see Fig. 7) and some these also cause causalities to cyclists. You can read accounts of 16 recent door zone casualties (11 fatal) in an article called The Door Zone Project.
One of the most inexcusable examples of carelessness in bike lane design is illustrated by this statement: The City of Chicago installs bike lanes on streets as narrow as 44 feet wide with parking on both sides. Chicago published a Bike Lane Design Guide that includes plans showing how they achieve this claim. In their zeal to install bike lanes despite inadequate space, they distorted the size of the cars and trucks depicted in the drawings.
At first look, this drawing doesn't look too bad, but that's only because the cars and trucks depicted are far, far smaller than in real life. We have the noted cycling author John Forester to thank for pointing this out. In 2002, Forester added dimensions for the vehicles depicted in by scaling from the drawing. Forester determined that these vehicles are about 20 percent undersized -- some cars and trucks are depicted as though they are narrower than a VW beatle.
This is shocking dishonesty and blatant engineering malpractice. Most motor vehicles are around six feet wide, and many commercial vehicles are 8.5 feet wide. Those are what you have to design for. Pretending that you are doing otherwise is dishonest, and it courts dooring accidents.