Update: A bloody reminder to watch the door zone

Just got this email from Jeffrey Nerdin:

FYI – There was a bike/auto accident in front of the Skirball Center on Sepulveda Boulevard around 9:00 this morning when a motorist stopped to let a passenger out of the car while in a lane of traffic (stopped either at a stoplight or in slow traffic). The passenger in the car opened his door into the bike lane and a cyclist hit the door, shattered the window and suffered (at least) significant cuts to his face. (I arrived after the cyclist had already been loaded on the stretcher and was headed to the ambulance, but I didn’t get the impression that his injuries were life-threatening.) I don’t know the cyclist, but I see him regularly as we both commute daily by bike along Sepulveda between Ventura Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard. If you have a chance, please warn motorists and pedestrians to be very careful when crossing over or into the bike lane, either by driving, walking, or opening a door into the lane, and cyclists to avoid riding any closer than necessary to a lane of traffic. You never know what might pop out in front of you.


Photos of the collision scene by Jeffrey Nerdin.

Unfortunately, as this incident shows, cyclists risk dooring from either side.

We train ourselves to ride at least three feet to the left of parked cars — and many experts recommend five to keep out of the reach of massive SUV doors — and to watch for the brake lights, drivers or passengers inside the car and partially open doors that could suggest a door may open or a vehicle could pull out into our path.

Yet we risk dooring from the vehicles moving on our left, as well.

In that case, we must depend on them to maintain a safe distance, and check their mirrors and blind spots before pulling over or allowing passengers to get out. Because few things are as dangerous or terrifying as having a door suddenly fling open in front of you when you’ve got nowhere to go.

And as CVC 22517 makes clear, hitting a bike rider with an open door, making a rider collide with an open door or causing a collision by forcing a rider to avoid a vehicle door is virtually always the motorist’s fault.

Even though they may try to blame you. Or you happen to be riding in Santa Monica.

As the writer suggests, drivers and pedestrians should always be on the lookout for bikes on the right of the roadway. And especially where there’s a bike lane, which should always suggest the presence of bike riders, just as a crosswalk implies the possible presence of pedestrians.

Because failing to do so can have needlessly tragic results.

Let’s hope the rider makes a full and fast recovery. And the right people are held accountable.

Update: I’ve credited Jeffrey Nerdin as the person who emailed me and took the photos above, after getting permission to use his name.

A comment below provides the identity of the victim, as well as a few more details:

Rider is Roland Sunga. He blacked out for about ten minutes. Passenger driver opened door to get out of vehicle. Roland was traveling 30 mph and flew 20 ft. No time to react and that means no time to tense up which he says saved his life. Very lucky as he rides Sepulveda daily. Thank you.


    • Mike sunga says:

      Rider is Roland Sunga. He blacked out for about ten minutes. Passenger driver opened door to get out of vehicle. Roland was traveling 30 mph and flew 20 ft. No time to react and that means no time to tense up which he says saved his life. Very lucky as he rides sepulveda daily. Thank you.

      • bikinginla says:

        Give him our best. We’ll look forward to seeing him back on Sepulveda soon.

      • Jeff Nerdin says:

        Mike – Thanks for the information. I’ve been worried about him all day. I stopped too late to do anything other than get an assurance from the police officer that Roland would get the driver’s insurance information and that his bike would be taken care of. I took a few pictures, but probably nothing the police didn’t photograph. Please have Roland call me at 8052848807 if I can help in any way. Wish him well. – Jeff

        • Walter says:

          I witnessed this accident. The car was stopped for the red light with no cars in front of it. The passenger seemed to be getting out to go to the Skirball Museum while the light was red. He opened his door half way and the cyclist smashed into it flinging it open all the way. He didn’t fly 20 feet! as stated in the previous comment although he was going quite fast. He hit the ground about 5 feet from the door. His helmet worked as designed although he had some facial cuts.
          It appeared to me that the cyclist had no intention of stopping for the red light and obviously didn’t expect the door to open in front of him.
          If he would have slowed down and stopped for the red light we wouldn’t be writing comments right now. I drive this road every morning and see cyclists blow through this red light all the time. This was bound to happen sooner or later and will unfortunately happen again. Folks need to be aware whether they’re riding or driving. Just because there’s a designated bike lane doesn’t mean that common sense and traffic laws don’t apply. I ride both bikes and motorcyles and I never trust the cars around me. Too many doors and left turn close calls. I always expect the unexpected. I truly feel sorry for the cyclist but also for the unfortunate couple in the car. They were very distraught but offered aid immediately to the fellow.

          • Jeff Nerdin says:

            Before the devolves into an argument between cyclists and motorists (as so frequently happens in online forums, not to mention real life), I should sadly report that Walter’s comments above ring true to me. First, the cyclist’s bike was located near the stopped car and did not appear to be significantly damaged (when I hit an SUV that turned left in front of me a few months ago, it broke my aluminum cyclocross frame in two, snapping both the top and down tubes a little behind the head tube); second, the broken glass and the pooled blood were both near the stopped car (as shown in my photo), indicating that the car had not moved since the accident and that the cyclist fell near the car; and third, the cyclist was being strapped into the stretcher in the same area, suggesting that the paramedics had found him near the car; it is unlikely that they carried him back up to where the car and bike were located before strapping him in. All of this suggests that the cyclist did not fly 20 feet after impact, although it doesn’t undermine the suggestion that the door was opened with little or no warning.

            Finally, I have to regrettably concur with Walter’s observation of cyclists on Sepulveda frequently ignoring traffic signals. I ride Sepulveda from Ventura Blvd. to Wilshire Blvd. to and from work every day and I have seen far too many cyclists ignore traffic lights. This accident is a classic example of why we should stop even when traffic patterns suggest that there is no real reason why we need stop, such as on the non-intersection side of a three-way intersection (of which there are at least three in that stretch of Sepulveda, including this one). In fact, I have called a number of cyclists out on this dangerous practice, both for their own safety and because I understand that such behavior is justifiably annoying to motorists and can cause motorists to unjustifiably act in a more aggressive manner toward cyclists. I am not the police, but I am someone who rides this stretch of road twice a day and I desperately want to get home to my wife and three daughters every evening.

            I believe I may have even spoken to the cyclist who was injured in this case about such behavior. I couldn’t tell for sure when I saw him on the stretcher, but my first impression was that he was the same cyclist that I had spoken with on at least two prior occasions about not endangering himself and me by running through red lights after watching him do so. Unfortunately, he ignored me and wouldn’t even acknowledge that I was speaking to him. As I said, I can’t say for sure that the cyclist that was involved in this accident is the same person I am speaking of, but if it is, then I am very sorry that he had the learn the lesson in such a painful and tragic manner. If not, then hopefully the one I am speaking of will read this post and learn from this unfortunate cyclist’s fate.

            That said, I am very sorry that Roland was injured in this case and I hope he fully recovers and joins us in the Sepulveda bike lane very soon. Also, none of the above means that is is any less dangerous, negligent or illegal for a passenger or driver in an automobile to open his or her door into the bike lane or door zone without carefully looking first and closing the door as quickly as possible afterward, either from a parking spot or from a lane of traffic (in fact, especially from a lane of traffic, as in this case, because as the author of this blog pointed out above, we aren’t expecting it from a lane of traffic as much as we do from parked cars). Can we all please share the road as carefully and considerately as possible. The road construction along Sepulveda makes it dangerous enough already.

          • John P says:

            Looking at the pictures, I agree with you, it looks like he was probably going 10-15 MPH. At 30, that glass and blood falls a lot further.

  1. Patti says:

    I read…not sure if it is true..car occupants in Europe are taught to open doors with their opposite arm closest to door so they are obligated to take a look before opening car door- simple lifesaving maneuver. Who would expect an in traffic passenger door to open? Hope cyclist is ok….

  2. Opus the Poet says:

    Letting my friends know about this first. I’m having an unusual art contest over on my blog.

    I have a rather large scar on my leg that is a constant reminder that some people in law enforcement don’t give a crap if I live or die and should someone manage to kill me while I’m riding my bike no fingers will be lifted by them in any effort to find the driver that hit me. I know this because it has already happened once, leaving quite a “mark”. I’m going to get a tattoo to cover this scar up, and I’m giving $500 to the artist that comes up with the best design. I want the best picture possible on my leg and I’m not going to get that by arbitrarily excluding people from participating. The artist also gets first publishing rights on his or her web site (until someone grabs the image and steals it, but there’s nothing I can do about that crap). I’m posting a large image of the leg in question on my blog this Sunday to use as a canvas to practice on and submit your effort.

  3. Lisa says:

    I’m not sure how anyone here can claim that the passenger didn’t first look. That stretch in front of the Skirball is a tricky blind area, and it would probably only take seconds for a cyclist to manifest. It sounds like the whole thing was just a series of bad events leading up to an accident.
    Secondly, running a red light is illegal regardless of what kind of wheeled vehicle you are in. If the driver and passenger were stopped a red light, looking or not, a basic assumption is that all vehicles will stop at the red light. Remember, you can get a speeding ticket or a DUI while on a bicycle!
    From the witness accounts, the occupants of the vehicle did everything they are required to do – including remaining at the scene and leaving everything untouched. It looks to me if the blue car was the one involved that Mr. Sunga landed right in front of it. Anyone who has ever had a glass wound or a head wound knows those suckers bleed A LOT!
    I think it’s safer to say this accident was just that: an accident.

  4. Roland says:

    The crossing guard as a witness told the investigating police officers
    that traffic light was on green.

    • Jeff Nerdin says:

      That is good news. I’m glad to hear that you weren’t running a red light. That would have complicated matters. I hope the driver had good insurance and that you are doing well. Regardless of the strength of my opinions on cyclist behavior, I hate to see anyone get hurt and I hope that you recover fully and quickly. All the best.

  5. Roland says:

    I don’t understand how I could beat a red light when I was several feet before the traffic light and intersection. I know that light very well and take extra precaution because I know that pedestrians cross on their way to work at Skirball center. It gives the account of
    the crossing guard a lot of weight as his job is to ferry pedestrians
    across. He knew what the light was. He has to know for the safety
    of everyone.

    To assume that I was going to beat the red light is totally unfair.
    Who in their right mind would open the door onto a back path in the
    middle of the road in traffic ?

  6. Fred says:

    There was another lady in the cross walk who said the light was red and would have been hit if the door had not been opened. She was unwilling to give an official report.

  7. Carlinda Toups says:

    Not to belittle this severity of the situation but we cyclist call colliding with a car door, “the door prize.” One that should
    be embarrassingly avoided, cyclists should always be on
    the alert not to get the dreaded ‘door prize’.

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