Roads with parked cars pose greatest risk for cyclists: UBC study

Parked drivers failing to check what’s coming when opening their door are primarily liable for accidents described in a new University of B.C. study as one of the greatest risks to cyclists.

“In these types of situations, the burden of proof is typically on the person opening the door of the vehicle,” Adam Grossman, senior media relations adviser for the Insurance Corp. of B.C., said Thursday by email.

“They need to check that it’s safe to do so and that they are not opening it into any other traffic, including cyclists. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the person opening the door would typically be held at fault.”

Grossman was commenting on a study that concluded certain types of routes carry much lower risk of injury for cyclists.

The study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed the cause of 690 cycling injuries in Vancouver and Toronto in 2008 and 2009 and various route types and infrastructure.

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It concluded that the greatest risk to cyclists is when they share major streets with parked cars, with no bike lanes present – such as on Broadway in Vancouver – and that without a designated space on the road, cyclists face a greater risk of injury from moving cars and car doors opening.

In contrast, the study concluded, roads with infrastructure designed for cyclists – including bike lanes on major streets without parked cars, residential street bike routes, and off-street bike paths – carry about half the risk, while physically separated bike lanes carry about one-tenth the risk.

“The most common type of route was major city streets with parked cars and no bicycle infrastructure at all,” said Kay Teschke, a professor in the University of B.C.’s School of Population and Public Health and lead author of the study. “Given how frequently people ride on that route, the risk is higher. All the other 13 types (of routes) had lower risk of injury.”

Teschke noted that while accidents involving parked car doors – “doorings” – were on the greatest route risk for cyclists, such accidents are responsible for 10 per cent of all accidents involving cyclists.

She said road construction also meant increased risk for cyclists and that safe detours need to be provided.

Grossman noted that claims involving parked car accidents are on a case-by-case basis.

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“Looking at this situation specifically again, we do see occasions where the cyclist is also held at least partly – or even entirely – at fault. For example, a mother has a passenger door open for a few minutes, in broad daylight, while she is loading a young baby into its car seat when a cyclist drives into her vehicle.”

According to ICBC, between 2006 and 2010 – the latest year for which annual fatality statistics have been collected – 26 cyclists were killed on Lower Mainland and Whistler roads, including four in Vancouver.

Injuries – based on annual statistics from 2007 to 2011 in a slightly larger geographic area – stood at 4,548, with 2,431 in Vancouver.

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