Memo to New York Post: Dooring Is Illegal, Not a “Freak Accident” [Updated]

Not everyone at the Post is a party to reflexive victim-blaming. The embedded description of this photo reads: "The scene where a bicyclist was killed after a driver accidentally opened the door of his car striking the bicyclist and sending the bicyclist hurling into the handlebars which cut open his neck." (h/t ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/06/18/memo-to-new-york-post-dooring-is-illegal-not-a-freak-accident/#comment-561498745##IsaacB##)

Update: The victim has been identified by NY1 as Tskaka Cooke, 39. The Times-Ledger also filed a report on the crash.

The New York Post story on the crash that killed a cyclist in Fresh Meadows this weekend is a textbook example of press corps victim-blaming.

Here are the facts of the crash, as related in the Post and by FDNY: At approximately 8:11 p.m. Saturday, a cyclist was impaled on the handlebars of his bike when a driver opened a car door in his path on Union Turnpike near 178th Street. The victim, in his 30s, was taken to a hospital and died from his injuries.

“The handlebar went right through his jugular,” said Jackie Brocchini, 42, of Whitestone.

“The blood was pouring out like a fire hydrant,” he said. “I started saying the ‘Our Father’ over him in the street.”

Post reporters Aaron Feis and Kirstan Conley completely overlook the fact that opening a car door in front of a cyclist happens so frequently that there is a law against it. Instead, the story says the victim was killed in a “freak accident” when he “slammed into an open car door.” If you look at the online version of the story using the Readability browser plug-in, you get the original headline: “Biker dies ramming into car.” The piece is so poorly done that Post readers, not known for their empathy toward cyclist and pedestrian victims, are pointing to its flaws in the comment thread.

NYPD has issued its boilerplate “No criminality suspected” statement. An NYPD spokesperson offered no further details on the crash.

This fatal crash occurred in the 107th Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Deputy Inspector Michael Coyle, the commanding officer, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 107th Precinct council meetings happen at 8 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month at the precinct, 71-01 Parsons Boulevard. Call the precinct at 718-969-5973 for information.

The City Council district where this crash occurred is represented by James Gennaro. To encourage Gennaro to take action to improve street safety in his district and citywide, contact him at 212-788-6956 or  jgennaro@council.nyc.gov.

  • Streetsman

    Bike Snob had a pretty good skewering of this article today, pointing out that “As usual, there is ‘no criminality suspected’ in this cyclist’s death, even though the driver broke the law:

    Section 1214.  Opening and closing vehicle doors.  No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonable safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of the vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.”http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2012/06/indignity-of-commuting-by-bicycle-its.html

  • There’s a distinction between the equivalent of a moving violation and a misdemeanor.  There’s no arguing that there is a law about it.  Unfortunately, the law does not make it a crime as defined by police (crimes = misdemeanors or felonies).  

    This is absolutely not right, but it is the current state of affairs.  I look forward to the day when this changes.  Anything that cheapens life in this manner is not good for society.

  • Joe R.

    Maybe my memory is fuzzy but wasn’t it at one time illegal to exit a vehicle on the street side in NYC, period? If so, why was this law repealed? I personally can’t think of any good reason why people should be allowed to exit vehicles on the street side. Putting the possibility of dooring cyclists aside, it’s just a bad idea to step out of a vehicle a few feet away from moving traffic.

  • Mark

    In Holland, they teach all people to use their opposite hand (the hand toward the middle of the car) when opening car doors.   This requires people in cars to twist their entire body and look behind the car as the door opens. 

    All these crashes are preventable, if we care to bother.

  • J

    I often read about the 4 Es of improving biking in a city: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, and Evaluation, which are critical for a city to become truly bike-friendly.

    Seems to me like NYC has made tremendous strides in terms of engineering and evaluation, but has a LOT of work to do with education and enforcement, especially when the city’s media and police don’t seem to even know the basic rules of the road.

  • While this incident is a tragedy and the report of it is reprehensible, I think this is more a failed attempt at humor than the Post’s typical bike baiting. I could be wrong, but this appears to be a bad pun on freak shows at the circus, hence freak accident.

  • Anonymous

    There are TWO laws (2) against Dooring – NY State Vehicle & Traffic Law § 1214, while NY City has: —34 RCNY § 4-12(c)  Getting out of vehicle.  No person shall get out of
    any vehicle from the side facing on the traveled part of the street in
    such manner as to interfere with the right of the operator of an
    approaching vehicle or a bicycle.

    How much more clear does it have to be?

    Notwithstanding two laws, never ride in the door zone if possible.

    It is unfortunate that in both City and State Traffic Law, the written exceptions to riding in a bike lanes and as far to the side of the road do not explicitly mention the “DOOR ZONE”.  The laws just “imply” that the door zone is an unsafe area to ride in.  It would be a lot easier to explain to a cop or a judge that you were riding 5 feet out from the parked cars in order to stay out of the door zone, if the term door zone was already in the law.  As it stands now, too many people think a cyclist can stop or dodge an opening door.  One has to start your defense by explaining that it’s just as hard to dodge a swinging baseball bat as an opening door – both are moving too fast to stop or dodge.

    Press for amending both NYS V&T and RCNY to mention “DOOR ZONE”?

  • Streetsman

    Agreed, Inspector Spacetime, that the PD statement is correct – traffic infractions by themselves are not “crimes” per se, but why issue only the token response that “no criminality is suspected” and not reference the fact that a traffic infraction occurred and caused this injury? Is that not seen as relevant information for the police to be providing in their statement media?

  • @twitter-191590691:disqus I noticed that, too, as I’m sure others did.  It certainly takes a very special kind of person to come up with circus jokes after hearing over the police scanner that a flesh and blood human being had his jugular punctured by a steel bar.

    I can’t recall the paper using animal puns to describe the horrific death of seven members of one family when their van plunged off of the Bronx River Parkway and into an area of the Bronx Zoo.  Only people who travel by bike can expect to see the circumstances of their lives — and brutal deaths — filtered through the Post’s Pun-O-Matic 3000.  What comedy gold!

    If Aaron Feis and Kirstan Conley would like to defend their oh-so-clever writing, perhaps they should also be made to read their report directly to the victim’s next of kin and see how that goes.

  • Brad Aaron

    “No criminality suspected” = Driver not drunk, driver remained at the scene.

  • Station44025

    This is one of the 50 bullet points in my mental PowerPoint on what is wrong with urging bicycles to follow all laws as written. For God’s sake, stay out of the door zone even if it means taking the lane or riding on the sidewalk responsibly.

  • Anonymous

    Why aren’t livable street advocates pushing for strict liability for all accidents involving automobiles with pedestrians/bikers? 

    This is the law in Holland.  If people feared, 20 years to life, for buzzing bikers (and then hitting them) or opening their door into traffic, people might act more responsibly.  These deaths are all preventable.  But if the incentives aren’t aligned, then people won’t behave. 

  • Anonymous

    @2d1f4485f4071d40973ef0f25d75ed14:disqus Of course, following the law as written in no way precludes you from staying well clear of the door zone.

    @Brownstone2:disqus makes a good case for codifying some term like “door zone” into law, but that’s a different point.

  • In Victoria, Australia, we’re currently reviewing the penalties for dooring (with a view to increasing the severity of penalties).
    There are some great public submissions:
    http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/standing-committee-on-economy-and-infrastructure/legislation-committee/inquiries/article/1770

    The inquiry arose partly as a result of a coroner’s report into the death of a young man as a result of someone opening their door into his path; the woman was never charged with any offence, despite ‘dooring’ already existing in our statutes. (http://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/home/case+findings/findings+-+inquest+into+the+death+of+james+bernard+cross)

  • Stay Smelly 2013

    Shall we all get together a week from tomorrow, ride out to Queens, and get some answers from this precinct commander as to why a motorist who clearly failed to heed the law is not criminally liable? A nice mass of cyclists in solidarity might actually get the message through the din of Ray Kelly’s orchestra of corruption and/or negligence, which only serves and protects his reputation. Declaring “no criminality” is a great way to drive down your crime stats.

  • IsaacB

    Of possible interest for those who wish to analyze the crash, Post had a picture of the scene on a landing page, but not in the article.
    http://www.nypost.com/rw/nypost/2012/06/17/news/web_photos/061612accident17CS041026–430×180.jpg

  • CyclingRoberto

    I feel sadness and rage.  A young life cut short for really no reason.  On city streets staying away from the parked cars often can put you in harms way from motorists.  Mixing cars and bicycles is a losing proposition, and this should be a reason to demand safe bicycle/pedestrian only streets.  Ban cars where bicycle traffic is highest.  Stop the carnage.

  • CyclingRoberto

    I feel sadness and rage.  A young life cut short for really no reason.  On city streets staying away from the parked cars often can put you in harms way from motorists.  Mixing cars and bicycles is a losing proposition, and this should be a reason to demand safe bicycle/pedestrian only streets.  Ban cars where bicycle traffic is highest.  Stop the carnage.

  • CyclingRoberto

    I feel sadness and rage.  A young life cut short for really no reason.  On city streets staying away from the parked cars often can put you in harms way from motorists.  Mixing cars and bicycles is a losing proposition, and this should be a reason to demand safe bicycle/pedestrian only streets.  Ban cars where bicycle traffic is highest.  Stop the carnage.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Even though it’s good advice to “take the lane,” many of us feel the pressure of impatient motorists bearing down on our tail, honking, etc. So we might choose to slowly move over closer to the parked cars to get some relief from the car behind, only to further risk our . It’s a rotten trade-off, and why we need to keep working to make more and more streets safer through improved bicycle infrastructure – protected lanes, buffered lanes, etc.

  • Anonymous

    @Ben_Kintisch:disqus Very much agree with all that, though I’d say it’s more than pressure that motorists are usually exerting when they get impatient with bikes taking a lane. By following so closely and at such high speeds, they’re a very real threat to our lives.

  • It was close to being dark at 8:11pm.  It may have been time to be using a headlight at this time?  There is no mention of this small but highly relevant and important detail in anything I’ve read. 

    If it was too dark to ride without a headlight (and I’m not sure that it was) and the cyclist was riding without one, then I’m sorry, it was a freak accident.  If wasn’t too dark and/or the cyclist was riding with a headlight, it was a crime.

  • Anonymous

    It wasn’t dark at all, unless there was a total solar eclipse that I missed. Sunset is at 8:30 PM today, and “civil twilight” is not until 9:03 pm (the day of the crash, it might have been a minute or two earlier). I’m not sure exactly how it is codified in NY state law, but roughly speaking, civil twilight is the time when you are supposed to start using your headlights.

  • Driver

    I think the “freak” part of this accident was that the cyclists handlebar pierced his jugular, not the dooring itself.

  • IsaacB

    “The embedded description of this photo reads: “The scene where a bicyclist was killed after a driver accidentally opened the door of his car…””

    Explain “accidentally opening” a car door.

  • Joe R.

    The picture is the intersection of Union Turnpike and Surrey Place (an intersection I’m quite familiar with). I’m actually kind of puzzled now because this is the eastbound side of Union Turnpike. If the victim was employed by the circus, which was further east in Cunningham Park, then presuming he was riding home after work and passing the vicinity of 178th Street, he should have been on the westbound side of Union Turnpike. Was he riding the wrong way? Or was he riding on the proper side, but made a u-turn after Surrey Place and was coming back the other way? The latter course of action isn’t unreasonable because you can only make left turns at major intersections on Union Turnpike. Sometimes you need to ride or drive past your street, make a u-turn where you can, then go back the other way a few blocks to your street and make a right.

    It’s also worth noting that going eastbound the intersection of Union Turnpike and Surrey Place is at the bottom of a decent hill. No mention that speed was a factor here, but I know I always take the traffic lane on this portion of Union Turnpike because I’m going way too fast to safely ride in the door zone, and this is a busy area where people frequently enter/exit their cars. Still, that doesn’t excuse the driver for not looking before exiting their car.

    And at 8:11 PM darkness wasn’t an issue. There are no trees there, plus sunset was at 8:29 PM.

  • Anonymous

    @2995d81157fecd50fe4b728419a38787:disqus I love the purely binary possibilities here: if tiny bike light on at twilight (when it’s of especially doubtful use), biker not to blame; if light off, driver to blame. 

    Meanwhile, opening a door on a biker remains illegal, 24 hours a day!

  • Alex

    I happened to see this accident take place and it was in fact that he was on the eastbound direction on Union Tpke, to answer Joe R’s question.  As for it being dark, I had just finished eating at a restaurant when it happened and it was quite light out.  One problem I had while eating was shielding my eyes from the annoying sunlight.  It really is unfortunate and people need to be careful and mindful when opening a door…

  • Ibftbx

    I live in the Bronx, With Too many non-caring automobile drivers. Bikers &pedestrians BETTER WATCH OUT! I PERSONALLY KNOW ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS that drive with license. When they get in to an accident THEY DRIVE OFF OR RUN AWAY.

  • Ibftbx

    NO LICENSE (CORRECTION)

  • Paul Carter Jr.

    I have to ask, did the bicyclist have the proper night time lighting and reflection so other drivers can easily identify him??  It was night time and a fast moving bicyclist without anytime type of high visability might pose a problem at night.  Also, did the driver check the driver side mirror before exiting or alighting the vehicle?  I don’t think the bicyclist could have been in a blindspot being so close to the door, what do you think?

  • Anonymous

    @google-45b98b1ca3d642e28397a0cc3ac16def:disqus : it wasn’t night time. This was only three days from the longest day of the year, so this crash actually happen 20 minutes before sunset, and roughly one hour before what you might call “nighttime”.

    Anyway, if you are in a car you should open the doors reasonably slowly at any time, not just swing them open like crazy.

  • gabby hartwyk

    I am an NYC cyclist and commute from Manhattan to Queens daily. Tonight, for instance, I was riding home through Queens, it was dark and raining. I was riding in the bike lane (slowly bc of slippery conditions) with TWO rear lights and TWO front lights. Motorists continuously cut me off, rolled through stop signs ahead of me, I even had one car veer into the bike lane and honk at me even though he had two open car lanes to drive in. It only takes 10 seconds for motorists to slow down and pass cyclists safely before they continue speeding down the road but most of them can’t be bothered. Its a matter of life and death for cyclists, many like me who take ALL precautions and still get ran off the road.

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