Noel Morales was pedaling down South Van Ness Avenue and about to make a right turn onto 22nd Street when an Uber’s door suddenly popped open in front of him.
Before he could swerve to avoid it, he lost balance and fell on the sidewalk.
The Uber’s final destination that Sunday at 2 p.m. was further down the street, but the passenger decided to get out while waiting for the red light.
Morales, who spent five hours in the hospital getting 10 stitches on his left ring finger, said he had only recently been thinking how lucky he had been. In eight years of riding a bike, he had been accident-free.
“And then I was doored,” he said of the Sept. 11 accident.
He’s not alone.
At least 200 similar dooring cases, in which a car door opening at the wrong time injures a cyclist, have been reported in the past five years, based on data from TransBASE. The total number is likely higher, as the data only includes incidents reported to the police. The most recent on record was all the way back in June.
There were 291 incidents in total; nearly 72 percent involved bicycles.
“The biggest problem we see is actually about Uber,” said Michael Stephenson, the founding attorney of Bay Area Bicycle Law. “A lot of cyclists who are calling us are getting doored by passengers. And we probably get 10 times as many complaints about Uber as we do about Lyft.”
Each dot is a dooring accident; click on each dot to see the time, type and severity of each collision.
To be sure, Uber’s market share is much larger than Lyft’s: 72 percent, compared to 28 percent, as of May, according to Bloomberg Second Measure.
A spokesperson for Uber said they were unaware of any data that supports the notion that many of these kinds of accidents involve Uber.
While it’s rare for a passenger to insist on getting out early, as happened in Morales’ case, most dooring incidents come about because drivers drop off their passengers in an unsafe place near a bike lane or in front of a driveway.
“It’s usually when there’s something going on, and a lot of people are being dropped off at once, and so there’s no parking for anybody.” Stephenson noted. “And we also see it during commuting times, because that’s when a lot of cyclists are coming and a lot of people are also getting transported by Uber.”
The injuries can be severe. Chris Colwell, the chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, said even helmeted cyclists can be badly hurt when they bike at full speed with no anticipation of an open door. Stephenson has dealt with cases in which a cyclist suffers lifelong brain damage; another nearly died after losing a lot of blood.
And sometimes injuries can be delayed, even if there is no clear and bleeding wound right after impact, added Colwell.
Stephenson is currently handling a case against Uber on behalf of a 59-year-old cyclist who developed early onset dementia, allegedly after being doored by an Uber outside of Moscone Center in February, 2018.
A hastily opened door can trigger a chain of events that leads to an accident, even if a cyclist avoids it or suffers only a glancing blow. In May, 2020, 30-year-old Devlin O’Connor was fatally struck by a second vehicle after he was doored on Frederick Street.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group for cyclist safety, has a tip page telling cyclists to stay away from the “door zone” and never to bike next to a parked vehicle. But on many roads in the city, this is aspirational advice.
In Morales’ case, there was only one narrow passageway for him between the car waiting for the red light and the car parked along the street. “I am not an urban planner, but I would love to see roads that allow the separation of pedestrians, bikers, and vehicles,” said Morales.
“If a cyclist has to bike past a car, even a parked one, slow down to a speed where you can stop at any time,” suggested Colwell.
Stephenson said another solution is to ask the ride-share companies to train their drivers better.
In 2019, Uber launched Bike Lane Alerts, and San Francisco was one of the first cities to get this feature. Riders receive a push notification informing them that their upcoming drop-off is near or along a bike lane, and reminds them to look out for people on bikes before opening their door.
“Part of the problem is, the passengers are sitting in the back seat, and there’s no mirror. So it’s harder for the passenger to see that the cyclist is coming. So I believe that Uber needs to train its drivers to check their mirrors and to then warn the disembarking passengers that a cyclist is coming,” said Stephenson.
For passengers, Uber also sent educational materials about using the Dutch Reach. This requires opening the vehicle’s door with the opposite hand, which requires twisting the body. This enables a driver or passenger to spot bike riders before opening a car door.