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Bicyclists ask motorists to do the Dutch Reach

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
John Lindenmayer is the Executive Director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
An outline of Michigan using bicycle chain links. Art by John Lindenmayer.

Riding a bike to work might be good for the environment, but automobile drivers are still getting used to the idea of sharing the road. 

Bicycling to work sometimes can be an obstacle course of cars. But, since this story is about making bicyclists safer, it only made sense for John Lindenmayer to ride his bike to the interview.

We met on Michigan Avenue in downtown Lansing less than a block from the capitol. Cars were parked on both sides of the road and traffic was swirling in the nearby roundabout.

“Bicyclists are inherently vulnerable. They don’t have air bags and seat belts and steel casings to protect them,” said Lindenmayer, the Executive Director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists. It’s his job to work to make bicycling safer.

Cities have been putting in a lot more bike lanes. Road engineers are designing buffers to give bikes and cars some separation. That’s encouraged more people to commute to work on their bicycle. In Michigan about 20,000 people bike to work.

“There’s more and more people who are choosing to be more environmentally conscious and choose a more sustainable mode of transportation. They’re burning calories not carbon, helping to show that uptick in bicycling in our communities,” Lindenmayer said.

Designing roads to make bicyclists safer only goes so far. There’s one problem that’s been around as long as bicycles and cars have been sharing the road as an old 1969 bicycle safety film describes: “If there are cars parked on the street on which you are riding, always watch for car doors being suddenly opened.”


Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
A Lansing police officer negotiating a roundabout.

Now, bicyclists are asking motorists to also watch for them.

“One of the things that’s really important is making sure that when they get out of their vehicle, they’re specifically looking for bicyclists," Lindenmayer said.

When a car door pops open right in front of a bike, riders crash. Sometimes they’re severely hurt. Bicyclists call it “dooring” or “getting doored.”

But there is something motorists can do: the Dutch Reach.  But, through interviews on the street, we found not too many people have heard of that.

LG: “If your bicyclist friend said to you, ‘Hey, I want you to start using the Dutch Reach,’ what would they be asking you to do?”

Brian Heusel, Saline: “Probably pedal different.”

Kyle DeWitt, Tecumseh: “The Dutch Reach? Nah. I don’t know what it is.”

LG: “Have you heard of the Dutch Reach?”

Julie Schiller, Tecumseh: “I have not.”

Stephen Mitchell, Adrian: “This is embarrassing because I do ride a bicycle, but I’m afraid I don’t know.”

Alara Gerrell, Swanton, OH “I’m going to say it’s a type of bike, maybe.”

CoreyLord, Tecumseh “No. I have no idea. That’s a tough one.”

John Lindenmayer says the Dutch Reach is not that complicated.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Cars parallel parked along Michigan Avenue in Lansing.

“It’s common practice over in the Netherlands and it’s becoming more and more popular here in the United States. And, the idea is that you open your vehicle with your opposite hand,” he said.

So, if you’ve parallel parked on the street and you’re in the driver’s seat, you would reach for the handle with your right hand so that your body twists and you can more easily look back to make sure there’s not a bicyclist or scooter that’s going to smack into your door when you open it.

Illinois just passed a law requiring its Rules of the Road book to include the Dutch Reach.

John Lindenmayer says that’s not happened in Michigan yet.

“Well, we don’t specifically have a Dutch Reach law on the books, however we did pass a piece of legislation earlier this year that requires that our drivers education curriculum dedicate one hour to educating young drivers about how to safely with bicyclists and other vulnerable roadway users. So, League of Michigan Bicyclists is working to update that curriculum right now. And we’ll certainly be including something about the Dutch Reach in there along with a variety of other things to avoid common crash scenarios.”

There are going to be more people commuting on bicycles as cities and towns become more bike friendly. Automobile drivers and passengers have to remember to share the road whether their car is moving or parked.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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