By Julie Deardorff, Tribune Newspapers
August 4, 2011
Here’s a simple – but brilliant — idea that could make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians: When you get out of your car on the driver’s side, open the door with your right hand. This will force you to twist your body and look back, allowing you to see if any cyclists or walkers are coming by.
In The Netherlands, where space is limited and nearly everyone bikes, drivers are taught to do this, Russell Shorto recently wrote in the New York Times opinion piece, The Dutch Way: Bicycles and Fresh Bread.
“Likewise, every Dutch child has to pass a bicycle safety exam at school,” he wrote. “The coexistence of different modes of travel is hard-wired into the culture.”
The sheer numbers of cyclists in Amsterdam, meanwhile, also helps make streets safer because drivers are more likely to expect them. “Bicyclists and pedestrians are less likely to be hit by cars in cities that have greater numbers of cyclists and pedestrians,” said psychologist Dan Simons, who explored this phenomenon in his book, “The Invisible Gorilla,” which he coauthored with Chris Chabris.
We’ve got a long way to go before drivers start looking for cyclists and American cities learn to “think outside the car” as Shorto put it. But a sea change has to start somewhere. Perhaps this one polite gesture could help make a difference.