In 2016, Cambridge resident Michael Charney pushed for state and local officials to promote the “Dutch Reach,” a safety maneuver meant to curb drivers from opening their car doors into the paths of oncoming cyclists.
Within months, the move, which requires motorists to lean over and grab a car door handle with their right hand, so they’re forced to twist their upper body and look over their shoulder, not only appeared in an updated version of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s driver’s manual — the term was even adopted by the Canadian government.
Now, efforts to get people to practice the Dutch Reach are reaching even further.
Last month, officials from Lyft added a push notification to the company’s app that alerts passengers exiting a vehicle to practice the action to avoid injuring nearby cyclists. The company said the addition was the result of conversations with transportation advocates locally and nationally.
“I’m delighted to see that Lyft has embraced the Dutch Reach, and the term Dutch Reach,” said Charney, who has continued to champion the campaign. “It’s really been an amazingly viral” movement.
Charney came up with the term and campaign for the Dutch Reach based on a practice that’s taught to all Dutch drivers as part of their driver education and exams. While he didn’t create the maneuver itself, he’s credited with coining the term.
The implementation of the Lyft alert, which appears on smartphone screens during some rides, follows a recent meeting with local bike advocacy groups and representatives from the ride-hailing company.
In February, groups of “fed-up” Boston-area cyclists wrote a strongly-worded letter to officials from Uber and Lyft demanding the companies educate drivers about the hazards of parking and pulling over in bike lanes and the sides of roads.
The letter, which was signed by 14 bike organizations, called it a “persistent problem” that put the lives of cyclists at risk.
As part of the letter, bike advocates called on both Lyft and Uber to sit down with stakeholders to discuss safety measures that could be adopted to protect cyclists.
Included on the list of demands was to send smartphone alerts to drivers and passengers, reminding them to check for cyclists before opening the door.
A month after the letter was sent, Lyft met with members of the groups. During the meeting, advocates pitched Charney’s Dutch Reach campaign. On April 17, Lyft announced its campaign for the alert function, referencing the term.
“This new road safety campaign was one result of conversations we’ve had with transportation advocates and policymakers around the country,” a Lyft spokesman said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the ongoing dialogue about the best ways we can work together to share the road.”
When the push notification pops up on a passenger’s phone, it directs users to a landing page on Lyft’s website that explains — step-by-step — how the Dutch Reach works. The information also highlights the difference that using the method can make when hopping out of a car.
“By changing how you open the car door, you could save a cyclist’s life,” Lyft’s website says. “Doing the Dutch Reach is a proven way to help prevent dooring collisions. What’s more, it reminds drivers and riders to safely and peacefully coexist with our friends on two wheels.”
On April 22, Brian Roberts, Lyft’s chief financial officer, promoted the concept in a tweet, and said the company “is focused on keeping the streets safe for everyone. Please learn the Dutch Reach!”
Ken Carlson, a member of the Somerville Bicycle Committee, one of the groups represented in the letter to Lyft, said in a statement that the advocacy organizations who called for changes are pleased that Lyft added the Dutch Reach feature to its app. But he also called on the company to do more to prevent crashes.
“We are encouraged that Lyft has initiated sending push notifications and hope they deploy Dutch Reach stickers for their drivers to display and that they promote driver awareness of the campaign,” Carlson said. “We also hope that the dangerous practice of ride share vehicles stopping in bike lanes ceases.”
Thank you @lyft for reminding passengers to use the Dutch Reach when getting out of cars to prevent dooring cyclists! pic.twitter.com/qcFkWndHSv— Peter Cheung (@bostonaruban) April 24, 2019
Props to @lyft for promoting the Dutch Reach! Simple habit for respecting bike lanes with your car door.— marcus siegel (@msiegs) April 26, 2019
It’s a pedestrian world. We’re just driving in it.
cc @sfbike 🚴♀️ pic.twitter.com/QzbnWFoqnc
From @lyft. This for sure saves injuries here in #Philly. The #DutchReach is a simple maneuver that helps keeps cyclists and scooter-ers safer. By changing how you open the car door, you could save a cyclist’s life. More here: https://t.co/PTkaKZladk pic.twitter.com/XkR1xS0TMl— Atul Gupta, MD (@AtulGupta_MD) April 24, 2019
Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.