The hastily opened car door affected two Chicago bicyclists in very different ways. For one, the inattentive driver's action inflicted hideous harm. For another, it released inspiration.
Thirteen year old Maxine Soss was riding her bicycle with her mother north on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood at around 4:00 p.m. on July 10, 2012. As they pedaled passed Lincoln's intersection with West Webster Avenue there was another cyclist riding about 25 feet in front of them. He was 34 years old and riding his daily commute home from work in Lincoln's dedicated bike lane. Maxine saw the car stopped along the curb to the right of the bike lane. She saw the door spring open and slice through the man's lower right leg. She and her mom raced ahead and stopped. The driver was screaming. Blood was pooling. Maxine could see the exposed bones in the man's lower leg. She and her mom helped quell the bleeding and waited with the fallen cyclist for help to arrive.
As the weeks passed, the images and sounds of those terrible moments refused to leave Maxine. But the events of that July day did not just leave a dark mark on her memory. They challenged her. They presented a problem in need of a solution; one that she would not just leave to others to solve. What can I do to prevent another person from getting doored? The student science fair at Whitney Young High School presented Maxine with the platform she needed. She decided that her project would be to find an engineering solution to the threat of dooring. She reflected intently on what could be invented to alert a driver that a cyclist was approaching.
"After research, meeting with a few physics teachers, and some consultation with a local engineering executive, she came up with an alarm system that could be produced on a small scale, and built a model," said Maxine's mom, Kelly Friedl.
|Maxine's display at the Whitney Young Science Fair|
Like most good ideas, Maxine's was relatively simple. "By utilizing the general physics principals of a proximity sensor system, she rewired the mechanics of a cordless doorbell system," said Ms. Friedl. "On her scale model, she inserted proximity reader mechanics inside of a toy car. She then attached a proximity sensor (a magnet) to a model bike. As the bike approached the car, an alarm would sound" to alert the driver. In the real world, a small magnetic band would be placed on the bicycle and would communicate with the sensor of a vehicle implementing the system. Maxine and her mom imagine selling the system very cheaply, or even giving it away for free at cycling events, to bicyclists who also drive. The hope is that the bicycling community would help get the project off the ground, creating momentum by using the system on their own vehicles.
The science fair has come and gone, but Maxine plans to continue her project. She intends to repeat the same project next year, and hopefully start testing it in the real world. Funding is needed to take it to the next level, but her youth and desire to do good fuel a boundless optimism.
Maxine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her mom can be reached at email@example.com.