Wednesday, June 5, 2013

the Paul Turner Wave-through

Last week on my way to work I was stopped at NW Blvd waiting for traffic to clear so I could cross. There was one more car and it would be clear.  But the car slowed down and stopped a half block before the intersection.  What the hey? Are they stopping for me or something else? Why is it usually the last car? You know as soon as I decide to cross, the car will start moving.  So I give them the wave - ok go on by, you have the right of way.

But they didn't proceed forward. They waved for me to go.  I shook my head and waved for them to go.  They waved back. Oh great this is going to be a test of wills.  Sometimes at this point I'll go, but that is also when the driver decides to go.  Which is why I wave them by in the first place. So I wave again and yell not so politely "GO!".

I call this keep-going-wave the Paul Turner wave, named after the Slice columnist in the Spokesman Review.  He's also a bike-to-worker, and seems like a good guy.  Regular and semi-irregular readers of his column know that he has mentioned motorists stopping inappropriately for bicyclists and he brought it up in Sunday's column.  Like me, he waves them by.  Once he walked over and discussed it with the motorist.  I haven't done that yet.

I think most drivers think they are being nice, or maybe they think they're supposed to stop for bicyclists because we're like pedestrians to them.  But what I've seen happen too often is a motorist behind them thinks they're stopping to turn, and so they whip around the stopped car.  Or if it's a multi-lane street, the other lanes don't stop.  So I'm not about to start across the street until it's clear.  Even though I am a bike commuter, I still have a self-preservation instinct.

I've developed a few strategies to decrease the likelihood of a car stopping for me when they needn't.  I pull out my water bottle.  I fiddle with my light, cables or backpack.  On one-way streets I look down the street in the direction traffic is going, pretending to be oblivious.

Sometimes it gets amusing.  I waved one guy by on 2-lane 1-way Alberta, and he waved back. I yelled out - there's a car going around you. So he turned his head back and missed seeing the car that just whizzed on by.  He looked at me again and waved.  I didn't go because there were more cars coming and he finally drove off with that wtf look.  Once on Monroe a lady waited forever for me to cross as cars went zipping by in the other lanes, not stopping.  As she finally drove off, she yelled "I was waiting for you!" Well. yeah, but traffic wasn't stopping or clear.

Some weeks I break down and cross more often when a driver stops for me.  I regularly make an exception for School buses, as I figure if they took the trouble to stop those massive beasts for me, I'lll cross. Most other vehicles I give the Turner wave.


  1. the age old conundrum.

    after a year or so of principled "no you go" waving and maddening fussery, I just go now. And I go without any acknowledgement at all: i don't wave, I don't look at the drivers. I maintain my poker face looking straight ahead.
    it's the most painless... and really, the most efficient.

    UNLESS -- it's a multi-lane street-- then shit gets jammed up. Usually, the driver gets all pissed off when i don't go and ends up driving off angry, but in some cases -- and i hate this most of all -- all lanes will stop. then i fall back to pokerface... but often i can't help but shake my head at this point.

  2. yeah I think I'm slowly losing my principles in this matter and am going to take it on a case by case basis. i'm going to try that poker face/no wave crossing - i've found eye contact is overrated.