Friday, January 3, 2014

Mr Speare Was Right

In this week's Inlander (Jan 2-8, 2014 Edition) is a Jeers directed at drivers who stop for bikes that are stopped at a stop sign. Which prompted me to dig up this unfinished post from from late October or early November....

So there I was, stopped at a stop sign.  On a north/south side street, planning to turn left and head east on my ride to work.  There was exactly one car in the cross street, traveling east.  Good, I can go after they have passed by.  But they stopped about 10 yards before the intersection, rolled down their window (it was a chilly morning) and waved for me to go.  Oh, great here we go again.  It may just be a coincidence, but ever since Paul Turner last mentioned it in his Slice column (also see my June 5 blog post ), hardly any drivers were stopping and motioning me to go when legally they had the right of way. When they do, I usually wave them on but sometimes cross, depending on how safe I perceive the situation to be, or how I feel.

This time, I waved them on - there was no reason for them to stop, and I wasn't quite ready to go.  They waved again, and another car was approaching from the east, so I waved them both on. The westbound car kept going, but now I had irritated the guy who initially stopped. He yelled at me - "GO!!". I could have just gone, but now he had irritated me, so I yelled back, "No, you GO!".  If I go, he'll just have to go around me after I turn.  We were also at that point in the dance where we both might start going at the same time.

Neither of us moved.  Another bike/car standoff.  A little stubbornness can go a long way.

He finally moved, yelling at me as he went by "you're the reason people get killed!" I thought what? I can't get killed by not riding in front of oncoming traffic.  I yelled back "you have the right of way"!

"You're in a crosswalk!!"  Which flummoxed me - what crosswalk? I had to look at the street and sure enough over to the right of the intersection was a painted crosswalk. But I was in the middle of the side street and nowhere near it.  He thinks I'm a pedestrian. Where are these people when I'm walking the dogs and trying to cross a street?

Finally, he drove on - "Muckin maggot!" or something like that. I muttered "stupid PT Loser".  Instead of turning left and catching up with him at the light, I went straight and turned a couple blocks down instead.  I didn't feel like a closer confrontation.

The next few days I took a different route to work, and stopped wearing the yellow jacket (which I'd just started wearing again in low-light commutes), trying not to be recognizable. But right then and there, I said to hell with it, if a car stops, and it's safe and clear, then I am crossing from now on, just like John had commented:

"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.

The busy multi-lane streets - 2 lane one-ways or wide 4-lanes can be a problem. But even on these streets, if multiple lanes are stopping, and the situation appears safe, I figure what the heck might as well go. 

On both 1-way and 2-way streets, I am extremely careful when there are cars approaching behind the car that stopped for me, as they have a tendency to whip around the first car, thinking it has stopped to make a turn, not that it is stopped for a bicyclist or pedestrian.   

A few days after this incident, I was riding home and arrived at the same intersection.  A similar looking car stopped for me.  I hesitated, then crossed. You win, mister.

There is the consideration that we should help educate drivers or set an example for other bikers by not proceeding, but I've decided that's not my job. I'm just trying to get to work, and stay in a good mood. Bikes can be seen as somewhere between a pedestrian and a motor vehicle, and drivers have differing reactions to them. In the end, I think it's better public relations to not piss off the drivers who think they're being nice, and it's less stressful. 


  1. You are correct when you say it's not your or our job to educate motorists or anyone else for that matter. I have learned to make my intentions known very subtly with a point left or right or maybe just a nod. I keep an eye on everything around me but basically blaze my own trail when riding in traffic.

  2. whoa. Love the title. I've not seen that before ... and rarely hear it.


  3. I almost checked with you first, but figured you wouldn't mind.