Don’t be so nice, bicyclist tells drivers
By Robert Thomson,
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I wanted to comment on the letter in the Sept. 23 column regarding motorists who stop at intersections on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail to allow cyclists to cross. As a longtime bike commuter and casual rider, I often encounter drivers who stop suddenly when I’m patiently (and correctly) waiting to cross a road at my stop sign.
While I appreciate that their sudden stop is coming from a place of courtesy and perhaps caution, it is dangerous and confusing for everyone.
Whether at a road intersection or road and trail crossing, cyclists are expected to obey traffic signs. When a driver sees a cyclist waiting and comes to a sudden stop, not only do they risk being rear-ended, but they also put the bike rider at risk. Traffic moves in two directions on most roads. If I’m obeying my stop sign, I may have a driver to my right come to an unsigned stop. Before I proceed, I need to be clear what a driver to my left is doing, and that driver may not be stopping.
This creates confusion on everyone’s part. In such situations, I’ve had the first driver yell or honk the horn for me to proceed. If I move into the intersection too quickly, I risk being hit by traffic from the other side or forcing a driver there to slam on the brakes, possibly causing an accident.
There are so many variables when bikes and cars meet on the same roads. The most important single thing I’ve found in 40 years of riding is when confusion arises ( and sometimes before it arises), make eye contact with drivers. In all situations, however, a driver should also know that when cyclists are stopped, feet on the ground at an intersection, they are waiting for you to continue. Thanks for the offer to let me go first, but I can wait another 20 seconds.
— Rhonda Krafchin, Fairfax
Thus, we continue our conver-sation about who’s supposed to do what at crossings and when they’re supposed to do it.
Travelers have different points of view on how to do this safely. Drivers tend to think one way, cyclists and pedestrians another. People are protective of their right to keep moving.
But in this discussion, the responses have been more varied. Perhaps that’s because the Sept. 23 letter didn’t pit drivers against cyclists and pedestrians, which is the most explosive formula for discussions. Rather, it started with a driver critiquing the behavior of drivers who come to sudden stops at crossings even though the pedestrians and cyclists are merely waiting at the side of the road.
I responded that drivers have a responsibility to stop for pedestrians in crossings, but not for those waiting at the sides. To me, it’s the same scenario a driver faces when approaching an intersection where a motorist to the left or right is waiting at a stop sign. If you don’t also have a stop sign, it’s not your responsibility to stop. If you did so, you probably would confuse other drivers.
In last Sunday’s column, other travelers said I was letting those following drivers off the hook because it was their responsibility to follow at a safe distance and be prepared to stop. Actually, I don’t mean to let any of us off the hook.
Krafchin describes just how tricky it can be from a waiting cyclist’s point of view. Other travelers who wrote in also looked at the scenario from the point of view of an unprotected human watching a couple of tons of vehicle approach at high speeds. A common theme was concern about what drivers in other lanes would do once the courteous driver stopped.
They worry not only about the driver approaching from the opposite direction on a two-lane road, but also about the drivers next to those drivers on four-lane roads.
Getting through a crossing, whether it’s a crosswalk or an intersection, is just about the trickiest thing we have to do while moving. We all need to pay attention and to behave as predictably as possible.
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.