Walkers, bicyclists: Time eye contact with drivers well
By Robert Thomson,
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In the May 3 Dr. Gridlock column, you and your writers missed a very important point. Stephen J. Verdier of Alexandria wrote that walkers and bikers should “make eye contact with drivers before stepping in front of them.”
Am I the only one who sees the absence of common sense in this statement? We were all taught never to step in front of a moving vehicle. If you can see the driver’s eyes well enough to make eye contact, it is too late. Stay on the sidewalk until the coast is clear! Turn signal or not, it doesn’t mean that drivers will actually stop. Pedestrians have to take responsibility for their safety.
— Mary Evans, Arlington
Verdier, who has plenty of experience cycling, walking and driving in the D.C. area, was responding to my question about how drivers anticipate the moves of other drivers when some seem to have forgotten the location of the turn signal.
He added the suggestion to walkers and bikers that they make eye contact with drivers. Many interactions between walkers, cyclists and drivers have the potential to be life-threatening, so Evans is right to urge caution.
But I’m confident that Verdier didn’t intend to have us step out in front of a speeding car and then try for eye contact with the driver. Under those circumstances, we might as well assume the crash position.
Traffic-safety experts try to get us through those many situations in urban life when the coast isn’t completely clear. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s safety program, for example, recommends that pedestrians “make eye contact with drivers so they see you. Never assume they do.”
But I thought a comment submitted by a pedestrian commuter during one of my online chats might address concerns raised by Evans:
“Making eye contact with a driver is always a good bet. This doesn’t mean stepping right out in front of them willy-nilly, of course, but when you are legally crossing at a lighted or signed crosswalk and the car is slowed or stopped, it helps make sure they see you. Humans are hard-wired to notice eyes. I’ve seen too many drivers blow through the lights on Lee Highway coming down the hill to Rosslyn to believe that drivers are paying attention all the time, so every little bit helps.”
Getting a jump
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I enjoyed the article [Commuter page, May 13] about what cyclists should do in various situations. However, you didn’t touch on one issue that my husband and I disagree with each other about: When stopped at a red light on a dual-lane roadway, with two or three cars and a cyclist in a row waiting for the light to change, we have occasionally witnessed the cyclist, after looking to see that no cars are coming from the opposite direction, proceed through the intersection against the light.
This infuriates my rather anti-bicycle husband, but my son who lives in California and is a major bicycle rider and advocate says that this is frequently the safest thing for all concerned, as long as the cyclist is cautious.
This seems very reasonable to me. The only possible drawback being the ire of drivers who become furious when they see a cyclist “not paying attention to the rules!” I would like to know what you think about this particular issue.
— Peggy Luthringer, the District
That behavior isn’t legal in the D.C. area, though some cyclists think it should be. I’d like to minimize the times when any individual traveler gets to decide which safety rules to obey, whether it’s about driving the speed limit or going through a red light. We could add this to the topics for my next online chat at noon Monday, at live.washingtonpost.com/gridlock-0521.html.
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.