Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pop quiz

Okay, motorists: what do you do when you get to a four-way stop and there is another car there?

Yup. You let the car that got there first do what it's going to do, and then you go on.

What happens if you get there at the exact same time?

Yup. Whoever's on the right does whatever she's going to do, and thus onward.

Now, I know that as a cyclist, I'm expected to obey all the same rules of the road as you motorists. I'm expected to stop for red lights and stop signs, signal my turns, pull over for emergency vehicles, all that stuff.

Where the problem lies is that I have no idea if you know that, or if you know that I know that, and then we have these awkward little standoffs at the intersection, where I stop for you, you hesitate, I wait, then decide you must be letting me go, kick the pedals into position and start up, only to brake again because you've decided that I was waiting for you and started through yourself, and then there's a herky-jerky little Keystone Cops moment, which usually only irritates both of us.

This is partly due to the fact that there are a lot of cyclists around who blow off whatever rules don't work for them, or who don't know that those rules apply to cyclists - either way, all they're doing is telling motorists that there is no way to know what to expect from someone on a bicycle - brazen alleycatism? Nervous jitters? A dash through that red light, or a sudden brake? Moving into the left lane to turn, or hopping onto the pedestrian crosswalk?  I will admit that when it comes to stop signs, if there are no cars anywhere near the stop sign, I do often just slow down, look both ways, and keep rolling. It's got to do with how much energy it takes to start up again once you've stopped. But if there are any cars involved, I try, really hard, to act just like one of them. And sometimes that confuses the hell out of them.

Not that I think there should be standard cycling tests before you're allowed to ride on the road or anything. (God, no.) I don't know how to fix this unpredictability issue. Education? Maybe. Maybe a PSA ad campaign, just to let people know about things like that four-way-stop thing. (Hey, there are drivers who don't know what you're supposed to do at a stop sign either: you're killing two birds with one stone that way.) 

Because that weird little dance you and I do, motorists, at the intersection? It annoys you too, right? Wouldn't you like to know that I know (that you know) what I'm doing?


  1. Thank god you said this. Instead of sneakers, a good pair of tap shoes might be in order for cyclists. It's hard to follow the rules of the road sometimes when you don't know if the other guy knows and is following the same rulebook.

  2. This is the one thing I hate most about cycling in Ottawa, especially when biking in urban/residential areas like Powell Street.

    They think they're doing you a favour or something, but they don't understand that if my feet are on the ground, I've stopped on purpose.