Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

When Kindness Could Kill

Posted by BrianJ on May 20, 2009

Today’s installment of Bike to Work…

Toward the end of my bike commute home from work is an intersection I loathe. From the photo below (grabbed from Google Street View), you can see that the street I must cross goes up and down a hill (ignore the apparent curve to the street: it is an artifact of the “semi-panoramic” view). It’s sort of a four-lane road: there’s no parking along the curb, so whenever one car prepares to turn—whether left or right—the rest of the cars pass it in the “other lane.” With four “lanes,” there is no shoulder. The photos below were probably taken during the day when traffic is light; during rush hour—which is when the following story takes place—there would be 10-20 more cars in the picture. Traffic moves at ~35-45 mph. To the right—where the school bus is—is the crest of the hill, which falls steeply on the other side. There is no traffic signal.

75th

In sum, crossing this street sometimes feels like Frogger, level 25. It’s okay though: I just wait until there’s a very good break in traffic and scurry across. And sometimes I wait and wait and wait and…but I make it across safely; unlike Frogger, there is no time limit and I can afford to wait.

A few weeks ago, a motorist coming up the hill (to my left) thought she’d show charity and let me cross. She stopped her car before the intersection and motioned me with her hand. Problem is, if I had taken her up on her offer, I would likely have been killed.

You see, while the kind motorist had perfect control over her own car, she had zero control over all the other vehicles flying through the intersection. True, she was blocking other cars directly behind her, but shortly after she motioned me across another car zoomed past her line of cars in the other “lane.” Because that car was in the far right “lane” coming up the hill, there was no way for the driver to see me—or me him—until he was about 35 feet from where I would have been in the intersection. How many feet does it take for a car, traveling at 40 mph, to stop? (Hint: this isn’t the time I would want to find out!)

To make matters worse, I also glanced to my right—up the hill—to see another car crest and come down through the intersection. With all of her focus on me, the driver who motioned me to cross was not looking up the hill for other traffic. Even if I had escaped the car that past her, the other car coming down the hill would have hit me. Level 25 indeed!

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A few days ago, another driver at a different intersection also motioned me to cross. I looked at the driver and shook my head “no.” He insisted, motioning more emphatically that he was “happy to let me cross.” I shook my head again and dismounted to make it clear that I would not cross. The driver looked a bit perturbed, rolled his eyes, and went on his way. I waited for a few more cars and then crossed when it was clear. Better to refuse a “good Samaritan” and make him a little miffed than to get hit.

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Take Home Message for Motorists: With very few exceptions, cyclists are required to obey all of the same traffic laws as automobiles; you would never stop your car like this at an intersection to let another motorist cross, so don’t do it for a cyclist. The kindest thing you can do for cyclists is to obey all traffic laws and let them do likewise. If other drivers don’t know why you stopped (i.e., they didn’t see the cyclist), then to them your driving just seems erratic, often causing them to respond with similarly unpredictable driving. One of a cycling commuter’s worst nightmares is unpredictable drivers.

Take Home Message for Cyclists: Do not ever take the hand signals of anyone as a sign that “all’s clear.” You are always responsible. If the car waving you across is the only car around, then fine, go ahead and cross. But if there are any other cars nearby, you cannot assume that all the drivers agree on letting you break the rules—or that they even saw you. Even if you’re motioned to cross by a police officer directing traffic, it’s still your job to make sure it’s safe.

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Gospel Application: Honestly, I don’t have any analogy to make this time; I just wanted to share this vital safety tip/plea. (If you want a relevant scripture, try D&C 88:81.) I see this kind of thing a lot—motorists waving cyclists across the street—and I see cyclists taking them up on it. I hope it’s never you.

4 Responses to “When Kindness Could Kill”

  1. Jacob J said

    Frogger, level 25

    Awesome. Glad you were safe, biking is very dangerous for the reasons you explain. I love your message to motorists.

  2. BrianJ said

    Thanks Jacob!

  3. Same lessons apply to pedestrians, even in crosswalks. Can’t count the number of times a car has stopped and its driver waved me across, seemingly oblivious to the car coming in the next lane over who clearly was NOT going to stop. What’s that old PSA slogan? Something about “you can be dead right, and be just as dead.”

  4. BrianJ said

    Ardis, I was trying to think of a catchy phrase like that to make my point in a previous post (“The Right of Weigh“). I just don’t have slogan skillz.

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