Peeve # 101: Car Drivers Who Politely Invite you into the Path of Certain Death
I come to an intersection at which the stop sign faces my direction, and since I can see cars coming, I stop completely, instead of my usual approach to stop signs in low-traffic residential areas -- slow down, whip head back and forth several times, zip on through. A driver who fancies himself bike-friendly (but is clearly not a cyclist) sees me stopped there and is afflicted with an attack of chivalry. He or she slows to a stop and begins signaling magnanimously for me to cross.
Meanwhile other drivers are not feeling chivalrous, and in fact may not even be noticing me. They have their minds on their destination, their upcoming meeting, the windbag blathering away on the radio, their cell phone conversation, and the operation of their particular piece of heavy machinery. The part of their brain left over from all that has registered that the stop sign is not for them but for the crossing traffic, so it’s safe to sail through this intersection.
They wonder absently why one car is stopped when they don’t even have the stop sign, but oh well who cares…..unless they’re directly behind the stopped car, in which case they do care, and if they’ve been paying attention, they stop – or they rear-end that car, or come close to doing so, and sometimes honk in frustration. If they are not directly behind the stopped car, they keep right on rolling, through the intersection.
This means that if the cyclist accepts the offer to cross first, and goes along with the polite “go ahead” gestures of the stopped driver, she (I) will be squished by other cars. It’s especially deadly on one-way streets where it’s a car in the nearest lane that stops, obliterating the cyclists view of the next lane over. A driver approaching in the next lane over will wonder why that other car has stopped, and careen on past it just in time to smack the cyclist or pedestrian crossing in front of the stopped car.
So the cyclist hesitates. That launches one of those comedy routines of two people motioning for the other to go first. Except the cyclist is not acting out of politeness but out of fear of slaughter.
Eventually the other cars see that something is amiss and grind to a stop to let this poor confused nut of a cyclist have her way, as an alternative to killing her. No doubt their act of kindness is accompanied by great sighs of begrudgement inside their cars and remarks like “Get a move on, lady!” or “Come on, honey. Get with the program."
The driver who originally stopped comes off looking like the good Samaritan displaying remarkable patience toward a poor bewildered cyclist -- a doddery fool oblivious to stop signs -- when in reality it was the car driver that started the whole stupid thing.
One technique I have found for dealing with this is to gaze intently at the peak of a nearby dwelling, refusing to notice that the car has stopped for me, until finally they drive off in a huff, muttering something about doddery fools oblivious to offers of assistance.
Suggestions from other cyclists welcome.