Category Archives: Road Etiquette

Being nice to each other as we share common space

slightly creepy (?) bike interactions–thoughts?

I’m trying to figure this out. Earlier this week, I was hustling from work to a board meeting for the Hollywood Farmers Market, trying to navigate the other hordes of cyclists who also head north on Williams during evening commute time (geez! I had no idea so many people biked that way!).

At one point, I signaled a right turn. You know, the way they teach you to signal right turns, like this:

right turn

I always signal with my left arm because that’s the side that traffic is on. I guess if I were on the left side of the street I would signal with my right arm; I just want to use the signal that most people are likely to see.

Anyway, I signaled my turn, then turned, then had to stop at a red light. While I was stopped, another dude on a bike rode up to me. “Hey,” he said. “When you’re signaling a turn, it’s much more clear if you point in the direction you’re going to turn. That way, no one gets confused.”

Basically, he was telling me to signal like this:

alternate right turn

Which is definitely a valid way to signal, just one that I chose not to use. I was a little annoyed that he was trying to school me on road etiquette, but figuring that he was probably just trying to help, I swallowed it down.

“Well, I generally use my left arm to signal because that’s the side that traffic is on.” I said. “Was my signal not clear or something? Could you not tell what I was doing?” I was trying to assume good intentions on his behalf, and also wondering if maybe my signaling is getting sloppy.

“Oh, no,” he answered. “Your signal was fine.” And then he went on to tell me all about how signaling with your right arm is really the way to go so other people on bikes understand you.

At this point, I was a little confused. The way I signaled is perfectly legal, makes more sense for visibility, and he’d just told me that my signal was fine. Why the heck was he trying to tell me to signal differently?

I couldn’t really figure out what he was after, and the more he talked the more it sounded like he was sort of covertly saying that he understood my signal but all those other unwashed hordes of cyclists probably wouldn’t. Like he was trying to put the two of us in an elite club of cyclists removed from all those other guys. Which I really don’t like.

Anyway, he ultimately took off, zoomed past a bunch of other people, and then pulled in next to the only other woman biking in our little peloton. And struck up a conversation with her. Perhaps about her turn signals. And it made me wonder, was that signaling thing just an excuse to talk to me? Was he trying to hit on me by setting himself above all those other cyclists? Was he sort of paternalistically trying to ingratiate himself? And even if he wasn’t hitting on me, even if he was, say, just trying to encourage women biking, why do it in such a veiledly-condescending way?

I have no idea, but the whole thing left me feeling a little gross and a lot confused.

There should definitely be a way in life to tell people how they can improve something without their getting pissed off–some dude should be able to tell me when I’m not being clear with my signals, and I should be able to take it as a learning experience. But when what I’m doing is clear and what’s unclear is the motivation for this random dude talking to me in a way that smacks of elitism and maybe sexism–then, I’m not sure what the right response is.


Bike bells!
Or, re-learning how to pass people

For a long time, I’ve had bike bell envy. My handlebars–both the ones that were stolen and the new ones I got to replace them–are super thick, and I’ve never yet found a bell mount that fits around them. So while people cheerily dinged their bells on the Eastbank Esplanade, say, I was relegated to saying “on your left” and hoping my voice would carry over the sounds of nearby I-5.

Sure, I probably could have cobbled something together, but this was a case where the activation energy required was just that much higher than how much I cared about it;)

But! Enter David! For my birthday, he got me a bike bell that mounts on the stem. Which is awesome not only because it means I can actually attach it to my bike, but I can also attach it to my bike while still using my handlebar bag!

trek + new bike bell(isn’t it awesome?? Ding ding!! :)

I’ve had this bell on my bike for two and a half days now, and I’ve gotta say–I feel like I need to re-learn how to interact with people now that I have this whole new gadget.

I sort of thought I would just put a bell on my bike and then I could ding it when I passed people, but it turns out that doesn’t feel quite right. If a person’s not actually in my way, for example, but I just want to let him know that I’m going past, a bell ring seems almost like overkill. Not quite aggressive, but even this super cheery bell seems somewhat intrusive in that case.

On the other hand, I don’t like to pass people without at least letting them know that I’m there. So for right now, I’ve been using an only-slightly-more-rational-than-random approach of saying “on your left” or “hello” or “how’s it going” when I go past someone without them necessarily having to do anything, then using my bell when I want to make absolutely sure that someone ahead of me knows that I’m coming up.

I just want people to feel acknowledged and warned but not pestered. And I’m not quite sure yet how a bell fits into that.

But I sure do like that shiny, happy little bell! :) Thanks, David!

Anyone else out there have a bike bell? Is there any common bell etiquette that I should know about? Please enlighten me.

certainly we can do better

One of the teens I work with was hit by a car last week. He was walking across a street in NE Portland. And as he crossed, he had just enough time to make eye contact with a driver speeding toward him before he jumped, smashed into the windshield and flew over the back of the car. By the time he could get up, the guy was long gone.

So many reactions to this. First of all, thank god this teen had the presence of mind, in those split seconds, to jump, because otherwise I imagine he would simply have been smooshed.

Secondly. WTF. I am not a violent person by any means, but I am so angry that a person can hit a teenager, see him fly over the roof of his car, and keep driving. The inhumanity of that is staggering. Yes, I can to some extent understand being worried about getting in trouble, or being scared of legal hassles, or being in a hurry, or even being incapacitated, but that was a person who you just caused to fly through the air and land in the road behind you. Are you even going to see if he’s still alive? Make sure another car doesn’t finish him off? Are there really things in your life that matter more than the fact that you might have just killed someone?

Thirdly. And I may be oversensitive to this because of the kiddos I work with, but I can’t help but think about what this teen looks like. He’s a teenager. He’s black. He was probably wearing his hood up. I sincerely hope that the way he looked played no part in this person’s decision about stopping.

GOD. I tried to reign it in a little when this lovely, fragile, now-limping human being told me about this today, but what the fuck. It makes me so angry I can’t do anything but cry. So angry. Portland, humanity, everyone: we can do better than this.


at the risk of sounding trite, can’t we all just get along?

It was a kind of crazy evil magic: where there had been four people biking, suddenly there was one person with a clipped back tire, another one on the ground, and the two of us skidding to a stop to make sure everything was okay.

We’d been biking down the Springwater Corridor on a lovely spring evening to marvel at how high the river was running. Because it was purely a joyride on a multiuse path, we were going slowish, riding next to each other and keeping up a conversation. The two guys coming towards us were going much faster, and as we got closer the one in front slowed down rather abruptly. The guy behind him, not noticing the speed change in time, ran into his back tire and crashed to the ground in front of us.

We stopped. My thought, of course, was to make sure the guy who fell over was okay. He seemed a little miffed that he’d fallen, but otherwise fine. He got back up no problem, thanked us for making sure. After that, I don’t really remember specifics. What I do remember is the guy in front, the one who’d slowed down and been run into, all of a sudden was yelling. “This is what happens when people ride next to each other!” and “I just got rear-ended!” and who knows what else–like I said, I can’t remember the specifics anymore–but super, uncalled-for angry-talk.

It was explosive. It was the most confrontational anyone has ever been with me. And I have no idea where it came from. Certainly if we’d been riding side by side and taking up the whole path I could see him being slightly annoyed that he had to slow down to wait for us (though honestly, on a multiuse path, you have to expect that kind of thing), but the Springwater is wide. We were close to each other. There was plenty of room.


(that guy did not look like this. But he sure was angry)

I could also see why he might be upset that someone ran into him, but until we were talking about it later, I kind of forgot that he’d been wronged in any way. He was so quick to throw out blame in every direction that I forgot to make sure that he was okay, too. (And honestly, if it were just a matter of him being angry at being run into, it would have made more sense for him to yell at the guy who actually hit him than to yell at me and James. Who knows.)

Anyway, he yelled a lot. He insinuated that we were irresponsible bikers for having been next to each other, even though we were in a super wide portion of the trail and there was definitely room for even four or five bikers side by side. Maybe he ever slandered our mothers, who knows.

I thanked him for his opinion without committing to any opinion of my own and we took off. I was glad to be in my shoes, enjoying the day, instead of in his, angry at the world. But it’s stuck in my mind since then. Before then, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a confrontational encounter with a stranger. I strongly believe that if you put positive energy into the world, it’ll come back to you as such–and so far, that’s almost always held true. But this guy seemed determined to be angry, determined to be wronged and aggrieved and the self-righteous victim of others despite my best efforts at rational discourse. I didn’t really know how to respond to it except to not really engage and then get out of there.

Despite the distance of time, it still sticks in my mind because I don’t really know what the take-away lesson of all of this is. Certainly this guy was not super friendly, whether because he’s actually a bonified asshole or was just having a bad day, and that’s disconcerting to me because I like to think that if I care about others they will care about me too. For a few seconds I felt a little bad for being out on a joyride and wanting to bike next to my partner until I realized that that’s totally ridiculous: if multiuse paths aren’t safe places for people to go for slow rides or be next to each other without getting yelled at for being in someone’s way, then there’s not much hope for transportation in this world. And it annoys me that I even for a second felt bad for being slower than someone else–what kind of world is it if we’re just looking at other people as impediments to our own velocity?

So I don’t know. I enjoyed the rest of my ride; James and I marveled at the river and biked home next to each other in the parts where it makes sense to do so because it’s nice to be able to talk to the person you’re biking with. I imagined that guy finishing the rest of his ride angry and looking for a fight. For his sake, I hope he mellowed out a little–it was a nice day for a bike ride, after all, and I hope he was able to ultimately remember that.