Category Archives: Road Etiquette

Being nice to each other as we share common space

It’s nice out! Let’s be nice to each other too, eh?

Along with being awesome for its own sake, nice weather is fun for how many people it brings out, many of whom are getting places on their bikes or on foot. Of course, this means that a lot more people are trying to inhabit the same space that mere months ago was fairly empty. Which means it’s also a good chance to practice being a considerate human being in our more busy shared space.

No, I’m not the world’s leading expert on considerateness, but I do have a few thoughts from the last few days of sunny-weather biking.

1. Speed

You may be strong and speedy. You may have muscles of steel that propel you effortlessly to your destination at 20 million miles an hour. That’s impressive when you’re on some stretch of open road by yourself. It’s wholly unimpressive when you blow past some old man trying his best to hold his line on the overcrowded Hawthorne Bridge. Similarly unimpressive when you and your muscled legs cut close in front of some lady with two kids on the back of her Extracycle. I like going fast, too. I’m even impressed sometimes by other people’s fastness. But I’m definitely not impressed when you’re being an asshole.

When there are other people around, please slow down. Fast biking and close passing may not seem aggressive to you, but it sure does to people who aren’t used to being in a paceline. They matter, too, and have just as much right to feel safe on the road as you do. Save your speedyness for when you’re not in a crowd.

 2. Passing

Sometimes it is infuriating to be stuck behind someone slow. Especially when you’re used to not being affected by traffic and you’ve had the winter months largely to yourself on the road. But suck it up.

You generally don’t want someone in a car to pass you until there’s enough room for them to give you a wide enough margin to pass safely, right? That goes for other people on bicycles, too. Wait until there’s a break in traffic, then go around. And can I suggest a friendly “on your left” or bell ding? It may slow you down for a few seconds, but seriously. None of us is so important that we can’t be five seconds later to wherever we’re going for the sake of everyone else’s safety.

3. Rules of the Road

You know how it sucks when someone cuts you off? It similarly sucks when you’re a pedestrian trying to cross a street and get dusted by some speedy fool on a bike who’s too cool to stop. Pedestrians have right of way! I know, it can be hard to work up momentum again when you’re pedaling. But come one. Again, for the sake of someone else (they may be late to work, too!), you can be inconvenienced for five seconds.

If you need a silver lining, think of it as an extra workout to get those legs going back up to speed. :)

4. Assuming positive intent

Sometimes people in cars confusingly cede you right of way at controlled intersections. Sure, it’s weird and awkward sometimes, but mostly people are just trying to be nice. Treat them accordingly, will you? The worst thing ever is repaying someone’s attempted kindness by yelling at them.

4. It’s nice to acknowledge other human beings! 

Hey! There are a lot of people out! It’s a good chance to practice your smile and wave! Or perhaps you’re not feeling so overtly friendly? Maybe start just with eye contact, or a finger waggle. We’re all people out here–it’s nice when we’re treated as such.

5. Enjoy yourself!  

It’s a lovely day. Hooray! Enjoy it! Whee! Smile! Smile at someone! You might just make their day, and yours too:)

Happy sunny biking, everyone!


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.