Civility and Right of Way

If there were one thing I could change about the city, it would be that people follow the right of way. If I had a second aspect I could change, it would be that people act more civil toward each other.

By right of way, I do not mean that everyone follow the rules of the road to the letter. The city is a free flowing entity. Should the opportunity arise, people should be able to move about as long as it does not infringe on someone elses right of way.

By civility, I mean that everyone should smile a little, dammit. Hold the door for others. Let others go first. Say “Thank you” and “Please” and “May I have…” Stand aside and let people off of metro cars or out of elevators before barging your way on. Get off the idea that life is a rat race and that everyone is out to do you harm. Get off the idea that time is money. Courtesy is the bottom line. You’d be amazed at how people smile back and react to that.

But back to right of way. Automobile and truck drivers tend to be the favorite punching bag of items I have seen written online. As someone who has been on all three sides of the fence (pedestrian, bicyclist, and driver) I have seen that it is really not one group or the other that is worse. And none of the groups is composed of high percentages of people who infringe on the right of way of the others. It is really only a small percentage of each. But it is enough to enrage people in the other groups. Pedestrians who cross streets at mid-block and do not hasten their pace despite oncoming traffic. Bicyclists who ride on sidewalks, the wrong side of the street, or the wrong way down one way streets. Drivers who turn when not allowed or who block interections. So many people seem to think they are above the right of way for their own reasons. But their actions really only anger others and the others in turn slowly lose respect for their group. Here are some of my observations along with some pet peeves. These are primarily from the vantage point of a driver since that’s my primary vantage point while passing through the city at this time.

Although roads are created for cars, you do not own the road. Give way when it is required of you and slow down for crise sake. You could even yield when not required to in order to propogate some good feelings out there.

Stop for stop signs. It doesn’t have to be a complete stop, but enough to be sure it’s all clear.

Get off the cellphones. I’ve recently seen two accidents where cellphone drivers plowed through red lights because they were on the phone. People seem to zone out while on the phone differently than while listening to the radio. Yes, cellphones are part of today’s reality, but so is voicemail and caller ID. Either pull over to take or make a call, or do it later. Or do it at a fresh stoplight. Make them short and sweet, you should be concentrating on the road.

And what is this thing in Montreal about blocking traffic while waiting to make a turn. I had always learned to pull into open lane while waiting for the turn arrow to appear thereby allowing the through traffic to continue forward. But it seems to be a convention to either stay in the lane waiting at the light until the arrow appears or pull ahead a bit, but remain sticking out into the lane blocking traffic from passing. Judging by what I’ve seen everyday during rush hour, the flow of traffic could be greatly improved with this simple act.

Tailgating still gets on my nerves here. It isn’t much more prevalent than I had experienced in Chicago, but considering how much better drivers are in other aspects, it still surprises me why it is so common. All I have to say is “back off”. Unless I’ve absentmindedly set my speed way below the speed limit, your tailgating will not encourage me to pick up the pace. I’ll possibly even slow down in defiance.

Unfortunately, bicyclists usually don’t have a designated space. Roads are designed for cars. Sidewalks are for pedestrians. But there is not always space on the road designated for bikes. That’s partly due to the fact that there are less bikers than the other two groups, but in places like the Plateau where bikes are everywhere, things are different. They are definitely in numbers equal to pedestrians and drivers (in the summer anyway).

But this does not mean an attitude of brazen disregard for the rights of cars should be taken. Yes there are idiotic drivers, but you’ll piss off all other drivers if that attitude is taken. Admittedly it’s not an easy situation given how most drivers are not familiar with sharing the road with bicycles, but some sort of respectful staking of your rightful space can be achieved.

Some bikers also seem to take an attitude that because they are under their own power that they are above the traffic laws. This is a bit hypocritical at times because bikers are asking that they be considered like other motor vehicles. It’s somewhere in between.

My biggest beef with bikers was in Chicago. Along the 26 miles of lakefront park runs a path that is shared between bikers, walkers, inline skaters, and joggers. Each group has it’s share of people who use the path inconsiderate of the other groups. Such as walking or running in groups that block the path. But there are a good share of bikers that felt the path was meant for their full speed training runs. Often during peak hours when it was just too dangerous to be flying through at those speeds. But the misplaced attitude was that it was a path only for bicycling. It has resulted in many children getting injured along the congested section near the beaches along with at least one death.

One thing I was really impressed with when I moved to Montréal was how the traffic signals tend to be geared toward the pedestrians instead of the cars. In many places cars are only allowed to turn after a delay which allows pedestrians the opportunity to cross. And in a few locations, there are red lights in both directions allowing pedestrians to cross diagonnally also.

But lately I’ve started to notice a bit of attitude by pedestrians. It happens at least twice a week that I see people jaywalking without any concern for oncoming cars. They cross even though they do not have enough time to cross before oncoming cars arrive and they don’t look up after they’ve started in order to verify that they have enough time. It’s not jaywalking that I disagree with. I’ve been doing it since my parents let me out on my own. But you do it when the coast is clear or you pick up the pace in order not to get hit. This “it’s your problem” attitude is surprising to me since the pedestrian would be the one hurt in a confrontation.

Another thing I’ve noticed is how often people stand two steps into the street while waiting to cross. This isn’t a bad thing except for when cars are turning. It’s not a safe practice and I’ve noticed that the pedestrians even give attitude that it is the cars responsibility to go around them. It’s one thing to forget and step out there, but it’s another to be quite beligerant toward the turning driver.

Lastly regarding bicyclist and pedestrians, I do realize that some of the attitude I’ve seen directed toward me is their reaction after encountering other drivers who have been less than pleasant. And really that’s part of what has to stop, so I don’t turn around and give it to the next pedestrian or bicyclist that I see. There will always be jerks out there, that doesn’t me we have to become them also.

In the end, everyone at some point feels their group is should have right of way. But we are all trying to get around in the populated city. Respect the right of way of others and maybe even yield to them a little. You may get a smile or even a courtesy wave out of them while allowing the city to move along like a happy well oiled machine.


~ by Frank on September 11, 2007.

5 Responses to “Civility and Right of Way”

  1. But, really, admit it, you just want those damned kids to stay off your lawn!

  2. Yes, this was three years of built up frustration and brooding released in one blog post.

    Actually the kids can play all they want on all 600sf of our lawn. If I end up like that you must slap me and tell me to get a life.

  3. I would have to agree with much of that. The me first mentality seems to be spreading north, lol.

  4. tornwordo: I guess I got caught off guard thinking this was traffic nirvana. People still don’t try to cut traffic by pulling into the right lane then flooring it when the light turns green to cut traffic. And it still impresses me that for the most part people go one after the other when two lanes have to merge.

    I’m starting to wonder if my sensibilities have changed to match the type of traffic here. There’s always something to get annoyed about if you look hard enough. That said, I still realize it’s much better than traffic in Chitown.

  5. You echo my sentiments exactly!

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