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Where I live, bicycles are widely accepted in traffic; motorists are on balance considerate and careful around us. But on an almost daily basis, I run into motorists who are too "polite" at intersections. They stop and try to wave me through when I have no right to be in the intersection and, in some cases, when it would actually be dangerous for me to enter.

Two examples come up most frequently:

  • At a four-way side street intersection, where I am at a stop sign and the motorist has no sign or signal of any kind. Usually the only vehicles visible are myself and the car. I usually try to wave them through instead, and give them a friendly "thank you, anyways" wave and a smile.

  • Crossing a busy three-lane one-way road, where I have a stop sign and am not moving, feet on the ground. Motorists in the lane closest to me like to stop -- with traffic now stopping behind them and streaming along beside -- and try to wave me past. Here I often pretend to not be paying attention, but usually have to resort to a vigorous "keep on going" wave, with the same "thanks" as they eventually give up.

I run into other configurations as well,* but the core issue remains the same: it's far easier, and often much safer, for them to just continue and allow me to move through the intersection after them. When I'm stopped and the car is moving, it will be out of my way a lot faster than I can get moving and past. I really do appreciate their consideration, but in the broader picture, I'd prefer they just continue in their right of way as if I were another motorist.

Ignoring the stopped car has only mixed results. Are there any other tactics I can employ to indicate that I'm perfectly happy waiting, and keep these well-intentioned people from stopping in the first place, moving on their way and out of mine?


*One that causes genuine confusion is dual-purpose marked crossings, where the same sign indicates the presence of bikes and pedestrians. The latter should be yielded to here.

In some cases I think they're even committing traffic violations.

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It depends on where you are - this behavior may be safer in general in places with lots of hooligans (e.g. university campuses), but I don't think re-educating motorists to properly deal with cyclists in most areas is feasible. –  Batman Jan 6 at 21:11
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Smile, thank them and be on your way. There is nothing you can do. Far worse the driver who, because you are "just" a bike, thinks you never, ever have right of way. –  PeteH Jan 6 at 22:00
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The other problem with drivers that yield right of way when they shouldn't is when the impatient driver behind the stopped driver doesn't always know why they are stopped or thinks they are stopped to discharge a passenger, so he speeds around them -- worse case, he speeds around the stopped car at the same time the cyclist enters the intersection. I've seen this happen and result in an accident (the car managed to stop and the rider was ok, just got knocked off his bike) –  Johnny Jan 6 at 22:16
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@JoshCaswell I think it is all down to predictability. The holy grail is that a motorist's behaviour is predictable, both to cyclists and to other motorists. And these people are behaving unpredictably, albeit because they're being "too nice" to you. That makes them dangerous, but I don't see how you can change this. –  PeteH Jan 6 at 22:58
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Your behavior (and that of other sensible cyclists) will gradually have an effect. The first issue is your safety, then legality. Seems that you are doing as much as you can in both areas. In my location driver behavior has improved heaps in the last 10 years and we have the same "problem". As a driver I want cyclists to be predictable, but many are not. Your behavior is an example to them too. –  andy256 Jan 6 at 23:39
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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Two suggestions

  • Stop further back from the intersection. This helps by not making you look to be in a hurry to cross, and that it will take you longer to take advantage of their "help". It has the disadvantage that you can't see the traffic as well, and cars that stop closer to the cross road can block your view.

  • Choose a route that doesn't have such dangers.

I think the approach you're taking is good already though.

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Stopping further back -- hiding, in effect -- would probably work well at the three-laner. There's a clear view, and I only have one direction to watch. Unfortunately, I can't avoid that one without going far out of my way getting to work -- it's a long road, and there are very few decent crossing points. –  Josh Caswell Jan 7 at 4:46
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This is not strictly a bicycling issue. Do-gooders who ignore the rules and want to give the right of way all the time are also irritating to other drivers. They are not necessarily safer drivers, because "scared" is not exactly the same thing as "safe". There isn't anything you can do; just take cautious advantage of the right of way and keep going. The most aggravating of the lot are those who act as enablers aggressive drivers, like those who cut in to get ahead of dozens of cars in a traffic jam.

It's not really appropriate to enter into anecdotes, but I'm compelled to give one anyway. Once (while driving, not cycling), I stopped at a stop sign in the middle of a residential neighborhood (properly, I might add; a full stop behind the painted line). Another driver was going cross-wise, not herself facing any stop sign and thus having the right of way. This driver stopped, motioning me to proceed. I shook my head and pointed at the stop sign to indicate that I'm simply following the rules and expect everyone to do the same. She simply refused to budge, so I turned off my engine and engaged the parking brake. I cannot remember who first yielded (or should we say, "unyielded", if you will), but I do remember that minutes passed. I remained calm and maintained an amused smile while she appeared to become angry.

Some of these do-gooders are, evidently, quite vehement about pushing their viewpoint that the rules of the road are not entirely satisfactory and should entirely be ignored in their entirety (and perhaps not even known at all) in favor of some inefficient ad-hoc social protocol.

In my experience as a driver with several hundred thousand km under my belt, you better just do what they want you to do, otherwise minutes will be wasted like in the above social experiment that I don't care to repeat. However, make eye contact with a driver before jumping in front of their car, and do not waffle; if you're given the right away, take it swiftly.

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Great anecdote. It makes me think of several similar occasions where my reaction to a driver (whether I'm biking or driving myself) has been "what you just tried makes it clear that you're either a lunatic or not paying any attention, and there is NO WAY that I am getting on the road in front of you. Go go go". –  Josh Caswell Jan 7 at 4:53
    
+1 for the anecdote. I've been in a crash caused by a do-gooder similar to her. –  Carey Gregory Jan 7 at 4:54
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It may be that these drivers have become accustomed to cyclists (and perhaps pedestrians) who cross without right of way and are wary that you might do the same.

I think you're doing the right thing by waiting and politely waving them on. This and educating casual cyclists about the rules of the road might slowly improve the situation.

If you wish to discourage them from waiting then stronger gestures might be:

  • Looking down at a map or phone.
  • Actually getting off your bike and standing next to it.

However, both of these mean it takes you longer to get going again, so you might miss the gap in the traffic you're waiting for.

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It may be worth bringing up the problem with the local government. If you can see a way to rework the intersection to avoid those problems, and they are inexpensive (usually a bike-bridge is going to be way over budget), there is a good chance you can get something done about it.

I have seen intersections in my town reworked to improve safety. I was not involved, but from what I understand the trail users (cyclists and pedestrians) and the road users were considered. I can attest that the situation was much improved.

In the mean time, since explaining the situation rationally to every driver that makes this error (good-intentioned as it may be) is likely impractical, you may want to consider avoiding the situation in the first place if at all possible. We have all altered our bike routes to avoid dangerous bits, we just are used to the cars being too aggressive instead of too nice.

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a bridge (or tunnel) is bloody expensive and not always feasible (space for ramp being the most limiting factor), a cheaper alternative is on demand traffic lights –  ratchet freak Jan 10 at 9:02
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I'm sorry, my text was ambiguous: I meant a bike bridge as an example of an expensive solution. I will edit it to be more clear. A cheap fix that I saw near my home was to simply move a trail crossing 50 yards down the road. The new crossing thus occurred after two lanes merged into one, instead of before. It made all the difference in the world, and was cheaper than any signal. –  superdesk Jan 10 at 16:10
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Hehe, Too much of anything isn't good. And too much of politeness is definitely sickening. Too unnatural.

I'm a cyclist myself and sometimes I do run into these issues as well. Just accept it and be on your way. It doesn't really bother me, just offer a curt nod and a smile and take it as it comes. Time is after all valuable to you as well as him.

Maybe teach them a lesson as well by cycling really slow in front of them. I never do this, so I don't know what would happen, but I guess the driver will think thrice before always giving way to a cyclist : P. Oh and give them a smile and nod while they finally overtake you : P.

By the way, I wouldn't recommend you stay still till you have your own way (i.e. wait adamantly till the driver moves on first or etc..), since it's not really going to do anyone much good. You'll be certainly wasting your time and the other guy would sometimes get angry at you for being adamant.

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