Holding A Door For A Woman: And Other Accursed Acts Of Polity

Background Reading


People please make up your minds! Here is an absolutely frustrating thread whose sentiment has been bandied about the ChainLink for a few days now and it leaves me always nonplussed:

Waving Cyclists Through a Four Way Stop
Posted by Naomi Ruth Jackson on June 20, 2013 at 9:41am

Here’s something I’ve been bothered by for ages, and I’m curious to know if others feel the same.

Fairly often, I’ll arrive at a four way stop and after I have stopped the car with the right of way privilege will wave me through the intersection.

For some reason this irritates me to no end. Stopping and suddenly going again takes energy and someone will wave their hand around as if to magically move me forward. But in my mind this slows down the flow of traffic, and goes against the notion that motorists should treat cyclists like another vehicle.

I suspect motorists think that they’re being polite OR they think that if I go first then they won’t see me as an obstacle or distraction on the road.

How do other’s feel about this? Does this bother other cyclists or is this just my own special brand of neurosis?

Again With The Mixed Messages

A Bad Hair Day © Aaron Karnovski

A Bad Hair Day
© Aaron Karnovski

At the height of the feminist movement any male had to decide whether it was safe to hold the door for a woman or for that matter offer to open it. You had just graduated from an elite college and suddenly your training and breeding were all for naught. You were raised to be polite and respect women and now the very same women who were your classmates were telling you that by holding open a door you were demeaning women as a class. So you decided to let the door slam in a woman’s face as you might with a group of guys out for an afternoon of baseball. The woman looks at you and frowns. “Where on earth are your manners?” She is older than the females who were burning their bras just the other day and maybe that is the reason she reacted that way.

On your next date you decide to insist that you both “go Dutch“. This has to be the proper thing to do because while holding a door open is demeaning surely paying for an entire meal for two people is grounds to label you a “worthless pig“. The girl is shocked and while she says nothing you can read her face. She thinks you are a cheapskate.

You wonder when you get home for the holidays how differently should you respond to your sisters and mother? Are you still supposed to stand when they leave the table? Are you even supposed to push the chair under them as they sit? Yikes!

So when you get home and you ignore the usual formalities you mother calls you into her room and “dresses you down“. You have shamed your parents. Think of all the money spent on your education and all that it brought was a person without manners and social graces?

You corner your father and ask him what’s up. He shrugs and admits that at work he too is a bit bewildered. Do you avert your eyes when your boss (a woman) decides to sit on her desk when you are seated in front of her. When your former boss did this it was just fine. But given the mini-skirts of the day, this presents a problem. Yikes!

Cyclists Are A Confused Bunch

Last year when the urban cyclists along the Wiggle were being ticketed in San Francisco one wag looked up from being ticketed and announced that “bikes were not cars“. In essence he was implying that ticketing them for doing things like rolling through stop signs or even riding on the wrong side of road were unwarranted intrusions into his groups social mores. In fact it is probably the case he might have said that asking a bike to stop at red lights is an onerous task since starting the bike up again is so very taxing of his energy reserves.

Then there are the campaigns where posters are generated and speeches are made which tout the fact that “bicycles are traffic too!” By this they mean that every time someone forgets to acknowledge the presence of a cyclist it means that their legitimacy as traffic partners is being refuted. No one they would say should forget that bikes have a rightful place on the roadway. But not so ordinary that special classes of actions should not be required of others.

For instance cyclists believe that “3-Feet in passing” is required indeed because they are different. In fact special laws are being passed to allow cars to cross double-yellow lines to accommodate the slower speeds of cyclists who otherwise would not be passable. And yet when we approach a 4-way stop we would suddenly like to be treated just like “one of the guys“. No special treatment here it would be demeaning.

A Different Dynamic Might Be At Work Here

Schmidt Edelux Lamp © Peter White Cycles

Schmidt Edelux Lamp
© Peter White Cycles

There is a dynamic that might be at work here which is not often considered. A year or so ago I was riding back to my van from Wicker Park along Damen Avenue. It was getting on towards evening and we were riding out Easy Racers Tour Easy bikes with SON hub generators. These are German-made products that are pretty standard there primarily because they have a law that requires lights of a specific wattage be on the front and barring the use of batteries generators are the only good way to power lights. The settings on the Schmidt Edelux lamp allow it to be off or on or auto. In the “auto” position the lamp is activated by a sensor circuit that detects lower levels of ambient light. Our lights were on that day.

Three female riders came past dressed in blue jeans and boots and chubby jackets and were chatting as they rode. They quickly got ahead of us and were approaching the next intersection where a 4-way stop was in place. I watched in horror as a car already at the intersection was beginning his left hand turn (he was northbound) and the trio never broke stride and plowed through the intersection ignoring completely the STOP sign and the turning vehicle into the bargain.

He must have honked or otherwise display his displeasure and they yelled back obscenities of some sort and continued through the intersection. That was one of the very first times that I realized I was “no longer in Kansas“. Later I was to learn that this practice of ignoring stop signs was a routine occurrence in the area (I witnessed it happen habitually) and it made me quite angry. Knowing as I do how difficult it is to pilot an automobile it becomes nearly impossible when you cannot count on everyone obeying the law.

Are the Rules of the Road, merely suggestions?

Are the Rules of the Road, merely suggestions?

Drivers who approach 4-way stops and have been burned before do not easily forget the lesson that you cannot take for granted that anyone (including people on bikes) are going to stop or even break stride when blowing through the sign. And the problem here is of course the fact that the bicycles are essentially “vulnerable users” and barring having a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition mounted on your dashboard recording in 30-minute loops you have no chance of proving that you were the one whose right-of-way was violated. Besides what difference would it make if they were at fault if one of them was lying on the ground bleeding to death from internal injuries. The fault issue would be a cold comfort in such a situation.

Your entire evening would be disrupted by having to travel to the nearest police station, take a breathalyzer test and probably an in-field sobriety test and all because someone on a bicycle decided to disregard a situation in which there were indeed automobiles in the intersection. We always read the ramblings of folks trying to justify running red lights and stop signs by claiming that they only do this sort of thing when the “coast is clear“. But my experience tells me that this is a lie. And not just a lie but a “damned lie“.

So yes, drivers are going to be overly cautious around cyclists at 4-way stops all because your fellow cyclists have made a habit of being scofflaws. You need to recognize this problem and deal with it.

Could The Driver Not Know If You Plan To Turn?

Most cyclists are a clueless lot when it comes to how difficult it is to maneuver an automobile. The problem is made easier between automobiles by virtue of turn signals. If a car is not using them its driver is lazy and uncaring because it take a merely flick of the wrist to turn the flasher on and except in rare cases it turns itself off. So failing to signal is something of a death wish.

Cyclists however are guilty of one major infraction in that they seldom use hand signals and when they do most folks do not display them long enough. What do I mean by that? Well if you are making a turn in a car the flasher continues to pulse until you turn the corner. Most cyclists however have very lazy minds and suppose that the entire universe saw them flash a turn signal a few seconds ago but when the reach the point where they actual plan to turn, they are gripping both ends of the handlebar as if it were a dance partner in Dancing with the Stars and they had no intention of being flung off the surface of the Earth.

When I make a turn I make every effort to hold the arm out for the full completion of the turn. I want the drivers and cyclists around me to be able to glance over at any point before the completion of the turn and have a reasonable idea of what I plan to do. This is not easy to do. You need great balance and a very good grasp on the remaining handlebar. It should be an easier maneuver on an upright bike than on a long wheelbase recumbent like the one I ride, but whatever the truth signaling is something that we all should do regularly and with great emotion.

Act as if you are pantomiming the motion so that everyone sees and remembers what it is you are doing. But there is one other thing that could be a very real problem and it is has to do with the nature of the “blind spot” behind rear view mirrors. In a previous ride report I talk about the fact that if you are waiting to the right of the driver you had better assume he cannot see you on your bike if you cannot see his eyes.

In the situation I remarked on a rider was trying to “roll through a stop sign“. When I first checked his position no one was there. I then scanned the street to my left to make certain that no car was approaching from that direction. Then it was back to the right again and at just that moment the cyclist had approached the intersection and was going to ride through without stopping. He was at the very moment completely hidden by my rearview mirror. As I said before when it comes to navigating in an automobile most cyclists are dolts.

They are unsympathetic to the vagaries of their own behavior and have no idea that darting into an intersection in a “rolling motion” rather than coming to a complete stop and confirming that the driver actually sees you is paramount if you are to remain safe. Please stop this silly notion that you can be ethical and a scofflaw simultaneously. Randy Cohen is a mental midget who is also a fool. I would happily have dinner with him but I would not ever agree to his silly logic.

There is a reason we ask both autos and bicycles to come to a stop. That way everyone gets to figure out the “lay of the land” before venturing into an intersection. Intersections are where accidents are most frequent. This is not some old wives tale it is scientific fact. If you really have a death wish then keep rolling through stop signs. And if you are earnest in your death wish then attempt this roll when the street you are crossing has high speed traffic and no corresponding stops signs. That should make a very satisfying splat sound when you hit the pavement.

On The Plus Side, It Can Be A Positive Thing To Be Singled Out

Waving and Crashing!

Waving and Crashing!

I make it a habit to allow parents with strollers, people walking dogs and bikes transporting children to go ahead of me regardless of the nature of the intersection. Rather than have an elementary school child wait for me to get through the intersection upon their arrival I wave them through if it looks as if no other cars are present. I figure that getting the child through the intersection or the person with a fearful dog is better for everyone than my having to wait 15 seconds.

And yes I would gladly wave a cyclist through a 4-way stop even it I had the right-of-way. As a cyclist I can appreciate the squirrelly nature of some cyclists. They are arrogant, clueless and belligerent all-in-one. I would rather have them be offended at having been singled out than spend any time whatsoever trying to convince a cop that they were the ones who should have allowed me to go first.

I have watched in horror on Jefferson Street in the Loop as a cyclist westbound on Harrison blew the stop light while I was in the intersection and made a right turn in front of me without ever bothering to slow down. He was in his mid-30s and evidently thought that a right turn on red did not include a cautionary stationary stop prior to making the turn. So yes, if given the chance I would wait out a bicyclist who felt slighted because I waved them through at a 4-way stop.

On a slightly  different note I should point out that riding a gleaming silver Easy Racers Gold Rush recumbent with Lexan™ front fairing is alone such a startling scene for most drivers (and bicycle riders I might add) that we have had people actually stop in mid-intersection while staring at us waiting to cross and been rear-ended by another gawker who failed to yield to the gawker in front of him. So being singled out is nothing new to me.

People routinely wave me through 4-way stops simply because they want to see that magnificent bike. In fact when we pull them out of the van at the parking lot people have been known to circle around to get a second look and then they finally stop and chat us up to find out more about the bikes. So if being singled out is a problem for you, never ever ride a long wheelbase recumbent bicycle in either polished aluminum or titanium in the city limits. These things “bring out the dead“.

And as a side note I continually get ChainLinkers whose faces I recognize stopping me and inquiring ad nauseam on the effectiveness of the fairing. Just this past weekend one stopped and looked at the fairing and started questioning me about it. My first reaction is to look at the individual to “size them up“. On the North Shore Century a couple of years ago I had one ChainLinker take me to task for owning an Easy Racers T-Rush (Titanium frame) by veritably shouting loud enough for everyone around to hear that a bike that big should never be made in such a metal because it would end up still being heavy.

All that was true, but frankly I had never met the fellow face-to-face before only seen his picture on the ChainLink and did not even start the conversation with him. He approached me. I guess that being a ChainLinker has its privileges. So when a member of this august body approaches as did one from the Active Transportation Alliance last year at the Wicker Park Open Streets festival I have mixed reactions to being single out about the nature of the front fairing.

Like the fellow shown in the video above it always begins with me being approached and the question being raised as if the answer is obvious, “Nothing that large could be of any effect, right?” I decided to respond to the questioner last weekend with a question of my own, “How effective are those tall rims you have on your fixed gear bike?” He paused momentarily and then admitted that they had little if any effect. I decided that such a response meant that any question about my fairing was probably just malicious and not asked out of sincere interest.

For those of you who know anything about fairings they always have a positive effect on your aerodynamic qualities. Gardner Martin the designer of the Easy Racers bikes said that his testing showed at least a 5% improvement. That is not a lot but when you are riding directly into the wind on a bike where you sit bolt upright it certainly helps. And the assistance in direct proportion to the speed of the headwind.

Likewise on flats and downhills the fairing provides enough assistance that you come close to regaining the aerodynamic profile you might have had while riding an upright bike while grasping the drop portion of the handlebars.




If we wish to be “just one of the guys” on the roadway, then we are going to have to earn that bit of respect with our actions. An inconsistent experience with members of any single group leads us to profile the membership going forward. If you are ever accosted by a young thug sporting an Afro in a sketchy neighborhood and robbed of money and then kissed on the cheek, it will not be the case anytime soon that you will look at a young black man the same was as before. That is a fact.

When a cyclists flouts the law with respect to stop signs and red lights it possibly ruins the situation for those that follow. Every rider thereafter is viewed in the same light as the one who nearly rammed you vehicle because he could not wait his turn at a 4-way stop. The same thing is true of motorists in specific cars when you have an negative encounter with say a wealthy socialite driving a high-end Mercedes who either parks in the bike lane to redo her makeup or to dash in for her coffee just out front of Starbucks.

Motorists have very negative experiences with cabbies. When you see one you give him a very wide berth indeed because you know these guys to be a menace when the dart into the lane with virtually no warning. What would thrill me no end is if one were to actually wave me past before he decided to dart. That is the same reaction I have when waved through a 4-way stop by a cautious motorist or simply one who cannot gawk enough at the bike I am riding.

Either way the fact that I am on his “lizard brain radar” is enough to make me happy. He knows I am there and I have emerged from the background noise to become a blip that he will take into account as long as I am still visible.

So thank you lucky stars that a motorist has ever bothered to treat you with respect whether it be wary or not. You get to live yet another day.