From the Blog

Looking Over My Shoulder

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I’ve now been driving in Portland for a bit over two years. I still stand by my early pronouncement that drivers here are much more civilized than other cities. At least cities where I have spent time driving. You can tell even with just a 48 hour trip, even in Seattle, where you figure the general personality type would be similar to Portland, that the driving culture is different. Totally different. And despite the pull of my heritage, my east coast impatience, and my west coast aggression, I feel like I’ve settled in, perhaps mellowed a little, and the Portland culture suits me.

One of the things I’ve had to get used to is driving on one-way city streets, and constantly looking over my RIGHT shoulder before turning, to check for cyclists. This is just automatic now. Even when I know I haven’t passed any cyclists. It’s an abundance of caution. I always check that blind spot over my right shoulder before I turn.

One of my common routes home is along Interstate to north Portland. A lot of cyclists use this road. Despite the big hill. If I rode my bike up that hill, it would take me three days. And my face would explode. I have to turn right off Interstate to get home. I turn on my blinker and as always, I check over my right shoulder. If I see a cyclist coming, I wait. They ride past and I make my turn. That’s how it works, right? That’s how it’s supposed to happen? If I don’t stop, they are either going to hit me, or I am going to hit them. That’s bad, right?

Because every time I’ve stopped and waited for a cyclist to pass, I get an enthusiastic wave from the cyclist. It’s happened every time. I even got an exuberant “THANK YOU!” from a woman the other day that I heard through my car’s closed windows. It makes me think that they are not accustomed to cars, um, slowing down for them. I’m not being extra gracious or even extra cautious. I’m just being “regular cautious.” But the thankful reactions I get make me think it’s a novelty.

All this niceness is going to go to my head and make me insufferably pleasant.


  1. I almost hit a cyclist yesterday in Hancock Park! I was at a stop sign at an intersection. I thought nothing was coming when from behind a tree a cyclist appeared, who had the right of way. I slammed on my brakes and all was fine, but I was just not expecting to see a bike on a quiet residential tree-lined street at 1:00 p.m. Weird.

  2. Heather; Thank You. I say that for i am an avid bicyclist and few cars do stop. Most think, “oh, i have passed a bike so they must be way back there for i am in a car and they are on a bike”. I average around 20-22 miles per hour when i cruise around on flat ground. When a car passes me, if they slow at all i immediately catch up. then i watch for the tell tell signs of a right turn, the head leading the eyes in to the driveway, the slow down and edging toward the curb cut. then the turn right in to my path. you would not believe how many people never look.

    Thank you again.. I see now that Dave scored a sweat, sensible, smart and pretty women. Happiness to both of you.

  3. I agree, I have a sweat sister.

    Sorry, it was a cute typo! :o)

  4. i am usually super cautious in regards to cyclists. but on my last trip to LA, I almost nailed one. didn’t see him at all. the first indication that i had of him was him slapping the back of my car. i jumped, craned around, and saw him. For a second I didn’t see him even when I was looking straight at him. I sat there for a minute, watching him pedal across the street, at the right turn, because i was shaken. it was then that i realized that i hadn’t seen him, mainly, because it was 11pm, he was dressed all in black, on a black bike. i assume the majority of the responsibility for almost hitting him, but i think it would have been smart of him to have had some reflective clothing or markings, at the least, when riding at night.

  5. I wonder how long it’s going to take North Americans to realize that segregated bike lanes are a necessity in every city? How crazy would it be to expect cars and pedestrians to use the same roadway? It’s no less crazy to expect cars and bicycles to use the same roadways or bicycles and pedestrians. One lane for cars, a curbed segregated path for bikes and a raised sidewalk for pedestrians. It’s so simple and works so well in most European cities.

  6. You are an angel.

    Yes, we (cyclists) do suffer from drivers regularly cutting us off when they’re turning and otherwise acting as though it’s too much of an inconvenience for them to slow down so as not to hurt/kill us. Every time a driver does something like you did, I wave and holler an enthusiastic thanks. I hope this makes the driver feel like a good, responsible, neighborly citizen rather than an impatient, entitled butthole whose rage is justified by having to wait .5 seconds.

    So thank you. Please keep it up and help your fellow drivers to follow your example!

  7. OK i deserve it! What is it about architects? Most of us cant spell, you should see me with out spell check!
    Happy Friday to all.

  8. Oh, you know I totally agree about Portland Drivers. Far more cooperative than any other place I’ve lived. Still surprises me.

    But what is unique to driving in this city is my overabundant fear of hitting either a cyclist or a pedestrian. In the absence of idiot drivers, I see an abundance of idiot pedestrians. Wowzers, it’s like a real-life game of Frogger and it freaks me out.

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