Ride Like a Mensch

Yesterday, I was riding along a local street, cruising a downhill section and approaching an intersection with all-way stop signs. Already at the intersection was a car stopped at the cross street. There seemed to be a family inside-two kids, mom and dad, with grandma in the back seat. Arriving at the intersection I came to a complete and legal stop, even putting my foot down to indicate that this family clearly had the right of way and could proceed, which is what the Dad, sitting in the driver’s seat, did. As they passed slowly through the intersection, the grandmother gave me a warm, beaming smile, full of appreciation. I swear, it looked like the woman was actually proud of me, and clearly very pleased, that I came to a complete stop. Her look was pure grandmother; you know, the way your grandmother looks at you after you’ve done something particularly clever, or behaved like a mensch (in Yiddish, a person who is good to other people, a nice person). From her and her family’s reactions it was obvious that nobody in the car expected me to stop.

Contrast that to a more typical scenario that is all too talked about and common. Perhaps this will sound familiar:

Cyclist approaching a 4-way stop where a motorist is also stopped. Cyclist completely blows stop sign, somewhat shocking and slightly angering motorist who was just about to pull into the intersection. In pique, motorist taps horn as if to say “What’s up with that!”, which is essentially the equivalent of a cyclist yelling “Yo!” when faced with similarly obtuse behavior by motorist. Cyclist turns and stereotypically responds in expected fashion, angering motorist more. And so it goes.

I’d like to suggest that we individual cyclists consider trying more to elicit the grandmotherly smiles than the reproachful honks. And I even have one suggestion about how to do that:

Ride with utmost courtesy at all times.

Here’s a few simple ways to do that:

  • always yield to pedestrians
  • come to a complete and legal stop at all stop signs whenever anybody else is at, or approaching the intersection.
  • Do not run red lights, ever.
  • Be pleasant at all times.

I challenge all who are reading this to ride for one day as above. It would helpful to be able to talk to Portland citizens without first addressing our reputation as law-breaking, righteous, anti-social, and scary. It’s time to turn the conversation to something else. What do you think? Can you do it? Just try it for a day and see how it feels.

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