Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Resisting the ‘Wave Through’

Many well-intentioned motorists will ‘wave’ a bicyclist through an intersection, basically ceding their right-of-way to the cyclist. It’s sweet that they are actually noticing the cyclist, but it can be hazardous for the bicyclists to accept this intended courtesy.

Here’s an example:

The other night, our group was at a T intersection. The horizontal bar was a through street without a stop sign, we were at the stop sign on the vertical of the T, signaling a left turn. A motorist on the through street came up to left turn onto the street we were going to be left-turning from. He attempted to yield to us.

Here’s the issue, though. First, there was a car coming from the other direction on the through street. The left-turning vehicle would normally be yielding to that vehicle anyway, so the straight-on vehicle wouldn’t be looking for cyclists or a wave-through.

The second issue is that another car was coming up behind the left-turning vehicle. In a street with a wide lane – and this one had such a lane – that car would typically come to the right of the left-turning car to continue straight. Once again, this is a normal and legal behavior involving right-of-way.

Because the additional two cars would behave consistent with the right-of-way appropriate to their lane placement and direction of travel, a cyclist who took the wave would be placing themselves at risk. This isn’t really about awareness of cyclists so much as it underscores the importance of bicycles also behaving as vehicles, which means respecting the usual forms and process of right-of-way. That this all was happening at night is an extra layer of potential hazard, although the hazard would be there regardless of light conditions.

Remember: behaving predictably is one of the greatest contributors to having a safe and enjoyable time on a bicycle, whether you are cycling for transport or pleasure.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

One Comment

  1. see a recent letter in the SouthWest Journal on the same topic:

    Drivers need to be responsible

    In the often heated debate about bicycles and traffic laws, one important factor fails to be mentioned: the behavior of drivers.

    This was also the case in the September 22 story, “A Brewing Bike Law Debate.”

    In residential neighborhoods and along the Greenway from Hopkins to the Mississippi, a significant portion of drivers insist on yielding to bicyclists when the cars have the right of way. When I wave them through, about half refuse to go. This is true even in some cases where I’m the only one with a stop sign.

    By the way, drivers refusing to take the right of way also teaches cyclists to run stop signs.

    As a cyclist, I do not ask drivers to inappropriately yield to me —this behavior puts me in danger.

    When crossing four-lane roads along the Greenway, if the first lane yields to me they block my view of the second lane and I cannot see whether that lane is clear or hides a speeding car. Elsewhere intersections clearly regulated in traffic law (i.e. the first person to arrive at a four-way stop sign goes first) are effectively unregulated (i.e. the car got there first, but no one knows who goes first.)

    I think this happens for two reasons. First, some drivers are trying to be nice. (It isn’t nice.) Second, drivers don’t know how to “read” bikes. Drivers recognize that a car rolling through a stop sign is yielding, but they don’t recognize a yielding bike and fear misreading and then hitting a cyclist.

    I hope that efforts to enforce car-appropriate rules on bicycles will be matched by enforcement of right-of-way laws. I also hope that any education efforts will teach drivers to treat bicycles as they treat cars — which includes expecting bikes to stop when they don’t have the right of way.

    Janne Flisrand
    Lowry Hill