Welcome to the Land of Clueless Pedestrians and Courteous (But Bad) Drivers
Some of you might have caught some of the recent articles boasting about Seattle’s gorgeous summer weather (yes, it’s true!) and our hardworking, industrious ways (also true.) As a resident of this fair city, I’d have to say that both articles are accurate. Our July-September season is a well-kept secret, and this summer we are going on nearly 30 consecutive days without rain. It’s been a killer summer thus far, and we work hard and have paid our dues in crappy weather to enjoy it!
But there is also another more subtle and unreported story that is related to both of these positive Seattle PR-boosting tidbits. Of course it’s a personal anecdotal observation, but to me, it seems that the traffic and overall congestion in our city increases significantly during our most beautiful summer season. I mean, where the heck did all these really squinty, pale-skinned people donning ill-fitting tank tops and shorts emerge from? The pedestrian streets and all the restaurants in town are much more crowded and traffic is often terrible. (Isn’t it ironic that we Seattleites seem to spend more hours stuck in traffic, or standing in line during our most gorgeous season?)
I find that Seattle feels more like a ghost town (so spacious, no people, so much parking!) during the rainy winter months because of the horrible driving conditions and miserable depressing weather. Of course it makes sense that people don’t want to go out in the drizzle, and would much rather stay at home, sulking about the clouds thinking existential thoughts and writing bad poetry with artisanal espresso in hand. But during the beautiful summer months, almost everyone transforms into a jovial sun-worshipper, out on the road, hauling a boat or RV, packed to the gills for a weekend up at the cabin, or just straight up road-tripping. Summer is the busiest time of the year in terms of social activities and getting together with friends and family. Think wedding and family reunion season.
There’s nothing wrong with getting together, being social, and enjoying your hard-earned vacation. But the obvious (and annoying) side effect to all of this fun-loving sun worship is the horrid gridlock that ensues, especially on the weekends. (God help you if you’re stuck on I-5 trying to get home on a Sunday afternoon.)
Now all of the additional road volume exacerbates an inherent weakness endemic to Seattle (and I would argue to the Pacific NW in general.) Some of us don’t like to admit this, but surely those of you who have visited or who have lived (and driven) elsewhere know that we dwell in the land of bad driving. But more specifically, much of the bad driving in Seattle stems from a simple lack of urgency and conviction. Either we’re clueless, indecisive, or we think we’re being courteous but really, we’re just confusing people and messing up the system.
This is why we often find ourselves in a hurry, but stuck behind this guy in the leftmost lane.
And this is why Seattle (and Pacific NW) drivers really need a refresher in the basic rules about driving—particularly right-of-way and basic merging skills. If you live in Seattle and don’t know the basic rules, please do us all a favor and watch this basic and helpful video:
Now the same rules apply to pedestrians and cyclists in our fair city, but the potential for conflict is often amplified because of the swell in the volume of walkers and bikers on our fair summer streets during the summer. Of course, everyone wants to be out enjoying the sun on his/her bike. And here’s a PSA for the rude, clueless Seattle pedestrians and bikers: Remember, we all SHARE the road and you (pedestrians and bikers) do NOT always have the right of way, so please stop acting like you own the road, and at least attempt to LOOK BOTH WAYS and MAKE EYE CONTACT with oncoming cars before you hurry yourself across the street.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve come across the clueless Seattle pedestrian with earphones who never bothers to look up before boldly (and slowly) sauntering across a major street, expecting traffic to immediately screech to a stop for him/her. It’s dangerous and aggravating. And in any other metropolitan American city (think New York or Chicago) this same pedestrian would (rightfully) get run over without a second thought. But in our overly-polite passive-aggressive city, Seattle drivers patiently wait for the “morally righteous” numbskull to take their time in moseying across the road without so much as a honk.
Again, it all simply boils down to the lack of a sense of urgency. Maybe this doesn’t happen as much in the business or work environment, but the Seattle space cadet attitude certainly seems to seep into our lives elsewhere. Just look at how we drive and how we cross the road.
I guess I’ll conclude with a corollary that might hold true. We Seattle drivers might be bad drivers, but most of us are courteous and nice most of the time, especially as compared to drivers in LA or New York. We will let you merge into our lane. But here’s a novel thought: perhaps bad drivers are in some way obligated to be courteous. And I’ll postulate that the opposite is also true: that relatively good drivers have license (or at least greater potential) to be assholes on the road. Here’s an interesting Slate article from a cyclist’s perspective and his observation about drivers of BMWs and close encounters on the road. (Maybe this is why dinged Subarus seem to outnumber BMWs in Seattle….)
So I’ll leave you with this thought on this beautiful sunny Friday, Seattle: let’s aim to be good/safe drivers who are courteous. And even if you’re a good driver, don’t be an asshole on the road. What goes around comes around. Oh and don’t be an asshole in real life either. (Sorry to readers who drive BMWs, I’m sure you’re great drivers and not all assholes!)
Drive safe this weekend!
Oh, too funny! And you are sooo right! Never have I met more courteous drivers than in Seattle, and that was comforting and confusing at the same time. I tried to get my head around the traffic rules by watching, but I just couldn’t find a pattern. And then I though, oh well, it doesn’t mind whether I know the rules or not, people never honk, never swear – just keep smiling and you’ll get away with anything!
What really scares me, though, is that smoking pot while driving isn’t illegal. We were offered a joint by some other bikers at one of those picnic areas by the I-5! That is so not right!
Love the “asshole” tag, btw! 🙂
Hi Kristin! Hahaha… Didn’t mean to call out fellow SEA drivers and pedestrians, but yes, it’s a very interesting (and unique) style of driving we have here! 🙂 I’m sure you have equally interesting observations about drivers in Playa… 🙂
Oh dear, yes, I didn’t think about the whole pot issue… that might explain why some folks are stuck in the left lane space cadeting on the highway doing 45 mph… I guess I’d rather have it be that way than speed demons everywhere. Thank you for reading and for your comment! 🙂
Well, yes, driving in Playa is somewhat similar as far as the non-existence of rules goes. As long as you carry a large pile of cash in your pocket, you’ll be fine. But forget about courtesy, just be bold and fearless! ;-D
Ahahaha! When I saw the title of this post I knew I had to read it. Sounds like you long to get back to the pedestrian/car traffic life of Hong Kong, Angela! At least those pedestrians in HK know who’s boss (cars). I totally agree with you about pedestrians acting like they’re the almighty in every scenario. (I’m guilty of it, too.) But Seattle drivers simply aren’t assertive enough. I can almost be guaranteed a spot if I cut in front of someone at the last minute on an off-ramp (trust me, I DON’T do this often)! Waiting at the STOP signs are always fun, because everyone’s too polite to go first. My proposed solution – get a CD that sounds like ambulance sirens and play it full blast while driving. At least, Seattle drivers are very conscientious about clearing the roads for emergency vehicles! 🙂
Oh dear, yes, sometimes I long for the efficiency and no-nonsense of traffic in HK. It’s really amazing. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a HK taxi that finds an alternative route as soon as he senses traffic up ahead. And I have to say, drivers in HK actually have pretty mad skillz vs. SEA. As a pedestrian, I always respect the right of way of the car… (I mean, who’s going to lose in a collision, think about it!) I just think that it’s silly that SEA pedestrians expect all cars to yield right of way all the time, even when pedestrians are jaywalking. It’s ridiculous.
But yes to pulling over for sirens and emergency vehicles. SEA drivers are very courteous about that! 🙂 Score one for polite drivers.
When we lived in England, I had to take their written test and their road test (they don’t accept American licenses for residents beyond the first year).
In preparation I took a few UK driving lessons and actually learned how to properly drive. Not that I was a bad driver, but American drivers can be both lazy/oblivious (ie cutting across solid white lines and being sloppy about lane changes) and overly aggressive (driving faster than we should). I’m not sure I notice a big difference between Seattle and Utah except that Utah might tilt slightly more aggressive.
By comparison, driving in Hong Kong (once you figure out where to go!) is pretty straight-forward and people are pretty scrupulous about following road rules. Surprising!
Me again. I just drove from Ballard to Montlake and can comfirm that everything you have said here about entitled pedestrians and aggressive fellow drivers is exactly spot on.
Bahahahaha! 🙂 Thank you for the confirmation! 🙂 Interesting that after much driving experience in the US, you “actually learned how to properly drive” in the UK. Why doesn’t this surprise me? 🙂 And yes, I echo again my previous comments about HK drivers being really good drivers who have mad skillz.
Maybe I’m being an ornery old person, but I’m still of the philosophy that 16 is still just too young to drive. I think that Canada has the right policy of making newbie drivers display the large green “N” sign on their cars. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic!
Thanks for stopping by and for your insightful comments!
Awesome. This post will be my Saturday reblog this week. Excellent topic. I don’t know who Scott is but I think I just fell a little bit in love.
You are right on the money about sharing the road. I’ve seen pedestrians and bicyclists who seem to believe they preempt the right of way of everyone else. Worse, I’ve seen pedestrians who commit the sin of assuming they are seen when they have the right of way.
One case that comes to mind is a 16-year-old girl in a school crosswalk. She had the right of way so she confidently walked out in front of an approaching car. Yes, she had the right of way but she assumed she was seen by the driver of the car. She assumed the driver would stop. The driver didn’t stop because the driver never saw her. He was driving even though he was blinded by the morning sun directly in his eyes. (Insanely stupid. He should have stopped.)
The auto vs. pedestrian collision sent the girl flying 20 feet through the air and the impact of her head on the asphalt knocked her teeth out. She had to be airlifted to a metropolitan hospital with major injuries. She’ll live but I doubt her life will ever be the same.
Even when I have the right of way I watch everyone else like a hawk and I assume nothing. One thing missing from Scott’s video, I think, is eye contact. Make sure they see you.
Thanks for your comment, very kind of you to repost! 🙂 WOW… your story about this poor girl is so scary. And this was a SCHOOL CROSSWALK!!! Yikes. So like you, I think it’s critical for pedestrians to make eye contact w/drivers. I’ve also noticed that a good tactic as a pedestrian to try to confirm eye contact (so that I know that the driver sees me) is to put out my arm and hand palm side facing out and to wave as kind of a “wait and thank you” signal as I hustle across the street. It looks weird (like a gangly chicken wave)… but it works! 🙂
As for Scott, you should check out his blog and books at scottberkun.com. He’s a terrific public speaker and writer that you might find interesting and helpful as he writes about the creative process, philosophy, and business.
Reblogged this on Shouts from the Abyss and commented:
Excellent post about a subject near and dear to my heart: Clueless pedestrians and bad drivers. What’s not to love? Be sure to check out the Scott Berkun video, the newest hunk in my life. His brain is hawt.