Monday 28 February 2011

When drivers stop and open windows

In other countries it usually doesn’t mean a lot of good when a driver stops for a cyclist, lowers his window and starts ‘a conversation’. But this is the Netherlands. The other night I was waiting at a traffic light at a nearby but unfamiliar junction. Some road works were in progress. There I was, in a small side street waiting to turn left on a big arterial road into the city. It took a real long time! Way too long as it was cold, raining a bit and there wasn’t much traffic. Not even on the arterial. Just one car was waiting there to turn left into the side street where I was standing. When that car got green the driver made the turn but suddenly stopped as he got passed me. He lowered his window and raised his voice to speak to me. “Sir!” Slightly confused I looked at him; what could he have to say to me? I was just a lonely cyclist waiting for the light to turn green. “Have you pushed the button?” My surprise could be read from my face and before I could think of a response he continued. “It’s because of the road works, sir. You have to push the button now. If you had, you would have gotten green before me.” Clearly this friendly man knew the junction better than I do, including the green phases. He must be one of the few residents here. So I thanked him and after he assured me “it happens to many people sir” he continued in his big dark blue executive style car. I dismounted and walked back to push the button I had overlooked. Sure enough, within seconds the light turned green and I could also continue home. It’s great to live in a country where there is a lot of mutual respect between drivers and cyclists. Not very strange when everybody can be either one. But I must admit, the level of consideration from this driver was remarkable, even for the Netherlands.


Anonymous said...

"In other countries it usually doesn't mean a lot of good when a driver stops for a cyclist, lowers his window and starts 'a conversation.'"

Hah. Absolutely right. Although, yesterday I had one motorist roll down his window and offer me some encouragement as I was climbing a particularly steep stretch of Los Angeles roadway: "Way to go, brother." I guess he was a cyclist, too.

amoeba said...

In the UK, were this to happen to me, I would probably have fallen over in my astonishment.

amoeba said...

Recently, I was approaching a set of traffic lights and was free-wheeling because the lights were read and I knew I would probably have to stop. Just before I was to enter the zigzags, the car that approached from behind passed me very closely, which then swerved towards the kerb and had to brake quite sharply to stop.

Seconds later, I filtered down the nearside and muttered something about the driver (I can't remember my exact words – but it was exasperation at the combination of stupid driver impatience incompetent driving and fuel inefficient driving), it wasn't meant for the ears of the driver and it wouldn't have been audible to the driver, were it not for the fact that I hadn't noticed that the passenger window was open.

To cut the interchange short, the driver and passenger [both women] were both very angry at me for cycling in the primary position, which caused the driver to slow-down, overtake and then stop (what about the red light?), when if she'd been competent, she would have eased-off and might never have needed to have stop. They obviously used the Daily Mail as their source of ill-informed opinion.
The driver's mentality - 'must overtake cyclists at all costs', was emphasised by the fact that she then turned down a residential road only around 50 metres down the road, so her destination could only be perhaps a few hundred metres away.

Klaus Mohn said...

@amoeba: usually not a dangerous situation, but an annoying one nonetheless. I straight-up refuse to brake and squeeze in in defense when that happens to me: if you're gonna cut me off, I'm gonna make you feel like a jerk for doing it.
Having hub gears, I usually pull away from green lights much faster than cars, too, which makes their whole effort fruitless. And that's one thing that's definitely not solved by the shared bike + bus + taxi lanes we got here in Paris - even a lot of professional drivers do it all the time.

Frits B said...

"the level of consideration from this driver was remarkable, even for the Netherlands."
On the other hand, he may have wondered about your uncharacteristic patience and have decided that you were a respectable specimen, deserving his help.
Anyway, this is Drenthe for you.

Mark W. said...

@Frits carefull: David is not the only one writing anymore. This was in Brabant ('s-Hertogenbosch) as I wrote it, Mark.
But I like your reasoning. ;-)

Frits B said...

Mark: I saw the houses and thought them familiar :-). And as for Drenthe: read "outside the Randstad". Unspoiled territory east of the Waterlinie.
BTW, I'm from Rotterdam originally where people might at most have called "Knoppie drukke, l*l" which is best not translated for your non-Dutch readers.

David Hembrow said...

Frits: I also think it's true that Drenthe is a nice place to live. That's why we came here. However, this country in general is quite different to elsewhere, especially if you cycle.

Windows being wound down, doors opening, horns tooting, engines revving. All these things would make we worry in the UK. They'd often come before trouble. However, here it's just not like that here. People don't shout at cyclists from cars and newspapers don't feature people writing in to complain about errant behaviour of cyclists.

Cyclists aren't on the edge of society here, but properly a part of it. That's the difference that Mark is pointing out. It doesn't matter much if one is walking, cycling or driving here. We're all just people. There's no "us vs. them".

Unknown said...

For all the negative I mention about cycling in Canada, I've had mostly positive experiences with motorists lowering their windows to 'chat'...Most of the time it involves asking for directions, but I have had the few who have pointed things out that I wasn't aware of.

As for the push button, I know Vancouver has those at different intersections for cyclists.

MiddleAgeCyclist said...

I recently had a chat with a driver who had his window down at some traffic lights. Obviously this is in the UK so it is a little different to your experience.

Su said...

I've had chats with drivers that were friendly, too (in cycle un-friendly Lubbock, Texas, of all places). It's always a bit of a shock when the driver wants to say hello or commend me for cycling instead of shouting and honking. But much appreciated! Great story-- thanks for sharing!

amoeba said...

I had two pleasant chats through car windows yesterday.
In the first, I was pedalling my Azor and I spoke to the lady-driver. She appreciated my observation. I was concerned that both her front tyres looked under-inflated and that her alloy wheels and the low-profile tyres were at risk on our pot-hole ridden roads. Too often, when I have spoken to drivers in similar circumstances, I have been left with the distinct feeling that my friendly words about bad news were not received in the spirit in which they were given and often wondered why I bother to waste my breath.

In the second, unusually I was the driver and I was pointing-out to a lady cyclist that the rear light on her Brompton was partially obscured by the rear mudguard.

In both cases, the interaction between motorist and cyclist was calm, pleasant and civilised. If only such events were the norm, not the exception - at least in my experience.

Ellie said...

As a Dutch girl living in LA now, it took me some time to get used to all the comments. Both negative and positive: a little while ago a lady rolled down her window just to tell me she liked my hair :)

Dr C. said...

I remember getting a torrent of abuse from a guy at the lights after he had to brake because I stopped on my bike at a zebra crossing. He was very rude and wasn't very receptive to my argument that it wasn't unreasonable for me to stop at a zebra crossing, so I decided to escalate it by rapidly responding in the most obscene terms as I could muster.

It got him to shut up.