9.27.2014

Calming Chaos

I was bike commuting home yesterday when I came to one of the intersections I don't like - the one at Grand Canyon and Mineral Point Road in Madison WI. It has a traffic light, but there is a lot of turning traffic and oblivious drivers that requires a cyclist to be quite assertive in exercising our hybrid of vehicular and pedestrian rights.

In this case, I had ridden my bike up onto the sidewalk so I could press the pedestrian crosswalk button, mostly to expedite the light change so I could go, but also so I could use the pedestrian crossing, which I perhaps erroneously believe some car drivers pay more attention to.

The light turned yellow for the cross traffic and after glancing both ways to ensure there were no Audi or BMW drivers gunning it to get through the intersection, I began to roll forward slightly to let the car driver on my left that was turning right know that I was wearing my pedestrian helmet and exercising my right of way in the pedestrian crossing.

As I started toward the median, a car driver in the left turn lane of the cross street blared their horn at the car in front of them, which was first in line to turn. My attention caught by the loud horn, I began a rapid analysis of what was going on, lest it impact my ability to cross the road.

The beeping driver was a douchebag in an SUV who was apparently upset at the little old lady in the car in front of him for not taking her left on the yellow light. To be fair, the little old lady's car was less than a foot over the line markings on the road and wasn't appreciably "in" the intersection, so she was within her rights to stay put and not complete her left turn. And it wasn't like SUV boy would have been able to follow her through the intersection. He might have tried, but that would be metaphorically "over the line."

The horn honking, however, confused the little old lady a little bit. I could see the worried look on her face as she glanced around to determine why she was being honked at and then she started to roll forward, insecure about whether she was meant to go.

This all happened within a span of a couple of seconds and I was still barely into the road. But my course was going to take me in front of the old lady in the left turn lane and I didn't want her confusion to imperil that course of action. The old lady saw me as she assessed what to do. When she caught my eye, I simultaneously smiled at her and put my open hand up, palm toward her, in the universal sign for "stay put...you are fine right where you are."

I saw a look of relief cross the old lady's face. My hand signal was clear and authoritative, and she seemed glad to have definitive guidance on what to do. She hit the brakes and nodded at me in both understanding and thanks.

I turned my head toward the SUV behind her, and although I could not clearly see the driver because of the tinted windows, I threw a stern look of disdain right through the dark glass into their face. The obscurity of the windows totally prevented them from throwing any body or "sign" language back my way, so they were foiled by their own too cool for school window modification.

I made it the rest of the way through the intersection without incident and feeling as if I had reduced chaos in the cosmos ever so slightly. Of course, the laws of thermodynamics state that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So my reduction of chaos locally may have increased entropy somewhere else in the cosmos and the potential energy of it is now probably stored in the frustrated mind of the SUV driver. It is hard to know the future kinetics of that mental chaos but I hope the SUV driver does not take out his or her angst on a bicyclist later on.

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