Fancy Ambulance: A mode nobody wants to use

The Seattle Department of Transportation posted a reminder on its blog about letting buses go first, a good idea but also mandated by law. Buses should go first—but who or what comes before buses, and whom should bus drivers be “letting go first?” The answer is pretty obvious, bikes and pedestrians. But in practice, sometimes, it feels like bus drivers could use a reminder of this. Fortunately, giving pedestrians the right of way is also written down in the Seattle Municipal Code and Washington Administrative code as well. The bottom line is that with more people in the city, everyone needs to be on the look out for everyone else if we’re going to make this density thing work.

Awhile back on Seattle’s Land Use Code, I wrote a response to Dan Bertolet’s posting of a video about riding bikes (or not riding bikes) called “Why People Don’t Ride Bikes.” Bike posts always generate a lot of hullabaloo for some reason from both cyclists and drivers irritated with cyclists. I felt a little left out being a pedestrian. I gave up my bike riding because I found that the distances I was commuting were too short for riding a bike. It took less time to get from point A to point B on foot than it took suiting up for the rain, unlocking and locking the bike, and, as Dan pointed out, it seemed like I was risking my life to get to work.

I wrote a response that included a video as well. I took some phone video of running through Capitol Hill in which I braved people blowing crosswalks, had to run around cars and trucks parking on the sidewalk, and a series of other horrors. My point was to argue for an explicit hierarchy for modes of transit. This isn’t anything really new, but our laws and codes tend to put a lot of weight on protecting cars from people rather than the other way around.

From Seattle's Land Use Code: Mode Pyramid

Buses can be big, dangerous, fast moving objects to a pedestrian or a cyclist. What I am about to write next is based on personal experience as a pedestrian: buses need to slow down and be far more careful and respectful of pedestrians. Too often I have had to call Metro to complain about a driver making a left turn across traffic and honking at me while I am in the crosswalk, blocking the crosswalk, or even, when I was riding a bike, trying to joust with me out on the road. Bus drivers are human like the rest of us and they are trying to do their job, but just like SDOT reminded car drivers, I’m reminding bus drivers: take it easy out there.

And there is no doubt that pedestrians can be completely inappropriate as well. There is no reason, for example, to wag a finger and make a face at a driver that gets stranded in the box, blocking a crosswalk downtown. It happens.

The point is that everyone should be respectful as we can of everyone else, whether we’re walking, biking, or busing. Accidents happen (I was involved in one the other day), people make mistakes, and ultimately it comes down to the Golden Rule: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. In other words, yield unto others as you would have them yield unto you.

38 Replies to “Density’s Golden Rule: Yield Unto Others”

  1. Completely agree that everyone, regardless of mode needs to be more cautions and aware, but I don’t think that necessarily means yielding per say. To me it means following our transportation laws, which creates a structure of order, responsibility, and predictability which is necessary in a transportation system which has speeds and scales that can’t be safely managed otherwise.

    The problem with the bus merging law is that most people don’t know it is the law. That is where the danger comes.

    I would just add that I feel safer interacting with bus drivers as a pedestrian or biker than I do with cars. Bus drives are better trained, more attentive and because they can be reported by the public for poor driving, are much more accountable than almost all other drivers.

  2. “buses need to slow down and be far more careful and respectful of pedestrians…”

    Nice generalization, Roger.

    Just an hour ago, several of us drivers were standing around talking about all of the different ways pedestrians risk their lives and, under Metro’s accident “preventability” judgement system, our jobs. Sadly, you completely glossed over this. Next time, Roger, try for a little balance…

    1. Thanks for the obligatory defensive bus driver comment.

      I’m sorry that our lives are getting in the way of your jobs. We’ll try harder to be safe.

      1. Roger, I really expect better from a Sightline employee. You may not be posting this as a representative of SIghtline but it really tarnishes the brand.

      2. Wait, a bunch of Metro drivers stand around complaining about the dumb pedestrians checking their cell phones, and it’s Roger that’s poorly representing his employer? You’re driving some of the heaviest equipment on the road, at high speeds*, feet or even inches from pedestrians. That pedestrian may be putting your job in danger if you kill them in a way that is preventable, but you’re putting their life in danger. Drive safe out there.

        *last week a bus zipped past me on the right at least 10mph over the limit to gain momentum for a hill

      3. All three of you are out of line. Pedestrians, drivers, bicyclists, skateboards, bus drivers and everyone else risks their lives by being distracted as they move about (see lady who drove into lake michigan while texting).

        Now, let’s stop making personal attacks.

      4. Matt,

        Not sure how networking with our fellow Operators about all of the risky behavior (for them, for us and for others) that we see on a daily basis constitutes poorly representing Metro. It does happen – and it’s more than just the cell phone set.

        We see people not merely being careless – but outright reckless. We see drunk and inattentive people straddling the curb and even stumbling into and out of the street. Worst of all – we see people DELIBERATELY stepping in front of our moving buses either as we pull out of a zone or even as we travel down the street in an attempt to stop the bus using their own bodies as a “human shield” so that they can then board the bus.

        Of course exercising a higher level of awareness and caution is called for – ALWAYS. No driver wants to be responsible for the injury or God forbid death of a pedestrian, cyclist, or anyone else, and not because of the impact on our jobs. It’s because we’re caring human beings with a natural urge not to cause harm to others either deliberately or through negligence.

        Unfortunately when an accident does occur and the media responds – such stories are often accompanied by automatic blaming of the driver without regard to either the contributing (or outright causality) of the actions of the injured person(s). See any recent news article and the corresponding comments sections for many fine examples.

        So yeah, Roger – when someone like you hops on that bandwagon, I guess a defensive post or two (i.e. presenting other perspectives) becomes “obligatory”.

      5. Matt: Good point. Let me be clear that I absolutely approve of the “preventability” judgement system that we operate under. We absolutely should be held to a higher standard.

        What I am trying to convey though is that people put their lives at risk in *really stupid* ways around our buses all the time. Should I try to prevent running you over because you dash out in front of my moving bus when I have a green light? Yes. Should I be looking for you in places you shouldn’t be? Absolutely. (Example: Diving under the bus to retrieve your dropped change immediately before I pull away from the curb)

        But the problem comes with the fact that we are “human”. The tragic events of the past week should remind everybody that we cannot prevent every accident. I do not know the circumstances of these accidents and I am not going to go through all of the rumors I’ve heard – other than to say that in at least one of the collisions, a driver’s actions may have prevented worse injuries.

        All I am asking for is a little balance. Roger blogs here about all of the things drivers do that make him feel we need a reminder to “be safe”, but cites no data on Metro’s safety statistics and completely ignores the actions of pedestrians that put their own lives at risk. I’ve read Roger’s work over at Sightline for years and love most of it. Obviously, this piece doesn’t rank high on my list.

        That’s why I am so defensive and irritated.

      6. As I have explained to Matt in a private message I don’t work for Sightline, and haven’t for over a year.

        Thankfully, the only person I am accountable to for what I write here is pretty much me and the guys on the STB board.

        Opinions are just that, opinions. My message is indeed to all bus drivers. You are professionals and you take your life and the life of lots of people into your hands every day when you get behind the wheel. I have a lot of respect for that. But when your aggreivement at legimate problems leads you to get defensive in the comment sections of blogs, and aggressive on the roads it’s time to ask yourself what’s important, being right or being safe.

        Hence my exhortation, yield unto to others as you would have them yield unto you. It’s the most difficult thing we humans can do, put ourselves in the shoes of the other guy and act accordingly. I promise I’ll try to do that with bus drivers.

      7. By and large I really respect the professionalism of Metro drivers and am happy to entrust my safety to them every day rather than get behind the wheel myself.

        That said, last night I ran into a friend of mine who told me that he had just witnessed a Metro bus run a red light on 3rd Ave and nearly strike three pedestrians. He said that he had reported it by calling 911. A few months ago I had a very similar experience which is the only time I have submitted a complaint to Metro.

        My friend then went on to say, “But it’s Metro. They can just kill people and no one cares.” Now my friend is a blowhard who says outrageous things, but it’s worth noting that the incidents of the last few days are tragic not only for the loss of life, but that they tarnish the reputation of the agency at a time when the future of transit service in this city is very much uncertain.

      8. Matt,

        How does a fatality involving a pedestrian who stepped in front of a legally operating bus as the person stepped into the street against the light (2 of the 3 cases) tarnish the agency?

        Is an agency tarnished by accidents caused by others?

      9. Beavis: You’re right. We live in a society where public opinion is based on dispassionate consideration of the facts and newspapers report the news impartially and without any sort of agenda.

        My bad.

      10. Saw one tonight, a 358 drove through the intersection at 3rd and Pine, even though there was not enough curbspace at the stop. Then the light turned red, and he’s blocking the intersection and the crosswalk. The bus ahead pulls out, and he starts to move forward, nearly hitting a pedestrian who, while outside the crosswalk (had to be, it was blocked by a 60 ft bus) was walking with the walk signal.
        I wonder whose fault that’ll be when he’s back at the barn with his co-workers? I get that 90% of drivers are safe, but there’s always exceptions, and the 10% could use a reminder to drive safely.

      11. Matt,

        I groove on the whole irony thing you’re doing (and I don’t disagree), but seriously – when a LINK train t-bones a car that makes an illegal left turn at Othello, does it “tarnish” the reputation of Sound Transit?

  3. I second the “feeling safer interacting with bus drivers” comment by Adam. Plus, whenever the construction that Charles Marohn over at Strong Towns calls a “STROAD” is involved, as a lifelong pedestrian, I feel VERY unsafe. A STROAD beefs up not only the car speed but often seems to bolster a car driver’s perception that cars rule and pedestrians are incidental to the cityscape altogether.

    The practical political reality is that most people still think intuitively that cars do rule; the average Seattle driver probably turns the nicely presented preference pyramid above upside down in his/her mind. The question is, how do we spur a rethinking for that driver? After a lifetime of unconscious assumptions about cars ruling, what will induce car drivers to give up that political power?

    1. Start with signals from our own SDOT. Road traffic is treated as the highest priority on our streets. Take a walk anywhere near I-5 downtown, and you’ll find very, very long green lights letting theoretical cars on and off the freeway while an actual person that’s push a button has to stand around and wait. If a button press changed the actual light cycle to immediately (after a yellow and red, of course) let the pedestrian* through, this might start to signal the importance of pedestrians to drivers.

      * that same pedestrian that is theoretically SDOT’s top priority, who is standing out in the rain waiting, while the driver’s in a comfortable seat listening to the radio

      1. And then the downtown lights that don’t have buttons because they’re strictly timed…for cars. Every time I walk down Howell St to my dentist’s office I am reminded of this as despite my brisk walking pace I am forced to stop at Every. Single. Light.

        Combine that with SPD’s vigorous enforcement of jaywalking laws, and whatever imbecile decided to plant trees of the sidewalk-destroying variety in the middle of the sidewalk on 2nd Ave in Belltown, and what should be some of the most walkable areas of the city are actively hostile to the pedestrian.

      2. Those trees on Second make me FURIOUS. Some were planted before the sidewalk was widened, but some went in later. Worse, the “tree wells,” the pavement cutaways around the trees, have been designed by morons in some cases (other aves too, like Fourth), going out of their way to be random and block as much as possible. It’s not even for the trees’ health as far as I can tell…some go way beyond any reasonable root system. (I love street trees.) I walk Downtown every day, and usually jog over to First because it’s better for pedestrians than Second.

        Totally agree on cars having priority at lights. This city is full of places where pedestrians aren’t supposed to cross AT ALL, or if allowed are supposed to push a button, which means wait until the upcoming cycle even if the light is currently green for cars. I don’t honor the second, and sometimes don’t honor the first….

      3. But of course this is Seattle, so good luck trying to get rid of them. Why the hell are you trying to walk on the sidewalk, anyway?

  4. Seattle was known once for it’s courteous drivers prior to the mid 1990’s. These things have changed with increased density. So, expect more of the same. I’ve had very good luck with bus drivers as a biker and as a pedestrian, and look forward to more of the in the future.

    1. Glenn please show me proof that density = bad drivers. On STB we like to use facts to make arguments. You should do the same or move your trolling to somewhere else.

      1. You mean like Roger’s original post?

        “in practice, sometimes, it feels like bus drivers could use a reminder of this”

        “feels”? Seriously?


      2. @Ryan he is trolling because he is using a completely unrelated topic, driver behavior, to complain about his favorite topic, density. FYI (

        @VeloBusDriver Glenn made completely off the wall *inference* between density and driver behavior, and because he made an inference he must have facts to back it, otherwise it’s just an opinion. I hope you do understand and agree that we do try to embed facts into our writing as much as possible, because it makes them stronger.

    2. Glenn, that is one of the worst-reasoned arguments I’ve ever read here (not to mention density started increasing in earnest in the 1980s…), and that is saying something, because we’ve had some pretty epic trolls around in our time.

      1. In defense of myself…I know that most of you don’t like me because I oppose what you think is a good thing for the Roosevelt transit station area. Okay, we have different opinions.

        It’s often said that I oppose density. That’s not true. I just oppose the development of one particular block in the city.

        My comment above is an opinion. Seattle was a mellower city pre 1990 and I’ll stand by that. I was here. People were not in such a hurry and everyone else wasn’t causing my problems. They were my own.

        My opinion is also that since I started riding a bike over a year ago I’ve received a lot of respect from bus drivers more than anyone else, but for the most part, most drives of anything are courteous.

        I came to the STB about a year ago through citytank and I like half of the articles posted here. I like to know how things work and why some buses make more noise than others. I’m fascinated that some people can spend so much time devising ways for buses to move 8 to 10 seconds faster to get from one stop to the next.

        I’m concerned about traffic and wish they would stop building and widening freeways. I’m for more mass transit. I’m in favor of multi unit buildings without parking. I can’t wait to get ride of my car and next year I will be able to do that.

        I don’t feel the need to provide data and facts to support my opinions. I comment about things because that’s how I feel about them. Take that human element out of the equation of how to build a livable, sustainable city and you will continue to make mistakes.

        So label my how you want, or better yet, just ignore me. I’m happy with my contribution to society and expect that I’ll be able to continue in that vein.

      2. I remember Seattle pre-1990 also, it was a nice place. The thing I miss the most is the cheap housing. But alas! Those days are gone. For that we can blame microsoft and amazon for that. But today, it’s an even nicer place!

        I also agree strongly with you about the terrible drivers. The current bunch of drivers incredibly aggressive all the time. I even had someone follow me to my house to yell at me because I wasn’t driving fast enough for him. One of the reasons I love tolling is that I hate dirvers.

        As a long-time Roosevelt resident and land owner, I strongly disagree about that block, but life goes on. I don’t think either of us won on that one.

    3. I’m pro-density but it’s my impression that motorists in Seattle got way more aggressive sometime after the mid 1990s. That’s a problem of car density though, not people density.

      Anybody have a table of Seattle car registrations by year? Didn’t it shoot up in the 1990s? Also, SUVs, horsepower, and acceleration all went way up in cars then.

    4. The densification was accompanied by people moving from the east coast and California. It’s more likely that they brought their mean driving habits with them and changed the culture, than that “density” did it.

      1. Strictly anecdotal, but as someone who grew up here and has watched the changes, I’d agree with you, Mike Orr. My favorite example is the behavior I watched twice yesterday, “Let me pull a U-turn mid-block to grab that parking space on the other side of this busy two-lane street, blocking traffic in both directions.” Because clearly they’re more important than anyone else.

  5. Every bus has the standard Yield sign — black, red and white triangle — painted on its rear left back.

    I treat this as I would a road sign. I yield. It seems as plain as day to me.

  6. Great article! I mean that seriously. Not that you need my approval or commendation.

    In any case, the hierarchy needs to be amended, as important as pedestrians are–and they should be at the top of the hierarchy–boats are at the top, followed by trains. That’s just the reality of it. But in essence, that is the same mobility hierarchy that I’ve championed for ages.

  7. Good guidance in this piece. Successful urban living requires a mellow attitude on the streets. It frequently makes sense to let the other guy go first.

    As one who was run over by a car as a child while running across a four-lane street on a human-guarded crosswalk that I assumed was safe, I urge pedestrians to take sole responsibility for their personal safety in the proximity of vehicles. Making eye contact with drivers who are in a position to hit you is a good rule of thumb. Another good idea is to stand way back from the curb and traffic while waiting for the bus.

    The driver years ago who almost killed me saw an open lane in congestion and took the opportunity to shoot through. I fooled him, plus ruined his bank account and remaining life. On the other hand, I recovered fully and have a good story. A car plunging through a hole in traffic is frequently seen at traffic lights just as they turn green, when there is an open lane for a driver approaching with speed. An unlikely but not impossible condition, however, is that other cars may be waiting for somebody to finish crossing the street, to clear the intersection.

    As for policy giving cars a lot of preference in cities? It’s a consequence of the market share of driving as a dominant mode choice for far-ranging mobility, generally. Keeping drivers moving is often given priority on a street where most traffic and people movement is cars. Relates to why a lot of people don’t like living on busy streets. Of course we have streets in Seattle where more people in some time periods are moving in transit, not in cars, with priority adjusted to reflect that.

    Environments can be built where cars are pushed down in the priority stack, even to zero. Inside Disney World comes to mind. Car-free streets and urban center city zones also — I’ve seen them worldwide. There are often very large parking facilities nearby these car-free areas for people who don’t live near them or in them or who don’t take transit to get there.

    And there are cases of public policy generating a very large bicycle mode share in urban areas; witness . This requires accommodation, as in the Netherlands and Denmark.

    I’m fond of saying that fights over how to allocate street space are fights worth having. The clash of opinions, of values is real. Bus bulbs or bus pull outs?

    Apparently conflict is simmering right now in the design of the street that will go along the Seattle waterfront where the Viaduct will have been removed.

    1. Bad driver behavior is encouraged by roads with multiple parallel general-purpose lanes in the same direction. I’ve witnessed this repeatedly; you get cars weaving out into places they can’t see and causing accidents when it’s *possible* to do so. When it’s one driving lane each direction, drivers generally don’t do it; there’s nowhere to swerve.

      One driving lane each way, one parking lane each way, perhaps a left turn lane, perhaps a right turn lane, perhaps bike lanes on each side, definitely sidewalks — this is plenty wide enough, and is the point where further widening starts being counterproductive.

      If you want more car capacity than that, build an expressway — which is only possible for long-distance traffic, and only worth it for relatively low-volume traffic.

      If you want more general-purpose person-moving or freight-moving capacity, it’s time to start laying tracks (or bus lanes, but in the long run tracks are cheaper).

      1. Yup. See Nickerson pre- and post-changes, as a great example. Or 15th NE in Shoreline after the tragic fatality there. Or Dexter post-bus islands.

        4 lanes is just asking for trouble.

    2. John, re your comment “Keeping drivers moving is often given priority on a street where most traffic and people movement is cars.” Do we really know that most of the people on 2nd Avenue in the PM rush hour are in cars? Strip away all the vehicles and just look at the people themselves (bodies)and there aren’t very many people in a given block of cars with a typical 1.3 AVO. Surround those people with lots of fancy sheetmetal and yes, it may look like a lot of folks out there, but I doubt if it’s always more than on the sidewalks at that same moment.

      As I’ve observed before, far too many pedestrian signals are timed to give walkers only 5 – 7 seconds to legally enter the street (amount of time the WALK light is on before it starts blinking WAIT, when it’s illegal to enter the crosswalk) out of a total signal time of often 80 seconds or more. No wonder people jaywalk.

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