No matter how devoted we may be to a life of transit (or walking or bicycling), etc, most of us still find ourselves behind the wheel at least semi-regularly. After 7 years without a car, I’ve made peace with car ownership and am frankly very glad I again own one. Those of us who grew up in suburbia or rural America likely landed in Seattle with our lead foots intact, frustrated by what we perceived as the well-meaning incompetence of other drivers. We may have even nodded our heads at the Allstate report saying Seattle has some of the worst drivers in the U.S.
But the very things that draw many of us to Seattle– vibrant street life, narrow(ish) streets, density of people and services, bodies of water, and topographic variation – are often direct impediments to driving. So I’d like to echo this great post from from Tom at Seattle Bike Blog with 15 ways you can stand out from your lead-footed peers and drive like a good Seattle Urbanist.
1: Yield for buses. Every time. Period. If you see a stopped bus with its left-turn signal flashing, yield. If a moving bus is trying to merge into your lane, let it. Every time.
2: Yield for people. Every time. Treat every intersection like the legal crosswalk that it is. Be nicer than people expect you to be.
3: Give thanks for transit. Every time you get frustrated driving behind a bus, breathe, imagine 40-100 additional cars in front of you, and give thanks instead.
4: Check your mirrors obsessively. Expect a cyclist to be approaching every single time you open your car door, change lanes, or turn. Get used to never quite feeling relaxed when you drive. You’re operating potentially lethal heavy machinery, you should be a little stressed and at full attention.
5: Slow down. If driving on crowded arterials, resist the urge to speed even a little. Go ahead and be the annoying one going 25mph on Rainier or 40mph on Aurora. Wear impatient honks from other drivers like a badge of pride. If you’re cresting a hill and can’t see beyond it, slow to a crawl. If you’re driving into the sun and your squinting impacts your field of vision, lay off the gas. Anytime humans on foot or bike are nearby, ease off a bit.
6: Drive below the speed limit on neighborhood streets. Drive 15mph or less, or slow enough to evade and not kill 100% of distracted children who may run out into the street.
7: Relax about cyclists and red lights. Learn to differentiate between the risky behaviors that deserve your scorn and the harmless bending of the law. If a person biking in front of you runs a yellow or newly-red light, give thanks that they’re the last through the intersection rather than in front of you when your light next turns green. If they treat the red light like a stop sign (as is legal in Idaho), understand that people biking are operating a much more nimble vehicle. People on bikes sit higher than those on most cars, and unimpeded by glass or structural steel, they also have a much wider field of vision that you do as a driver, increasing their chances of maneuvering safely. Cut them some slack.
8: Own an ORCA card, even if you drive every day. Keep at least $20 on it. Be ready and able to take transit at a moment’s notice rather than feeling locked into driving for lack of cash.
9: Drive with a light foot. Accelerate slowly, brake steadily. Be boringly predictable. If you see a red light in front of you, immediately ease off the accelerator and coast to a stop. Learn the light timings of your most frequented streets (e.g. 20mph on 4th Avenue downtown) and drive just fast enough to clear every green light. Think more about average speed and less about top speed. A good shorthand rule: if you’re making Marilyn McKenna angry, you’re probably doing something right.
10: Don’t make unprotected left turns through busy intersections (think Broadway/John, Olive/Denny, etc). Not only will you back up traffic, but you’ll be tempted to punch through if you get a clearing, endangering crossing pedestrians. Instead relax, take an extra minute, and whenever possible either use a signalized turn or make three right turns instead.
11: Don’t circle for parking, ever. Make one pass at your desired street parking location, and if it’s full, use the nearest garage. Make peace with routinely spending a few bucks to store your large piece of property. Rather than pinching pennies, value your time for what it’s worth.
12: Don’t block the box, ever. Don’t proceed across an intersection until you have at least two car lengths in front of you, so that you won’t block the box even if another driver cuts you off at the last minute. When other drivers honk at you for waiting, ignore them.
13: Don’t honk your horn unless there is an imminent threat of a collision, and never out of frustration or anger. Don’t let your impatience cause noise pollution and stress to those around you.
14: Don’t look at your phone, period. Turn off the ringer and stash it in the glove box until you turn off the car. It can wait. Drive simple cars with the least amount of distracting tech. If you need to stay connected during your travel time, there’s this great thing called transit that allows you to browse and tap and text to your heart’s content.
15: Be on the way. To the fullest extent possible, arrange your life to give yourself transportation resilience. Even if you drive for everything else, don’t drive during peak hours. Even if you rarely take transit, treat it like basic infrastructure you need to learn. Know what transit routes are near you and where they go and how often, just as you know the streets around you.