"Congestion on the University Bridge, 1957" – Seattle Municipal Archives
“Congestion on the University Bridge, 1957” – Seattle Municipal Archives

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.

133 Replies to “Driving for Urbanists – 15 Do’s and Don’ts”

  1. 16. Resist the overwhelming urge to signal your displeasure at other motorist using your middle finger – even though it was well deserved and transmits your message in the simplest of terms.

    1. Tell the truth, Mic. You know from experience that just a smile and a nod lets you keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on road and mirrors.

      Also, that the worse the other driver, the more it’s to your advantage to keep him ahead of you, where you can see him.

      Mostly, it’s because professional drivers know one reason we’re professionals is precisely because we’re not the kind of people who use certain gestures to convey anything. You wouldn’t speak to rude incompetent driver even if they weren’t driving, would you?


      1. That’s why we only average 11 mph most times.
        Everyone eventually ends up ahead of us.

    2. It’s only a signal to the other person that you think they are #1.

      I remember years ago when I first moved to the area and met my wife, and when she thought I gave an ‘inappropriate’ honk, she would say: “Don’t do that! He might have a gun!” (this was 30+ years ago).

      It was safer driving in NY. Nobody took the horn, or even the bird personally.

    3. I prefer a big thumbs up. It makes me feel better in the same way as flipping the bird, but the recipient doesn’t get the pleasure of relating the story for pity points later.

  2. Some additional followups for #7:

    They may know the intersection better than you. The intersection might not have a bike sensor, so they might legally be allowed to run the light (see: WA state’s “dead red” bill).

    Or, they might be running the light for their (and your) safety. Y’see, there’s a light on my daily commute where the bike sensor is off to the right, and immediately following the light the road narrows. If I’m on a slow (cargo) bike, cars pass me safely as I’m going through the intersection. Thus, I wait for the light. However, if I’m on my fast (road) bike, cars don’t have the chance to pass as I ride through the intersection. Instead, they try to pass right as the road narrows. They do this often, and I’ve seen very close calls numerous times with head-on collisions by passing drivers. So yes, I’m going to run that light on my road bike for EVERYONE’S safety.

    1. Why not just take the lane before the light? That’s what I tend to do in those environments.

  3. Elegant and right on, Zach. I (honestly) do my best to do those things, especially the slowing down when pedestrians are about and the “smooth driving”. Saves a bunch of gas, too!

  4. A comment on #10 – we, as street safety advocates, might do better by telling SDOT to create protected left turns (or alternatively a pedestrian scramble) at the busiest intersections so that drivers aren’t looking for a opening in the crosswalk to speed into and potentially hit someone.

    1. +1, seeing Broadway last weekend I was beginning to wonder is it time to make busy pedestrian intersections an all walk all phase intersection for walking so everyone can get through safely?

  5. All valid points and oddly enough mostly the same as 1960s rural east coast drivers’ ed ( substitute farm vehicles and the by then rare horse for bikes)

    Anyone have recent experience with driving school to know how it corresponds to this manual of common sense, courtesy and defensive driving ?

    PS only went back to driving any but long road trips because of dog


    I have a teenage son who is currently learning to drive and I’m trying to teach him that some cars are just faster than ours and that it’s pointless to play games while driving. If we’re heading to the grocery store, there’s no checkered flag at the entrance to the parking lot. Just get there safely.

    Young drivers also have a tendency to think that they can get anywhere in 15 minutes. Wrong! Plan ahead, allow for trouble and don’t be embarrassed if you arrive early.

    1. I wish high school driver training featured regular “road rally” exercises, to give beginning drivers a sport that doesn’t require a race track and a flameproof suit. Competition skills that emphasize general understanding and control of the car.

      I think it’s a mistake to think every young driver loves speeding and skidding. So I think many of them will find vehicle control the superior skill. Especially when they learn that a smooth ride is not only easy on both machine and driver, but between time-points, faster as well.

      Will recommend two years of trolleybus driving for a lifetime of driving easy on vehicles and safe around bicycles and everything other intensive thing about driving.

      Wonder if Marilyn McKenna is related to Rob. But whether she is or not, who cares what she thinks about a Prius or anything else with wheels?. But racing or anything else why waste money on a car for a use it was never designed for ? I’m not sure the computer will let you spin wheels. Though doing this loses both time and tires.

      Will say that with a very light pedal on the power pedal, I’ve never felt any lack of accelerating power. Fuel mileage is interesting. By dashboard readouts and “feel” of the car, it’s easy to learn connection between driving skill and fuel efficiency.

      But best thing about a Prius is that it’s a Toyota- meaning very low maintenance on a very tough car. Don’t like Prius? Just gives me another one on the market for me.

      Mark Dublin

  7. #2: Do this only on single lane roads. If there are two lanes, you are setting the crosser up for getting waxed by the guy next to you or the lady behind you who is impatient and swerving around you. They don’t see the pedestrian, and will maim or kill them. Your kindness is deadly in this situation.

    1. Not only should you stop for pedestrians in two lane roads, it’s the law to do so. I don’t understand what you think will happen to this pedestrian after you swerve around them. Surely that impatient person behind you will hit them anyway, after following your lead.

      1. Also, stopping at least 30 feet before the crosswalk is recommended on roads with 2+ lanes in the same direction. Some streets have stop lines, but many don’t.

        If you are stopped closer, drivers in the next lane may not see people crossing and speed through the crosswalk.

      2. What you are doing is inviting them to enter a crosswalk that is unsafe. They won’t enter it if you don’t stop for them. They’ll wait until there is a break in traffic.

        This is often how people die in crosswalks. This is also why most crosswalks on roads with more than one lane in each direction were removed in Seattle, after a politicians son, iirc, lost a fair amount of brain function after 1 lane stopped and he got hit in the second.

        Don’t do it. It’s Seattle nice, yes. But it’s really stupid and dangerous.

      3. I’d love to read any reference you have on this topic. It just doesn’t make sense to me that breaking the law and driving past pedestrians in an intersection would be safer to anyone involved.

      4. While nothing specifically has been implicated with regard to multiple lanes, there are several studies that look at lane width and pedestrian fatalities and injuries. This is a research topic that needs further study. Her are two well-done studies that provide good data:

        T. Koepsell, L. Mccloskey, M. Wolf, A.V. Moudon, D. Buchner, J. Kraus, M. Patterson
        Crosswalk markings and the risk of pedestrian–motor vehicle collisions in older pedestrians
        JAMA, 288 (17) (2002), pp. 2136–2143


      5. And though number of lanes was not quite significant, that may have been a sample size issues. The fact that marked crosswalks were far worse than unmarked ones I think would be correlated with what a driver does when he stops in 1 of 4, or 6 lanes. He gives the pedestrian just that false sense of security that a marked crosswalk also provides. That drivers see or even look for pedestrians in anything other than a cursory way.

        On multi-lane roads speeds are faster and drivers are essentially put in a competitive situation, where in order to get where they are going as quickly as possible, they are constantly looking for gaps and lane change possibilities. They are spending 90% of their brain on jockeying for optimum positions. Mario cart.

        A car slows in front of you, you think they are making a turn. You veer around them, perhaps accelerating to squeeze in front of the car behind you to the right. And kill the pedestrian they were slowing down for. Tilt.

        Looks like a gap in the literature. Anyone wanna help me write a grant?

    2. Exactly. #2 is terrible advice. Having seen a pedestrian get hit as a result of someone being “considerate” and stopping on a multilane road, I never do it. As a pedestrian, I never invite it either. Stand back and wait for a break in traffic or cross at a signalized intersection.

      1. Stopping for a pedestrian at an unsignalized intersection is not “being considerate”. It’s following the law.

      2. Personally, I dynamite the brakes, and avert my glance.
        (Remember the rule: NO Eye Contact)

    3. I’ll add to number two also to never stop in a complex traffic situation with multiple vehicles all going different directions.
      Back in Bellingham, there was a local street that was heavily used by backs and crossed a busy-ish two-lane street. I’d stop at the stop sign, and a person on the busier street would stop for me. However, there was a car on the same street as me going the opposite direction waiting as well, and a vehicle on the busier street waiting for a left turn. So, those two cars waiting, do they go when the first car cedes right-of-way? As a bike rider, I never trusted that they wouldn’t, so I never proceeded. Stopping where not required in a complex situation like this makes the situation very unpredictable and therefore very hazardous.

      1. As a driver, if another driver stops in the lane next to me, I try to think about why, rather than assuming he’s an idiot and potentially crashing into a pedestrian in a crosswalk. For me this takes mental training.

    4. #2a: Observe drivers on either side of you and assume that when other drivers slow down or stop that there is a reason for it, other than to pi$$ you off. There is a lot of “I only care about what happens in my lane” magical thinking amongst drivers these days.

      As a pedestrian, I stop and wait.

    5. While there are some intersections that are so busy I would probably agree that stopping for a pedestrian is inviting or even pressuring that pedestrian into a hazardous situation, that should not obscure that fact that passing a stopped car that is not obviously signalling and waiting for a left is extremely dangerous. Whether or not the crosswalk is marked, there is still a crosswalk and pedestrians are entitled to cross unless the intersection is signaled and the pedestrians have to follow the signal. Not only it is the law, it ought to be the norm that drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks on two lanes, four or six.

      1. I completely agree. It just doesn’t happen to be the world we live in. Yet.

      2. But it’s the law in the world we live in. And you’re not helping change the culture by zipping past people that are actually in the intersection. I still really don’t see how your behavior is at all safer – your “encouraging” them back to the curb is not appreciated and I highly doubt it’s safe.

      3. Come on, man. You are being intential obtuse. I’d of course stop if someone was in the road. That’s rarely what happens though.

        Until we have public safety officers who start to enforce public safety by ticketing failure to yield, the general public isn’t even gonna kbiwcits a law. And thecfewxthat know, won’t care.

        So enticing peds to their deaths is the wrong thing to do.

      1. As a carless Seattle resident who gets around everywhere on foot or transit, I am very thankful to biliruben for speaking up about the “safety” of the everywhere-is-a-crosswalk law/culture here. I moved to Seattle from Chicago via NY (and before that, Paris), and I was perplexed about this when I first got here — it’s just not how cities work. Since then, I have been almost hit many times, and I have seen many well-meaning motorists nearly get into accidents with other motorists because of this law/culture (e.g., sometimes when I’m just standing close to the curb and someone *thinks* I want to cross, when I don’t!). It’s provincial — probably fine for when Seattle was a small town, but it’s unsafe now for all the reasons biliruben points out. Matt the Engineer doesn’t make a compelling point by simply repeating “it’s the law!” Lots of things and were laws and aren’t anymore. Laws change. Let’s be a real city, folks.

  8. I think #2 deserves much more publicity and perhaps its own post. Almost no driver abides by the rule that they have to yield to pedestrians in EVERY intersection without signals, regardless of whether there are crosswalk marks painted on.

    1. Also, if a person is biking trying to use a marked or unmarked crosswalk they have the same rights as someone walking. Stop for them.

    2. Because it’s an unenforced law. All failure to yield is unenforced. One of thousands of laws drivers break everyday while barely realizing it.

      If you want a law to be obeyed, you have to enforce it. Otherwise it probably shouldn’t even be a law.

      1. Enforced or not, it’s generally understood that unmarked intersections are safer than marked intersections.

      2. Only because law enforcement has other pressing matters. They indeed *could* enforce traffic laws but reality says that for most things they won’t bother pulling you over. Go downtown and look at mid-block traffic signals and see how many cars just breeze through.

    3. Yes, every intersection is a crosswalk and drivers need to yield to pedestrians who have entered the crosswalk.

      One common Seattle behavior that annoys me both as a pedestrian and a driver alike is the tendency to yield to pedestrians who have not yet entered the crosswalk. No law requires this.

      When I’m walking I will generally not enter the crosswalk until the near lane is clear because I simply can’t trust drivers to pay attention. If you’re in the far lane and stop for me before I enter the crosswalk, you are wasting your own time, wasting the time of everyone behind you, and also adding a bit of urgency to my travel: now I’m the rude one if I wait on the corner a few extra seconds to be sure the near-lane traffic won’t run me over.

      In addition if I see that there’s only one car approaching with nobody behind I’ll often wait for them to clear before I cross. If it takes me ten seconds to cross the street and I can save you that time by pausing for two seconds, that seems like the polite thing to do.

      1. One step into the roadway may be the legal requirement to stop, but if I see someone standing at the corner and looking at traffic I’m going to assume they want to cross. If they take one step (which takes but a second) I am legally bound to stop. That step can happen much more quickly than I can bring my car from 20mph to a dead stop. I have to assume the person might step off the curb between when I reach the point of being unable to stop and the crosswalk. Hence I stop.

        Sorry if that bothers you, but I don’t want to hit anyone.

      2. If they take one step (which takes but a second) I am legally bound to stop. That step can happen much more quickly than I can bring my car from 20mph to a dead stop.

        False. Relevant law (emphasis mine):

        WAC 132E-16-040

        Pedestrians — Right of way.

        (1) Stopping for pedestrian. The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway within a crosswalk unmarked or marked when the pedestrian is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning.

        (2) Pedestrian sudden movements. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.

        If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk when you are so close that you cannot stop in time, they are the ones breaking the law, not you. Our traffic laws are pretty clear about whose turn it is to proceed at any given time.

        It’s most efficient for everyone if you take your turn when it is in fact your turn. That means stopping for pedestrians only once they have entered the crosswalk. Your practice of stopping early is just as annoying and unnecessary as if you, as a driver, try to wave someone else through a four-way stop when you got there first. When the right-of-way is yours, take it!

      3. If cars are not legally required to stop when a pedestrian is waiting on the corner to cross, then how does the pedestrian ever cross a busy street that doesn’t have a light or stop sign? I don’t want to step into the road for fear that a car won’t stop and will run me over. So I don’t step until cars stop. But cars don’t stop until I step. The common sense interpretation is if a person is standing at the edge of a corner facing the crossing, you should stop for them.

        #10 Yes! The number of times I’ll be crossing with a walk sign, and someone making a left turn nearly hits me – either because they didn’t bother looking before turning, or because they were racing through to turn on a yellow arrow before it turned red.

        Whatever the stereotype is about Seattle drivers, I find them to be as aggressive as anywhere else.

      4. If cars are not legally required to stop when a pedestrian is waiting on the corner to cross, then how does the pedestrian ever cross a busy street that doesn’t have a light or stop sign?

        The same way that you cross a busy street in a car when cross traffic has the right of way: you wait for a large enough gap in the traffic and then you can go. Sometimes the wait can take a while in either circumstance.

        If you wouldn’t stop your car to let a car waiting at a stop sign turn right in front of you, why would you do so for a pedestrian who has not yet entered the crosswalk and thus has exactly the same amount of right-of-way?

      5. Because it’s the law. Pedestrians don’t have a stop sign. The law is car has to be “so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop”. If it’s impossible for you to stop for a pedestrian that steps off the curb, you’re driving too fast.

        WADOT calls this darting out into traffic for a reason – this is a law purely meant to protect drivers from prosecution when they hit kids that run into the road.

        You need to treat uncontrolled intersections, even with multiple lanes, like intersections with stripes.

      6. I don’t step into the street until the cars are gone or somebody stops because I don’t want to get hit if somebody doesn’t see me or is drunk or I underestimate how much time they need to stop or the road is slick and their brakes might not work well. Since I haven’t driven I don’t have a sense of what drivers would consider enough time to stop, so I give them a half block or more so I can run out of the way if they don’t slow down. I don’t expect cars to stop when I’m at the curb, but I can’t help it if they do stop. I rarely have to wait long because there’s usually a light a few blocks away that will create a gap, and if there’s no light it’s usually a freeway exit ramp that’s only one lane. I’ll cross at unmarked intersections or jaywalk only if it’s two lanes or less and traffic is light; otherwise I’ll go to a signal. Fortunately our signals aren’t a mile apart like in Atlanta.

      7. Often when walking I’m confronted with the following situation. I want to cross at a marked or unmarked intersection that doesn’t have a walk sign. I see a car coming. I know that the car has ample distance to stop for me if I start crossing. I also know that if the car continues at its current speed, it will hit me while I am crossing. Do I start crossing?

        Legally – yes, I can cross. I am not darting out into the road. The car has ample time to stop assuming that the driver cares and is paying attention.
        Practical – no I shouldn’t cross. I have to assume the driver is either distracted or an asshole and will not stop. Better to be safe on the curb than roadkill.

        So ultimately as a pedestrian I need to rely on cars that see A – I am attempting to cross and B – they need to stop for me even if I haven’t taken my first step off the curb because that is the only safe way for a pedestrian to cross.

      8. Because it’s the law.

        I disagree.

        Pedestrians don’t have a stop sign.

        Agreed. So what? Stop signs are how we signal which car has the right-of-way on intersecting streets. A car with a stop sign does not have the right of way when there is cross traffic with no stop sign. They must wait for traffic to clear.

        For pedestrians, the law is clear: they have the right of way once they enter the crosswalk. The curb is not the crosswalk.

        The law is car has to be “so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop”. If it’s impossible for you to stop for a pedestrian that steps off the curb, you’re driving too fast.

        Not really true. Whatever speed you’re going, there will be a non-zero stopping distance. A car traveling at 30 mph (a common speed limit throughout Seattle) requires 89 feet to come to a complete stop. That’s a pretty sizable distance. If you step into the crosswalk when a car is closer to you than that, you are breaking the law.

        Once again, a car (at whatever distance) has no obligation to stop for a pedestrian who is not currently located in the crosswalk. If I’m wrong, please cite a law that states otherwise.

        You need to treat uncontrolled intersections, even with multiple lanes, like intersections with stripes.

        Agreed. The law draws no distinction between crosswalks with paint and crosswalks without paint. That has nothing to do with my point that a pedestrian does not acquire the right of way until they enter the crosswalk.

      9. I do the same Larry. Well, until my daily walking commute crosses a very busy 4-lane road at rush hour. Where there’s no easy alternate path that has a signaled crossing.

        I found myself waiting multiple minutes per direction per commute. For an opening that may never come. So I changed my strategy. I step out into the street when I feel it’s safe to do so – when there’s enough of an opening that I feel cars can comfortably stop. I only take a step or two, enough to retreat when biliruben or a cellphone-reading driver doesn’t stop. Of course I do the same thing at the next intersection – waiting as long as I need in front of the stopped driver until I feel the next driver will stop too.

        Honestly, these fast 4 lane roads don’t belong in an urban environment.

      10. Sorry – Eric. I missed that you were talking about pedestrians still on the curb. No, they aren’t crossing the street and you shouldn’t stop for them.

        But you should slow down enough that you can stop for them.

      11. When I’m a pedestrian, I sometimes can see the efficiency of waiting at the crosswalk for the last car in a group to pass, and with a large opening behind it, things all work out.

        However, I’ve found I have to ‘look like I’m not going to cross’ just to get that Seattle driver who has to win the ‘humility war’ by stopping 1/2 mile away to let me cross first to just keep driving by.

        I did hear a story once about someone who was going to stop for a pedestrian, and the pedestrian saw that it would work better if he just passed first, and she waved him by.
        However, a traffic cop was nearby and cited the driver anyway.

        Remember, traffic laws are made to generate revenue.

      12. Sometimes the wait can take a while in either circumstance

        Generally, in my part of the workd, the wait required is to wait long enough for several people to get killed. Then, someone decides to make a better crossing.

    4. My usual last-mile commute (on foot) takes me over a freeway interchange where WSDOT placed an unmarked crossing at a loop ramp, where cars come barreling from an overpass into the ramp on their way to I-5 without any stops. So of course, I have to frantically check my back and watch for an opening to cross that one lane without being hit, since the curvature of the roadway creates a nice blindspot.

      There really needs to be a sign or something to inform drivers of the upcoming crosswalk. Or maybe a signal, though the beg buttons are pretty much useless at freeway interchanges.

    5. agreed though it all depends on the street speed, obviously the few instances occur on slow speed streets

    6. I play it safe, on 2 lane roads I always cross mid-block.

      It’s safer.
      No annoying ‘holier than thou, pious-polite drivers just itching to slam on the brakes’ to worry about (because I’m just standing between these parked cars).
      I look both ways to assess the situation.
      Wait for a break, which isn’t really that long.
      And just GO!.
      It only takes 5 seconds to get across a 2 lane road.

      Wider roads, busy intersections, just work with the intersection controls.

      1. Careful with that strategy. In the U District you’re liable to get a ticket for “obstructing traffic”. Meanwhile the cruiser blocks a lane for 15 minutes while the cop runs your id and enacts his power fantasy.

  9. “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.”

    What would you say about wrong-way passing of buses? I’ve tended to honk at drivers who do that even though I can always stop with enough time to prevent a collision (assuming the other driver returns to the correct side of the road) because I’m driving below the speed limit and paying attention.

    I’ve driven East Pine so many times that I come to expect cars and cyclists to pass stopped buses in the oncoming lane, but that type of maneuver isn’t remotely safe IMO.

    1. Any person driving on the wrong side of the road is an imminent threat of collision, period.

    2. Sometimes a good Punish-honking is called for.

      Of course, if the local constable is nearby, then you would get cited for it.
      “But officer, he LOOKED like he was going to do something dangerous!”

      1. Like I told Mic, who I know didn’t need telling, using your horn to yell at somebody puts you in category of somebody who doesn’t deserve any respect either in or out of your car.

        Also- haven’t law enforcement and courts already got enough to do? But like any other machine-operating skill, training and resulting good habits should do their own enforcing.

        If not- somebody, or school district- should lose “drivers’ ed” permits till problem resolves. Anybody of an age to comment on school driver-training programs now in effect?


      2. Any good Metro driver knows that a little country justice is in order when other drivers need reminding what good operating practices are all about. My favorite was blocking a drivers door when they pull into a bus zone.
        “Two minutes in the penalty box” as the bus not only block egress, but all the other motorists behind the ‘lane blocking bus’ get a reminder why its a fucking bus zone in the 1st place.

  10. #1 on the list should be stop calling yourself an urbanist if you’re driving your car for unessential reasons.

    Example, if you are driving your car to a hairstyle appointment, and you are passing by, let’s say, 20 to 30 barber shops and hair salons along the way, because, even though your hairstylist is ten miles away, they do the best job on your hair. That’s all well and good, but you are not an urbanist.

  11. 13. Right turn on red (left turn on red for a one way going left) make a turn *only* if it is safe to do so and there is no one coming. 13a. Do not wait in a crosswalk to make a right/left turn. Right/left on red is *not* mandatory and is to be made only if it is safe to do so.

    14. Do not creep out into an intersection to go through the intersection or make a turn.

    1. Sometimes one must creep into the intersection to get visibility beyond parked cars. Better to creep in (and be ready to back off) than to power through blind.

  12. My biggest Seattle driver beef is the terrible use of turn signals. Turning on a signal should be done 100 feet before reaching the turn spot. I see many drivers use turn signals as they are turning, which does no one any good!

    The biggest area where advance turn signals are needed are at all-way stops. Not only is the movement affected by turns, but pedestrians cannot feel safe if the are at a far crosswalk and the oncoming car turns without advance notice. Bus drivers too need to know what other drivers are doing.

    So please have your driving buddies understand that turn signal indicators are to be used before reaching the turn corner!

    1. And who the hell knows how far 100 feet is while driving?

      Which is why the state should change the law to say signal before you slow for the turn.

      1. I remember being taught to signal 5 car lengths before the turn, which is roughly 100 ft.

        In the case of sMartCars, that would be 10 car lengths.

    2. Always signal when you are going to turn, but as importantly, don’t signal when you’re not!

      If I am crossing a one-way street and see three cars with turn signals on, I think it’s fairly safe to cross because all the cars are indicating that they are not going to reach the part of the road where I am.

      That is, UNLESS one of them is not actually going to turn and just never turned off the blinker, and goes straight through the intersection…

  13. This is my second time in Seattle. The first time, September 1985, if you wanted a WA driver’s license you had to take and pass the road test. By June 1999, my second time, you could get a WA driver’s license based a written test and eye exam (no road test). In other words, you could bring your driving style with you with impunity.

    I know that there are costs, and there is no way that WSDOT can keep up with the demand if they forced a road test on everybody, but man, forcing people to show that they could drive on their best behavior at least one time seems…. refreshing.

    1. Of course, it is important to note that that only works if you ALREADY have a DL from another state.

    2. Compared to, say Sweden, our driver training floods the roads with dangerously under-trained motorists. “Shoulder check” doesn’t mean a square with a red check-mark on your jacket. Licensing anybody without a long and critical road test is vehicular homicide.

      I seriously think that by State law, after several hours’ driving with a top-level State Police instructor, the officer has the authority to issue one of two permits. Either license to drive a car, or a yearly transit pass recognized all over the country.

      Huge advantages. Massively safer roads. Plummeting insurance costs. With increased transit ridership meaning clearer roads as well. And much lower laundry and clothing replacement bills to get those squares and red check marks off people’s jackets


  14. Is there any way we can get the DOL to require drivers seeking license renewal/replacement to read this?

  15. #13 – I disagree with this… a lot…. A horn has many uses, not just for imminent danger (nor representing someone’s anger either)…

    A horn is a mechanism for communication.

    When I honk I am not worried about another person’s sensitivities (good grief…). Seriously Seattle….

    1. Yep, if the light turns green and the driver ahead of me is not paying attention, I’ll give them a little honk. That’s a courtesy, not rude.
      And I’m cheap, so I’m definitely a parking-space prowler. Luckily, I’m not an “urbanist” (whatever that is), so I’m not bound by these rules.
      “Wear impatient honks from other drivers like a badge of pride.” IE, be a self-appointed traffic-nanny, slowing down everyone behind you. Sweet.

      1. The old chest-crusher steering wheels with horn rings were good for that style honk.

        and sometimes people are just too timid, when I’ve ‘taken a trip to the Bahamas’ at a traffic light. It happens. As it turned out, someone 3 cars back did honk, but they had a little weenie peep-peep horn, so it didn’t register. On that one, I definitely deserved a punish-honk.

        If you don’t move after 3 seconds at a light, you aren’t paying attention to the task at hand, which is driving… so yes… HONK is Proper and Just.

    2. Careful about sensitivities, CP, or some Husky will leave a yellow puddle under all your tires. But I really think with all the audio-electronics available now, we could all have an external sound system that can do anything from a squeeze-bulb Model-T horn to the steam whistle of last-model steam locomotives the size of a mountain range.

      Law enforcement response time could be slowed by having to shovel out of a squad-car full of broken windows to get out. But video footage might also tell the authorities whose windshield to throw a flash-bang grenade through earliest opportunity.

      Or even worse, hacking into the offender’s sound system to make IT sound like riot control. Followed by giant whistles, bagpipes, Wayne Newton…Geneva Conventions are silent on this. Or maybe just can’ hear anymore.



    – me, standing at a but stop, to a woman looking at her phone at a stop sign, who apparently doesn’t realize that stop signs never turn green.

    1. Shortly after LINK opened, Glenn, at Othello street, train didn’t hit pedestrian. Texting, also with earplugs, I mean buds, a young woman T-boned our train. Walked right into the side of it, despite the fact that the bell had cracked like the Liberty one, and the horn now quacked like a sick duck.

      Good chance that Natural Selection will solve this one by bringing back either pterodactyls or really huge prehistoric birds of prey with a natural instinct to convert the distracted of the ground world into lunch. Any day now, paleontologists in Rainier Valley will discover a badly-scratched rock recognizable as a primitive i-pad.


  17. #2.1: Don’t curse out pedestrians who cross “when they don’t have the walk signal.”

    This happened to a person who was crossing Denny at Bellevue, walking north on the west side of the intersection: a guy in a car was also going north and trying to make the left down Denny, and totally road raged at the guy crossing north because he slowed his left turn by 5-10 seconds.

    I don’t know if that guy turning left on Denny was just startled and had to subsume his fear into anger, but it seemed unreasonable to me.

  18. just have lanes for left turns, or don’t have them at all.
    I still can’t understand why Broadway wasn’t made one-way only after the adding the tram.

    I disagree with 11) but I strongly argue that all street parking should be metered (no resident exemptions).

    As a cyclist, I think more bikes should follow 9.

    1. Why? If I live on a quiet street with little demand for parking, why should my guests have to pay to park?
      What are they being penalized for? What crime did they commit?

  19. Not a day goes by where I don’t see multiple bikers nearly get ran over due to blowing through red lights (#7). This should not be encouraged and vast majority of bikers are not doing it for safety or lack of sensor issues.

    There are many intersections where this should not occur, two notable ones being Eastlake & Roanoke (cross traffic coming down sharp hill where neither biker or driver can see other before entering intersection) and Lakeview and Eastlake.

    Sure it might add a couple of minutes to your bike commute and make you expend a few more calories, but not intentionally putting yourself and others in harm’s way should take precedence.

    1. While biking, I’ve been in a collision with another biker who ran a red light (and he broke his leg!), as well as a couple close calls where I’ve had right of way. In theory biking through a red light should be okay, but in practice lots of people doing so are pretty reckless.

  20. May I also add something I call “Mind The Gap”? That means that if you are driving, don’t stop 8′ back from the car in front of you (which is one of the reasons why we get people blocking the box. Snuggle up to the car in front of you, unless you are stopped on a steep slope.

    1. Many drivers are clueless that there are sensors at many signals that will not respond unless a car is stopped on top of them.

      1. You should stop far enough behind a vehicle to see the rear tires touching the ground. No further, no closer.

        Stopping further away causes traffic flow problems; stopping closer risks turning a 2 car fender bender into an 8 car pileup.

  21. Some other points to remember:
    1) Do not drive in bus lanes.
    2) Do not use neighborhood streets as “cut-through” streets to avoid traffic on nearby arterial roads.
    3) Do not park in “no parking” zones, even for short periods of times.
    4) Do not encroach upon sidewalk space by parking with half the car over the curb.
    5) If your house has a driveway, pull forward to avoid blocking the sidewalk.
    6) Don’t idle with your engine on for longer than necessary.
    7) When a freeway exit ramp is backed up, don’t use another lane to “cut” in line. If it were a grocery store checkout line, you wouldn’t cut in line there, either.
    8) When driving a Car2Go, just drive normally – don’t focus on trying to drive fast to reduce your bill. Each minute you save by speeding or running a red light is just 50 cents. The consequence of running over somebody is many orders of magnitude higher.

    1. I’d like to add #6a–“Do not idle engine at drawbridges and railroad crossings if your wait time is longer than 60 seconds.

    2. Counterpoint to 7) Use all lanes and merge as late as possible, like a zipper. Forming a single line where there are two lanes available wastes road resources and can cause the line to back up onto feeder roads, unnecessarily increasing congestion in the larger system.

      I agree that one should not _leave_ a line in order to cut in further ahead.

      I’m thinking of more complex situations; e.g. heading northbound on 5 to exit at Madison, I’m not going to stop and block the through lane to get into the line from westbound 90 as early as possible.

  22. Nary a mention of merging? We all need lessons in the zipper merge in this town. Seattle drivers should be required to watch the glorious smoothness of Vancouverites merging onto the south bound Lions Gate Bridge (notable exceptions are those with out-of-province plates).

    1. I’ve always thought that they should replace the “Lane ends, merge ” signs, and restripe the roadways so that both lanes merge into one in the middle, and have the sign reflect that, with the statement “Lanes Merge – Figure It Out”

  23. We can talk about road design, re-channelization, buffers, zones, signs, etc. but none of that will change decades of engrained, entitled, permissive driving culture. We speed everywhere. Text/email/talk and drive everywhere. Fail to yield, stop, signal everywhere. All the time. Been true for decades. The only thing that will effectively change that is disincentives for those behaviors. Enforcement.

    1. Yep, where’s a cop when you need one?

      Not enough of them.

      Need one on each street corner.

      1. I wonder if places like Italy still have police officers in dramatic uniforms, and most important, white gloves, standing on a platform at an intersection directing traffic?

        Though in my opinion, worldwide, I think that everything requiring a sense of order is best left to women. Compare Seattle police of both genders at any major event. Requisite mentality: “You, go here, you, go there, you, stop, you, step on it!”

        Every little girl knows this by age ten. Usually by practicing on her little brother.

        But for true neighborhood law and order, a tall officer, man or woman, calmly walking along sidewalks for a whole shift. “Tall” not so much about height. Someone with longer arms is a lot more effective with a “night stick”.

        A very long billy-club (wood, leather wrist-strap, lead weight out of sight in the wood at the end.) Probably a lot more effective, and much faster, than pepper spray or a taser. Also important for officer to swing along an iron fence for benefit of whoever needs to know who’s on duty.

        Try that with a taser.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Mark,

        In Palermo, you basically take your life into your hands crossing streets. Mind you, cars will sto for you once you take one step in but you have to commit and give plenty of distance.

      3. @Mark Dublin:

        Bangkok still has platforms for white-gloved cops to direct traffic at busy intersections.

  24. 2a. ….and when you do block a crosswalk or sidewalk, don’t expect the pedestrian to walk out into traffic to get around you. If you don’t want the pedestrian to block your view of traffic, then you shouldn’t have pulled so far forward that you block the entire pathway (crosswalk, sidewalk, etc) the pedestrian needs.

  25. Do you drive like a motorist or do you drive like a pedestrian? Do you walk like a motorist or do you walk like a pedestrian? Think about that one.

    1. Might want to get hold of the Monty Python piece about the Ministry of Silly Walks. But probably best approach is for everybody at close quarters with each other to develop and instinctive sense of coordination with everybody else, whatever their motive power.

      Including buses and trains in the DSTT.

      Motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists: think of this as a sport. Or a martial art. Our instructor gave us an exercise of walking swiftly and smoothly through a crowd without annoying anyone. Which requires, as well as instills, considerable coordination and control. Not for beginners.

      Though best instruction probably from the ballet world. Think of skill needed to choreograph several dozen rapidly moving people in a closed space. I think the Seattle Downtown public would benefit from presence of a Russian woman with a clear voice and no patience.

      Also been told that for strength, agility, and timing, ballet is a lot more effective than martial arts. Which it may have started out as. Would really humiliate average evil-doer to get put through a wall by a small lady in a short skirt.


    1. Sorry Jim, but I made claim to #16 early on, so no, you can’t use it. Find another number!

      1. Mine was #16… yours was a mere 16.

        Okay, just to make sure you know I’m being PERFECTLY fair….
        I’ll change mine to #17,

  26. Pedestrians also need to employ some common sense and courtesy as well. If I’m ready to cross a street and see a truck zipping along, I wait for them to pass. Sure, I could force them to bring their 4 tons of metal to a halt but it’s just as easy to wait 10 seconds.
    Everyone has to use common sense and courtesy to make it work.

  27. What accommodations could / should be made to decrease vehicular congestion while maintaining pedestrian safety? Some possibilities:
    1. Separate vehicle and pedestrian signal timing – the extreme version is a cycle in which pedestrians can go in all directions including diagonal during the pedestrian portion, but can’t cross at all for the remaining portion.
    2. More separation of pedestrian and vehicle traffic – more vehicle-free areas but fewer (and better-protected) pedestrian crossings.
    3. Prohibit pedestrian texting, browsing, etc while in a crosswalk
    4. Congestion charge for vehicles entering congested areas

    An engineer maximizing capacity and balancing the interests of pedestrians, car / truck occupants, and transit riders would consider these and other tools.

    1. Jeff Speck of “Walkable City” argues against #1 because with regular intersections you can always go one direction and that helps if you’re going kitty-corner. But with an all-way scramble you’re completely stopped 4/5 of the cycles. That ends up being pedestrian hostile, especially if it occurs repeatedly block after block.

      However, he agrees with #2, and says a lane of parked cars has a positive role by separating pedestrians from moving cars. I think the extra grass strip on Seattle sidewalks between the sidewalk and the street serves the same purpose.

  28. Some of these are dumb. Here are some that are especially dumb:

    > 6: Drive below the speed limit on neighborhood streets.

    A speed limit is a speed limit because it’s the suggested speed for a street. If you think the speed limits for neighborhood streets are too high, petition the city to change them, but don’t tell drivers not to follow the law in order to be courteous to pedestrians. Driving slowly on a street– any street– is probably the most inconsiderate thing an urban driver can do: not only is it inconsiderate to any drivers behind you, but it’s also dangerous, because eventually one of those drivers will get frustrated and try to pass you, which is a much more dangerous maneuver than simply driving 5-10 MPH faster in the first place.

    > 10: Don’t make unprotected left turns

    Sure, let’s all just take the least efficient route possible because a blog told us to. Nevermind the fact that GPS tells most people which directions to follow, and turning randomly when you don’t know where you are can occasionally stress you out more than you need to be (stressed drivers are bad drivers). You’re effectively shaming people for following the law, since this is a legal maneuver. Again, if your complaint is regarding specific left turns that create congestion or are dangerous for pedestrians, call up your local city council and petition to have the sign changed to remove the left. Rather than relying on convention, rely on actual law. Expecting people to behave one way out of convention is a dangerous way to drive, because those expectations will be broken. Instead, you should drive (AND WALK!!) expecting the car ahead/in front of you to make a left turn at any intersection where they are legally allowed, thereby reducing your confusion when they actually do.

    The real suggestion here is to simply use your signals– this is something that a lot of drivers don’t do and should.

    > 11: Don’t circle for parking, ever

    Really? I don’t even understand why this is in here. Not only are garages not always available (lucky you if you happen to park in populated parts of downtown), but they are also often extremely un-affordable. “A few bucks”? I can tell you don’t park in garages, since in many places you can end up spending $10+ for an hour or two (at popular times you can be looking at $20+). You’re pretty privileged if $10-20 for an hour or two every couple of days is manageable, but for most people it is not. And we’re forgetting the fact that you may have to circle the block just to find a garage, if they are full or you don’t know where you’re going (and you don’t want us looking at our phones). What’s the difference at that point?

    I don’t even get what the benefit to other drivers or pedestrians is, here. Circling for parking looks exactly like normal driving, and very similar to those “three right turns” you’re suggestion people use. If you’re suggesting we can turn right a couple of times, certainly we can do the same looking for parking?

    1. I agree with the first two points.

      When it comes to circling for parking, the question becomes are you willing to walk a few blocks and maybe you might find cheaper parking somewhere else and they will have spaces? Parking isn’t a right in a city center and if there is demand for a limited supply, well the cost is going to be quite pricey.

      There are also plenty of specials if you are in early rather than prime time.

      1. This discussion is a great argument for “Shoupian” market based on-street parking pricing. In that system, spaces are priced based on their demand, with the most choice spaces costing the most. Often under that scheme spaces at the periphery of a downtown become free or almost free. Prices are designed to achieve 85% parking occupancy, so there will be at least few spaces at whatever price point you’re willing to hit, and thus less circling.

  29. These 15 best practices are all good ones. Did anyone else notice that the University Bridge as shown in 1957 has three lanes in each direction? Today, there are two in each direction, plus bicycle lanes. This was about 5 years before the Ship Canal Bridge opened so the University Bridge served even more of an arterial function in the city than it does today. Does anyone know when the bicycle lanes were put in?

  30. Know when you have the legal right of way and, when you do, use it. The most famous example of what happens when people don’t know the right of way laws is four-way stop standoffs, but it happens all the time when people think they’re being nice and letting the person at the stop sign go. Not only does it confuse everyone else, leading to unpredictable behavior, it actually puts the person you’re being nice to at risk. If the confusion led to them being in an accident, it would be their fault since they didn’t have the right of way. It’s not being nice at all to wave them through.

  31. This is a sad-but-true recipe for Seattle Driving, i.e. how Seattleites think they should be driving and how they self-righteously tell others they should be driving. (Moral vanity is a plague here.) Unfortunately, Seattle has among the highest rates of accidents of any city in the country, so this kind of finger-wagging is generally just that: finger-wagging, with no basis in fact. Anyone who thinks that this in a compelling guide to “driving for urbanists” I heartily recommend that you spend a little time getting to know other big cities. There’s a whole world out there, past the mountains and the water, Seattleites!

    1. What really matters is injuries and deaths, and on that measure, Seattle is second best in the nation among cities. Follow the link at the top of the post about Allstate’s bogus claim that Seattle has bad drivers and see what happens when you use stats that aren’t bullshit.

  32. I find that when I allow other drivers to pass and don’t always fight them to go first, I feel less tense as a driver.

  33. These 15 dos and don’t are a ridiculous and arbitrary additional set of rules that only contributes to the general incompetence of Seattle drivers. There are so many things wrong with this, but for the sake of this comment, I’ll focus on the three points that are so troubling to me: there are already laws and rules of the road that exist to make the streets safer for everyone, stressed drivers are bad drivers, and accepting responsibility for your ease of maneuverability.

    As a former bicycle messenger in Chicago and current Seattle resident, these are ridiculous. Cars have way too many rules to consider when operating their extremely heavy and dangerous vehicles to be considering these extremely privileged set of rules. Left turns are sometimes necessary. You should make them safely. Speed limits are made to create an expectation for how fast vehicles should be traveling on the roadway. Passive aggressively driving slowly in the left lane to “be safe” makes everything less safe for everyone. The key here is the laws create a set of expectations for people to follow. If we all follow the rules as stated, we’re all safer. People know what to expect, on foot, on bike, or in the car. Dangerous situations arise when you create a new set of rules that have no basis in science, public opinion or (in my opinion) reality. And honestly, just get out of the way. We’re all just trying to let people go where they’re going. Let’s try to make that easier for everyone, ok? This list makes that more difficult for everyone.

    My only incidences of being hit or harmed by a car are either when I’ve been at fault, or if the driver is stressed. Stressed drivers contribute to unexpected situations of second guessing themselves. If people always second guess themselves and/or don’t know the official rules of the road, there is a higher likelihood of a dangerous situation. The rules of the road are enough. Let’s just agree to follow the rules that the law sets fourth. We’re privileged enough to have a traffic system with rules; lets not eschew them in favor of these silly social norms that don’t actually make anyone safe.

    Cyclists (and pedestrians) need to grow up and accept responsibility for the fact that it is way easier to stop and avoid dangerous situations on a 30lb bicycle (or on foot) than it is for a driver of a 2000+lb vehicle. Stay out of the way, and follow the rules of the road. But above all, be safe and diffuse dangerous situations, don’t be passive aggressive. Just because someone is breaking a rule doesn’t mean it’s your responsibly to enforce it. Unless someone is in imminent danger, going in and trying to be a traffic vigilante is really making the whole situation more unsafe for everyone. Just let people get where they’re going.

    I hope this post encourages some discourse and new thought around what it means to be a vehicle operator in a city.

    And for real, there’s no reason to own an Orca card if you live in Evansville and commute. That’s not cheap. Not everyone has the resources you do. Check your privilege. On that point – not circling for parking? Who do you think you are? the streets are public property, that people pay taxes to maintain. They have every right to circle the streets to find a space for their car. Again – check your privilege.

    1. Dude. You seem confused. This is driving for URBANISTS.

      The privilege is part of the definition.

  34. Please send this to the Auburn Reporter, Federal Way Mirror, and Tacoma News Tribune for publication.

Comments are closed.