Danger Zone

[Originally posted to my blog Portlanded.]

I think Portland’s plan is to kill all the outsiders.

You first need to understand that if you ride motorcycles, you already feel like the world’s out to get you. Car drivers routinely fail to see you — in fact, the University of Illinois has demonstrated in a number of studies that you’re invisible to some of these people.

But Portland has made things a little trickier. I think most motorcyclists know that intersections are where most crashes happen. In the northeast section of Portland where I’m staying, it’s commonplace for intersections to be totally unmarked. Portlanders look at me quizzically when I complain about this — they don’t seem to understand what I’m on about.

Look, I grew up in the midwest and I’ve lived in lots of places. No matter where I’ve been, every city has followed the same rules — intersections are controlled. Someone has a stop sign. If I don’t have one, then there is no question that I have the right of way.

I can hear what you’re thinking. “Come on, Tom, there have to be rules. I’m sure that if an intersection is unmarked, it’s implicitly a four-way stop, right? What’s the big deal?”

And you’re right. I could live with that. But that’s only half the problem — in Portland, the intersections are actually traps. What they’ve done is mark some of the intersections — not in some areas of town, mind you, just some intersections that might as well have been chosen at random. And, probably because of this inconsistency, everyone here seems to have their own idea of what should be done at these unmarked intersections.

Let me explain:

Yesterday, I was motoring along through Irvington. Stop signs alternated (I guess to keep traffic slow) in this residential part of the Irvington neighborhood so that only one direction of travel had to stop. So at the first intersection, I had a stop sign, at the next cross traffic had to stop and I was free to go, then me, then cross traffic, then me, then… an unmarked intersection. Nobody stops.

Why would you? You’ve just been trained for the last five blocks that the other guy will stop when you don’t. New to town? Don’t know the area? Ka-bang! Take that, you friggin’ transplant!

I really cannot understand why they’ve done this. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Maybe the guys putting the stop signs in just got bored.

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