Ask an Uptight Seattleite

The Hierarchy of Transportation Righteousness, explained.

Dear Uptight Seattleite,

Two cars come to a four-way stop at the same time. Which one should go first? And can you advise about communication in this situation?

Baffled Driver

Dear Baffled,

I'm really glad you asked. Good for you! Asking is the best course of action when you're not sure of something. I'm not trying to imply that I'm better than you in any way because I might be fortunate enough to know the answer. We're all learners here.

As for your question, there is no real rule for the four-way stop. But there is an underlying principle. Do you know the words "underlying principle"? They mean that one person is always right and the other is always wrong.

In the case of two cars at a four-way stop, the driver who is more considerate is right, and the one who is somewhat less considerate is wrong. That's not to say that the less considerate driver is a bad person. It's likely that, through the circumstances of their upbringing and their lack of opportunities, or perhaps because they are a product of diversity, their sense of consideration is different than, for example, mine. I always have to remind myself that not everyone has had the opportunities I've had.

So how do you communicate in a situation like this? If you are the more considerate driver, you should smile and indicate with a wave of your hand that you are graciously granting the other car permission to proceed. There may be some back-and-forth while both drivers attempt to establish their dominance in the field of being considerate. This often goes on for a long time, as both drivers wave, then simultaneously lurch forward, stop, and wave each other forward again. Some people from outside Seattle may find this inefficient, but those people are probably from some soulless East Coast city where everyone is in far too much of a hurry to be as polite as we are.

Dear Uptight Seattleite,

I'm walking down Phinney Avenue the other day and I see a bicycle with a sticker that says, "Driving Is Fuelish." Then a block later I see a Toyota Corolla with a "One Less SUV" sticker. Does everyone in this town have to feel superior to someone else? Is there some kind of hierarchy of transportation righteousness?

Wonderin'

Dear Wonderin',

In fact, there is. You perhaps haven't lived here long enough to figure it out, but the Hierarchy of Transportation Righteousness is actually fairly obvious. Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with you for not understanding this. We all learn at our own speed.

The lowest point in the hierarchy is driving a Hummer. Let's not talk about those. One step (barely) up from a Hummer is an SUV. Then, in order, there are minivans, station wagons, compact American cars, compact German cars, and compact Japanese cars, followed by biodiesel and electric cars. After that, there's riding the bus sitting down, followed by riding the bus standing up. Then, and the hierarchy is very clear about this, riding in a wheelchair (electric), walking with a child, walking while pushing someone else in a wheelchair, riding in a wheelchair (manually powered) yourself, and regular walking. Riding a bicycle is better than walking because it represents an alternative transportation paradigm. Riding a recumbent bicycle is therefore better than riding an upright bicycle because of its greater alternativeness. I myself ride a solar- powered recumbent bicycle made from reclaimed military hardware (bullets towheels.org), with recycled hemp tires. I may smile at you from my recumbent bicycle as you stand at the bus stop. My smile says, "Waiting for the bus, eh? Recumbent bike!"

But should anyone really go anywhere at all? You will create more carbon monoxide and otherwise burden an already overburdened planet. The highest point in the hierarchy is actually not going anywhere, because you're dead, if you can arrange that, and have organically composted yourself.

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