Asphalt does not absolve selfishness

Imagine you arrive at the box office or any other queuing situation such as a grocery checkout, a post office counter, or the ladies’ room at half-time. There are several people standing in line already. They got there before you and they are waiting their turn. Do you butt into line? Of course not.*

Queuing at Wimbledon (c) 2007 Jon Lim CC-BY-NC-ND

It’s easy to tell whose turn it is when we’re all standing in single file. It’s usually impossible to sort it out on the road. So the rules of the road codify “whose turn it is.” If my light is green and yours is red, it’s my turn to go. If I got to the all-way stop sign first, it’s my turn to go. If I’m walking toward an illuminated green walking-dude sign and you’re stopped in the intersection hoping to turn left across my crosswalk, you have to wait because I have the right-of-way, which is highway code for “it’s my turn to go.”

And I think this is why we-the-drivers get so pissed off when a pedestrian scoots out into the crosswalk after the red hand starts flashing. This is why we-the-pedestrians get so pissed off when a cyclist comes barreling toward us on a narrow sidewalk. This is why we-the-cyclists get so pissed off when someone parks a delivery van in the frikkin’ bike lane.  When you bend the rules of the road, you’re butting into line.

I’m not saying all the rules of the road make sense to me, but they form a system of agreements about whose turn it is. When you break those rules at someone else’s expense, you’re queue-jumping. It was their turn to go–to turn, to cross, to merge–and you took it. Let someone else argue about legality and safety. I’m saying you piss me off. When you cut in front of oncoming traffic because your left turn feels more important to you than their right-of-way, you’re queue-jumping, something you would never get away with at Starbucks. When you walk against the light, pass on the shoulder of the highway, cycle upstream in the downstream bike lane… when you pull any boneheaded stunt on the road that forces other people to slow down, speed up or dodge, you’re taking someone else’s turn. Asphalt does not absolve selfishness or suspend social conventions. Wait your turn, asshole.

(c) 2011 riccardof CC-BY-NC-ND

(c) 2011 riccardof CC-BY-NC-ND

* If you answered “Yes” for any reason that did not involve vomit, urine, blood, childbirth or a hostage situation, you’re being an asshole. I’m telling this because you obviously don’t have any friends who love you enough to break the news: you’re being an asshole.

3 thoughts

  1. They aren’t *always* being assholes. (I’m not trying to excuse myself here.) Sometimes it’s a cultural difference. e.g. Trying to do a proper zipper merge is considered queue jumping by most Canadians.


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