I think there’s something wrong with this place

In Morris, there is a 4-way stop at the intersection of Columbia and 7th Avenue. I usually avoid it, because 4-way stops ought to be a crime in Minnesota, but I mistakenly went that way the other day. I came to a stop last at the intersection. Three other cars were stopped there, their drivers all smiling and waving at each other to go ahead. It was an impasse. Who would be the first to be less nice and proceed?

It was me. I let them have about 2 seconds of indecision before I gunned the engine. I blame it all on 7 years of driving in Philadelphia, which is kind of on the other extreme of impoliteness.

Anyway, this video reminded me of fairly typical Midwestern norms.


  1. dogugotw says

    Driving in Philly may be terrifying (until you get used to it) but…CHEESESTEAKS!

    I found driving in South Jersey just across the BF Bridge to be some of the best I’ve ever done. It was fast, cars were way too close to each other but there were a set of local rules that made it all work.
    1. ‘If you see a turn signal on a highway, believe it – that person is changing lanes so make space’.
    2. The corollary was ‘Put on your signal when you want to change lanes and there will be space’. It was awesome.
    3. At a light in town, ‘Plan on 2 cars making a left in front of you after the light goes red’. That one was disconcerting until we figured it out but got a lot more traffic through turns.
    4. Due to the high cost of auto insurance ‘If you have a fender bender and nobody is hurt, everybody check the damage, shake hands, and drive off’.

    I miss real cheesesteaks.

  2. davidc1 says

    We don’t have a lot of them in GB ,we have mini roundabouts on minor roads ,it seems everyone forgets that you give way to traffic from the right when they come to one .
    I did hear that a town in Holland has done away with all road sighs ,the thinking being that if drivers are unsure what to do ,they will slow down ,
    I spend far too much time watching dash cam footage on youtube ,a lot of drivers and riders think the rules of the road do not apply to them .

  3. says

    I’ve got no complaints about driving in Philly. It was fine, with one exception: the double parking. You’re driving up Broad, and someone just stops in your lane, the driver jumps out, and runs into a pharmacy or White Castle and you’re just stuck there.

    I guess I have complaints about the not-driving in Philly.

  4. says

    Well, also, the gunfire. There were several occasions when I witnessed someone pulling out a pistol and protesting forcefully about someone else’s driving (never me, fortunately.)

  5. says

    Oh, and the occasional car bomb. I was there during the Mafia war of the early 90s — “Skinny Joey” Merlino and that gang.

  6. says

    Portland is infamous for this behavior. They even made a Portlandia sketch about it. That said, I’m a dedicated cyclist and I find myself becoming very vocal when I find some asshole in a 3000lb murder machine running a stop sign.

  7. JoeBuddha says

    Actually, that’s my go-to in Wash. If I don’t have right-of-way or it’s unclear, I wait a few seconds for something to happen and then just go.

  8. stwriley says

    That reminds me of the John Prine song “The Accident” where four cars come to an intersection and, as the lyrics go, “I yielded to the man to the right of me, and he yielded it right back again, the yield went around and around and around…” Apparently this was an actual accident that Prine witnessed, but of course he put his humorous spin on it.

  9. naturalistguy says

    I’m all for roundabouts ever since I almost got t-boned by a guy blowing through a red light at 50mph. Complain about them all you like, but you’ll survive a crash in a roundabout.

  10. nomaduk says

    A nationwide public works programme (along with the eminent domain land confiscation required) would be brilliant; replace all these idiotic multi-way stop sign intersections with roundabouts. Jobs and safer, saner driving all around.

  11. davidc1 says

    @10 I wasn’t complaining about them ,just about the fact that some people don’t know how to use them .
    And you are just as likely to be run into at a roundabout .
    And is it true roundabouts are being replaced by traffic light controlled junctions because of pressure by the pushbike mob?

  12. mikey says

    I used to work in Ann Arbor, and they do this there, too. AAArgh. They think they’re being polite, but polite is not gumming up the works for everyone. I tend to handle it the same way as PZ. Also, people sitting at a red light, not making their right turn onto an EMPTY road at 6am while 10 cars sit in the right turn lane on the ramp behind them. Because… you can’t be too careful?

  13. Tethys says

    Yes, this is definitely a thing in Mn. Everybody out-nicing each other as they proceed to wave others through the intersection ahead of them. In the city, people tend to be less tolerant of those who don’t pay attention and proceed at once when it is their turn. They might even use their horn to beep at you to GO already!!

    We have roundabouts too, but there is no way to replace all the 4-way intersections with the much larger footprint required of a multi lane roundabout. The stop signs are paired with pedestrian crossings, so travelers other than vehicles can also safely cross intersections.

  14. says

    I lived in Texas all my life and when four cars come to a four-way stop, everybody goes. I moved to Las Vegas two years ago and when four cars come to a four-way stop, nobody goes. It’s the damndest thing. And yet at least once a week some car manages to plow into one of the 7 foot cinderblock and adobe walls that line every street in west Vegas – in one car accidents on streets that are 5 to six lanes wide with 40mph limits that nobody exceeds. I just can’t figure out how they manage this.

  15. loop says

    The thing about roundabout crashes is that they are generally low speed and bumpee to bumper – you exchange insurance details then drive off. Red-light crashes tend to be high-speed side impacts, likely to cause serious injury or death.

  16. bsr0 says

    @Ray Ceeya
    I’m also a nearly full-time cycle commuter. I have fewer problems with people running red lights or stop-signs where I am. It’s the unnecessary politeness (kinda like MN but I’m in Denver). I roll up to a 4-way stop AFTER someone else and stop. They proceed to wave at me to go. If they would have gone first, I may have just been able to slow down and NOT stop, so by being polite they’re wasting my time (not to mention the energy getting rolling again). I wish they would just treat me like another car and go already! I’ve even had cars with a green stop (with traffic behind them) and wave me through. On multiple-lane roads this is super dangerous as they likely have no idea there is a car that ISN’T stopping barreling through on the other lane. I always refuse and just wait for them to move on. Again….waste of time, but safer for me.

    I do like cycling in Denver – it’s far safer than FL where it seemed motorists were actively out to kill me. I just wish people would stop trying to out-nice each other.

    My motto: Be predictable…not polite. If it’s your turn, take your damn turn!

  17. mattandrews says

    @5: You’re exaggerating the car bombing frequency a bit. I’ve lived in South Jersey most of my life and am constantly in Philly. Outside of the one that took out a mob boss in the early 80’s, it’s not really a regular occurrence, mob wars or otherwise.

  18. asclepias says

    Bicycle commuting around here (Cheyenne, Wyoming) isn’t terribly onerous. The only complaints I have are that some of the stoplights are absolutely notorious for not changing, and so you finally go over to push the walk button, and the light changes, and you have just enough time to get back on your bike before the light changes again. Also a couple where the light signal is 15 feet away from the corner sigh. I’ve been hit once or twice by inattentive drivers–and they complain that there’s no reason for us to have bike lanes downtown because they never see cyclists using them, because, you know, they were just put in a few years ago, and most of us have long since figured out ways to avoid the heavy traffic. That might be different if we didn’t have the bike path through town, but we do, and it’s a great way to connect with the less-traveled streets.

  19. KG says

    And is it true roundabouts are being replaced by traffic light controlled junctions because of pressure by the pushbike mob? – davidc1@12

    The “mob” who are far less likely to kill or injure you than car drivers, and whose travel, unlike the latter’s, contributes negligibly to global heating and air pollution? That mob?

  20. unclefrogy says

    there are a few traffic circles what we call roundabouts out here in southern cal.
    slow is not what call the driving habits of people out here, some take them more like NASCAR and others because of there rarity are slow and hesitant sometimes stopping to make a turn across traffic I avoid them I avoid them if I can.
    I want to recomend watching dash cam videos I think they are one of the best things you can do to reinforce defensive driving habits. It helps me keep my awareness on the road and all the other drivers.
    uncle frogy

  21. wubbes says

    I remember reading an article in the New York Times years ago about how 4-way stops work in the Midwest but would be lethal in New York.
    Also years ago, as a Midwesterner driving a rental car in Philly on the way to a work meeting, I stopped at a red light. There were two traffic lanes, a left-turn-only lane, and a right-turn-only lane. As I waited at the light in one of the traffic lanes, cars filled in all the other lanes around me. When the light turned green, everyone just charged straight ahead. I was surprised but we got it all sorted out before we reached the two traffic lanes on the other side of the intersection.

  22. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @12:
    Massachusetts seems to be going the other way, I keep seeing plain intersections being reconfgiured into circles, (roundabout is a foreign term). One complicated intersection in Worcester had 7 roads converging in a tangle, (giving it the record as THE WORST intersection in MA) and was recently updated into a lobed circle, dubbed: the peanut circle.
    I discovered a few years ago, driving through England, that the town of Oxford, for one, had every intersection essentially a mini-roundabout. All ‘straight across’, had to veer around the disk in the middle of the 4-way. No stop signs at any intersection, the disk forced everyone to flow smoothly.
    I have a hard time understanding objections to circles

  23. whheydt says

    He who hesitates is last…

    As for dash cam videos…most of the ones I’ve seen were from Russia in the winter, all carefully selected for showing vehicles (often large trucks) that have lost control.

  24. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    @Rob #26:

    Thank you SO MUCH for that video. Even the comments were hilarious.

  25. dorght says

    Better chop down 2 of those signs right now! Judging from where I live stop signs proliferate like a pandemic virus. Not stopping until every available intersection corner, crosswalk, and road entry is infected. It is annoying as a motorist, painful as a cyclist.
    Making a 4 way stop seems to be a knee jerk reaction to every accident in an intersection. “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop” signage is a much better solution. Less Darwinian than just telling the driver that failed to stop and yield that they are stupid, shouldn’t be driving nor reproducing.

  26. springa73 says

    I think that roundabouts/traffic circles/rotaries are confusing to people who aren’t used to them, but in some ways they make traffic go more smoothly than 4-way intersections. Massachusetts uses both systems, and I generally prefer rotaries (aka roundabouts or traffic circles). At 4-way stops you get a mixture of aggressive and overly polite people, and you never know which type you’re going to be dealing with.

  27. wsierichs says

    Well, at last people living in Baton Rouge can claim something good about the city (and state of Louisiana). People are polite at 4-ways. I’ve very rarely seen anyone move out of turn or jump ahead of others with the ROW. Even better, after a large power outage some years ago, people at intersections with lights out mostly treated it as a 4-way stop sign and took turns. I say that because after it was over, people were commenting about how polite drivers were at the dead-signal intersections. I did not hear of anyone “cheating” on the queue, but it probably did happen. Just not enough for anyone to comment.

    That said, some few 4-way intersections in south La. cities with either lights or signs are being converted to roundabouts. I’m not fond of them, but one installed on a road I occasionally use seems to be working OK.

  28. catbutler says

    I live in South Philly. You are definitely on point regarding double parking and stopping.
    Yesterday I stopped for a red light (not a yellow-already red) and a car about three back from me swerved into the left lane and blew the light with the horn blaring. They must have been doing 60 in the 25 zone we were in.
    This is actually pretty common in NE Philly and I have almost been flattened on my bike more times than I can count, but here in South Philly it feels slightly over the top.
    It being Philly no one even blinked though.

  29. publicola says

    @33: Yeah, I learned to drive in Boston. It’s much like Philly. The one rule of the road is: “No quarter given, none asked.” Sitting at a stop light is like sitting on the drag strip waiting for the xmas tree. Rotaries were always an adventure, wondering when some moron was going to cut you off from the left so he could take the exit to your right. Same on the expressway. There was always at least one guy doing 70 in the far left lane who would cross 3 lanes on the fly to make the off-ramp. The one upside to all this was that you learned to drive defensively. In a hurry. Or else.

  30. voidhawk says

    In the UK we have basically no 4-way stop intersections. If we have a 4-way intersection, it’s usually two minor roads abutting a major one, in which case the minor roads give way to the major one. If they’re both equally minor then we have a mini-roundabout, if equally major either a traffic-light controlled junction or a main roundabout.

  31. davidc1 says

    @21 Seems my reply to you has gone ,better tone it down a bit .
    I dislike the smugness of cyclists ,multi wheeled vehicles are here to stay .
    Not everyone can use a cycle ,they are at best a short range form of transport
    Don’t know what else to say ,apart from most cyclist deaths are their own fault ,getting in the blind spot
    of lorries turning left seems to be a fav trick .
    As for saving the planet ,far too late for that .

  32. Rob Grigjanis says

    davidc1 @36: I dislike the potentially lethal ineptitude (and, quite often, the malice) of many drivers. Bicycles are here to stay.

    most cyclist deaths are their own fault

    You’ll have evidence for that, then. It’s only anecdotal, but my close calls were always the fault of the driver. That’s not to say there aren’t stupid cyclists out there, but the stupidity of drivers is more deadly, and not just to cyclists.

  33. chigau (違う) says

    Most pedestrian deaths are their own fault, too.
    Walking with the light in a cross-walk seems to be a fav trick.

  34. davidc1 says

    @37 Yes ,they run red lights ,they position themselves in the drivers blind spots .
    They should be made to have insurance ,but you won’t agree with that .
    A lot of militant cyclists around to be honest.

  35. Rob Grigjanis says


    they run red lights

    I have never seen that in Toronto or Edmonton. But I see cars do it all the time,

    they position themselves in the drivers blind spots

    The evil bastards!

    They should be made to have insurance

    How would premiums be calculated? By the damage that could be done by a bike?

    A lot of militant cyclists around to be honest.

    Not sure what you mean by militant. They stop drivers, pull them from their cars and beat them up?

  36. davidc1 says

    I mean they have a chip on their shoulder ,that is just about balanced by their sense of self worth on the other shoulder .
    Red lights ,you are in Canada ,you should see the cyclists in London UK .
    Not evil bastards ,rather stupid bastards .
    Insurance might compensate the families of people killed by cyclists .There was a case a few years back ,and why should a car driver be out of pocket if he is involved in a crash with a bike ,and it is not his fault .