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The Order of the Four-Way Stop

Trust me. There’s more to intersections than meets the eye. Four-way stops are excellent examples of how cooperative our society can be and just how good we can be at living together. They are key in understanding that there is a place for all of us on our roads, bicycles included.

Getting through a four-way stop is a very specific process. Like a story, where you already know everything that is going to happen, there is rising action as everyone approaches and comes to a stop. Waiting, waiting. Eventually, there is a “tipping point.” Everyone there agrees upon an order, and the first vehicle passes through followed by a second, third and fourth. Sometimes there's already a process in place when you get there. So you wait your turn and go.

Bicycles are no different. When they come

to an intersection, cyclists become part of this orderly and practical interaction. A cyclist must also want to arrive at a consensus because that’s what a four-way stop is: a consensus, even if it’s sometimes dangerous or frustrating because someone refuses to participate. The rest of us get back in the swing of things quickly after someone runs a stop sign or skips his turn (assuming no one was hurt.) 

The point is that people have no choice but to acknowledge that they too are participating in the Order of the Four-Way Stop. Cyclists also want to “get through” the intersection. Don’t assume your own actions are isolated incidents. Bad politics can be as simple as running a stop sign.

So, be mindful when you’re riding up to a four-way stop; even if you don’t come to a complete stop on your bicycle, you will be safest and gain the most respect by integrating yourself into the order of things. Wait for your turn, and cooperate with the other vehicles. The Order is greater than ourselves, and your community thanks you.

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