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4-Way Stop

I think that Bob Marley said it best way back in 1979:  “So much trouble in the world…”  Racism and war, poverty and famine, police brutality and injustice, religious intolerance and terrorism.  And we have so many of the same troubles in our world 37 years later.

So somehow it seems insignificant or petty, when we have so much trouble in our world, to be frustrated or angry at the little things that we encounter every day in our little microcosm on Vashon Island.  Long lines at the market?  Slow internet?  Customer service representatives with an accent that we can’t understand?  Or trying to make our way through the 4-way stop downtown Vashon….

Some issues that confront us we simply can’t do anything about.  The depletion of the Ogallala aquifer?  Forest fires across the state?  Isis?  But there are some small, local issues that we can actually change for the better.

The following is how the Washington State driver’s manual describes how to negotiate the 4-way stop:

“At a four-way stop the driver reaching the intersection first, goes first (after coming to a complete stop). If more than one vehicle arrives at the same time, the vehicle on the right goes first.”

This is how the driver’s manual describes the ubiquitous 4-way stop.  But this description is not complete.  There are international standards and protocols, but they’re not listed in our driver’s manual.  So it’s no surprise that we Washingtonians struggle our way through our intersections.

According to the international driving manual, this is how a 4-way stop is supposed to work:

Any car that reaches the intersection may, after coming to a stop, go in any direction it chooses.

If there are other cars approaching the intersection, the car that reaches the intersection first has the right-of-way.  If there is a tie, that is, when 2 cars reach the intersection at the same time, the car on the right has the right-of-way.

If 2 cars approach and reach the intersection from opposite directions, then the car turning right has the right-of-way.  The car going straight also has right-of-way (these 2 cars do not effect each other).  But the car turning across traffic to turn left must give way to all other cars and turn left only after the other cars have crossed the intersection—just as a car turning left off of a main thoroughfare onto a side road would give way to a car turning right onto that same side road.

That’s how a 4-way stop works.  But we can take it to the next level…

When crossing the intersection, it’s most efficient to cross in twos.  For example, while the car going north from Urban Blooms crosses the intersection, the car going south from US Bank can cross too—at the same time.  And while the car driving west on Bank Rd from Green Ginger crosses, the car heading east by the Hardware Store restaurant can also cross.  

In places where drivers follow this protocol, the traffic moves exactly TWICE as fast—especially if the pedestrian traffic crosses with the motor traffic.  This is most noticeable on Fridays and Saturdays when there’s a farmer’s market in town and many people are crossing the main intersection in town.  Some urban intersections have signs that ask pedestrians to “walk with the traffic.”

And we all know that, when a ferry arrives and lets off 120 cars, there’s a long back-up at the 4-way stop right in town.  Imagine how slow the traffic would move if we all crossed the intersection one at a time!  Twice as fast would be good.

If we follow this protocol—both as drivers and as pedestrians-- I think we’ll find that we’ll spend far less time sitting in our cars idling in traffic and more time in other places that we’d rather be—and with less frustration.  It would be one less trouble in the world.

I think that it’s worth a try.  Let’s see if we can decrease the time we spend crossing through 4-way stops by following these steps.  And maybe you could share this idea with your friends and fellow drivers to spread it around.

Bob Marley was right.  There are so many troubles facing us and everyone around the world, and more challenges than we could possibly address in our lifetimes.  So maybe we can focus on our own little troubles, starting with the 4-way stops on Vashon Island.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could use our turn signals.  The turn signal is that little lever that sticks out to the left of your steering wheel.  It’s meant to be used to share with other drivers your intent to make a turn--left or right.  Be a team player.  Use your turn signal.  Bob would be proud.