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Here in Berkeley, California, people are so confused and pretend to be so very nice that various social communication difficulties have arisen. One quaint behavior is called The Solano Standoff. It’s the seemingly polite hand waving gesture in common use in the Berkeley suburb of Albany, saying in effect, I’m such a nice person that even though I have the clear right of way to walk across the street well in front of your car’s progress and could cross without even remotely impeding you I will stand on the edge of the curb and wave you on in front of me. The other person driving the car will not be one upped by this obvious gesture and to prove that they are an even nicer person, they will stop a little ways back from the crosswalk and wave you the walking person on, even tho they could have proceeded easily without any bother either to your or the others that may be piling up behind their now stopped car. It is now a battle of one-upmanship, of who is more skilled at the pretend to be the nicer person game. Each of these players keeps waving alternately at the other one to go ahead and either walk across the street or drive down the street, whatever. This transaction can go through several I-wave — you-wave cycles, maybe as many as five by each player until the pressure from the cars piled up behind the driver convinces both of them that someone must go first. But NO, that would be conceding to obvious public pressure and good sense so they must give a minimum of one more “you go first” wave.

After awhile, for the pedestrian it becomes a difficult decision to go because they now realize that the driver has become exasperated and may suddenly accelerate and actually hit them with their car, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not. For the driver it has become more difficult because they know everyone in the vicinity is now watching the transaction to make sure the pedestrian’s rights are not violated. The people in the cars behind are fed up with their silly game and may start honking their horns. At some point while all of this is developing a driver may come the other way, in the opposing lane, and may stop so the pedestrian can cross both lanes but even this may or may not resolve the matter because the pedestrian still doesn’t know what the first driver is going to do and if they realize the import of the other stopped car.

All of this sounds funny and stupid UNTIL. … This has actually happened to me several times. I as a pedestrian walk out on one of the extended curbs to cross the street. These curbs are extended out beyond the parked cars almost into flowing traffic. It is intended to make the pedestrians more visible. There is usually a similar extended curb coming out from the opposite side of the street and so it is a very short distance from one curb to the corresponding curb on the opposite side. The distance is little more than the width of two cars plus a step or so on each side. Here’s the problem, when a pedestrian stands on the near side curb quite often the car coming on the other side will stop yielding the right of way and give you the cross over wave on sign. So far so good and it usually works out just fine, but in this situation the pedestrian is looking across the street and to the right. They are beckoned to cross over which is the automatic impulse to do it when someone waves you to go ahead. However, the oncoming car in the lane nearest you will be slightly behind your back and to your left, because you are looking to the right, and may be coming at high speed, and that driver will not expect you to step out in front of their fast-moving car. The first time I stepped out in this situation and this happened to me and I was nearly hit, the guy  never slowed below maximum residential speed. The second time it happened the person on the opposite side actually apologized to me for waving me on, in front of a speeding car. I am a slow learner but I can learn and I hope I’ve got this one really learned well.

So what tricks might one learn to avoid these potentially deadly encounters? Just watching carefully doesn’t seem to be enough these days and being polite may get one into as much trouble as being callous. So (1) don’t walk up to the edge of the curb until it looks like someone will be in a mood to stop. (2) Look down to the next block and see if the light is green for your oncoming cars and if it is green stay back until it turns red. People will race to catch their green light but be quite willing to wait when they can see they will have to wait for a while down at the next block. Then they can pretend to be polite without delaying their progress. Another thing is (3) when you do step up to the curb act like you want to go across, this makes the decision for the driver much easier. (3) If the person in the near lane waves you on, go immediately and don’t get into the counter wave situation but give a nod of approval as you start. (4) If you seem to be getting into a counter wave situation, just give your own wave on and turn your back so you can’t see their counter wave, and they can see you can’t see their counter wave and they will proceed. (5) If the person in the opposite lane gives you the wave on, DON’T GO but look first and hold out your hand  in a stop gesture before proceeding.

Good luck and may you have many safe street crossings.