What do we call this? Courtesy wave? Suicide wave?

Here’s the set up: I want a cheap katsudon rice bowl for dinner so I steer myself to Mitsuwa Market on Saratoga Avenue at Moorpark. I stopped in the left of two lanes on Moorpark waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so I can make a left turn. My path is the blue line, I stop at the red horizontal line and my intended route is the red arrow.

Setup for a suicide wave

I spy a gap in traffic about five cars ahead, prepare myself to go and a guy driving a white minivan STOPS AND WAVES ME ACROSS. I try not to get too mad at these drivers because they’re just trying to be nice, but remember that line of four more cars behind Mr Minivan? They either lurch to a stop, or they swerve right to pass this guy in the right lane. Of course I refuse to go and signal the idiot overly courteous driver to please get out of my way. In the meantime, another platoon of cars approaches and I’ve missed my opportunity because Mr Courtesy has completely messed up my timing.

What do we call this situation? I’ve heard it called a “suicide wave,” because it can be suicide to accept the courtesy only to be clobbered by traffic in the next lane over. And it seems to be happening more and more often, especially in busy traffic situations where we want everybody to be PREDICTABLE thankyouverymuch.

I eventually make it over, of course, and I discover the food court restaurant has raised their prices so their katsudon isn’t so cheap anymore!

Moorpark Road Diet update

San Jose DOT is moving forward on a road diet for this portion of Moorpark Avenue. The four-three lane reduction project has the support of the businesses, residents, and school officials along Moorpark and adjacent roads between Saratoga Avenue and Lawrence Expressway. The four lanes beginning right about where my red arrow starts will be replaced with three lanes (including a center turn lane) and buffered bike lanes on either side of the street.

This stretch of Moorpark has four schools with student drop-off/pickup traffic that compete for space twice a day during the school year. SJ DOT analysis shows Moorpark has an unusually high number of traffic collisions, including a number of car-vs-house “accidents,” and traffic here has been clocked as high as 77 MPH on this residential street posted for 35 MPH. The San Jose council member who represents this district, Chappie Jones, asked DOT for this road diet after hearing from residents about their traffic safety concerns. Jones’ predecessor on the City Council blocked previous efforts to improve traffic safety on Moorpark.

This road diet project will begin later this summer should be complete by November 2015.


  1. Agreed 100%. The overtly courteous when they shouldn’t be drivers are ALMOST…almost…as bad as the totally not-courteous monster behind the wheel trying to run you over drivers. I at least expect all drivers to act like self-centered monsters, so when one cedes their legal right of way to me it throws me for a loop and sometimes raises my suspicions….did they let me go in front of them just to pull out and hit me?

  2. I don’t like making a left turn like this even in a car. On a bike, I feel like I’m asking cars behind me to run me over. I will go out of my way to do anything to not have to stop in the left lane like this. My husband thinks it’s perfectly fine and doesn’t see what my problem is. And we wonder why more women don’t ride…

  3. Indeed “overly courteous” drivers break the flow by not being predictable…to cyclists and other drivers. I find more of them in the pricier neighborhoods, FWIW.

  4. My strong preference is also not to do a left turn like this from either bike or car, but the way was clear behind, and I saw a gap approaching up ahead. It would have worked perfectly until Mr Courtesy completely messed things up, and then of course traffic began approaching from behind at this point.

    It’s worth mentioning that a 4-3 lane reduction is out for bid at this location and should be complete by November 2015. The four lanes will be replaced with three lanes (including a center turn lane) and buffered bike lanes beginning right about where my stopped in this diagram. I’ll update the main post with this info.

  5. I am definitely inclined to agree with Ladyfleur on this one, I am not a big fan of making lefts like that on busy roads. I would sooner break up my turn into two parts, crossing an intersection in the bike lane and then turning my bike a quarter turn to go with traffic once the light turns. I do that every morning with my commute in Oakland because I don’t like the idea of some idiot slamming me at 35 miles an hour while they are fixing their hair and talking on the phone. At the same time, if I don’t make a left at that intersection and go the other way around Lake Merrit then I need to weave across three lanes of traffic to merge left to continue straight while the majority of traffic merges over to the right. Civic planning victory!

  6. …and I know that stretch of road. The ramen shop tucked in the corner is worth the wait! I would have crossed at the light and ridden the sidewalk or cut thru the gas station, unless there was VERY light traffic.

  7. This is a problem for pedestrians too, whether jaywalking or crossing an intersection, bikes or cars may unexpectedly stop to let them cross.

    I’ve learned to look for where the bicyclist or pedestrian is looking- if they’re looking at me or towards where they’re going, I’ll yield. If they’re looking behind me, I’ll pass them. Likewise, as a pedestrian or bicyclist, I’ll pointedly look past the car (or bike)to the gap behind them that I plan on taking.

    City drivers are better at this than suburban drivers since they have much more experience with this occurring, so anyone who unexpectedly yields I’d just call a suburban driver.

  8. My solution has been to avoid eye contact. I might even put a foot down if I feel like they are about to try to let me through somewhere. Sometimes I continue straight, and make more of a u-turn behind them where traffic is clear, rather than give them the opportunity to wave me.

  9. jefposkanzer, that doesn’t really work though. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan is a kind of enemy. The point of the parable is that people who should have been allies (the priest and the Levite) did not help the victim. But the guy who should have been an enemy did help out. So, in the context of the parable, “bad Samaritan” == “bad enemy”, which is perhaps not very descriptive of the annoying driver ceding their right of way to a cyclist.

  10. Had a panel van try to do the exact same thing for me, worse the people passing the panel van could not see me even if they wanted to. I politely waved him on. Sometimes I keep cycling until I see a good op for another left further on and button hook back. We should not have to do that, it is the cars with the engines who should have to go the extra distance.

  11. These are so hard. On the one hand it signals a growing acceptance of cyclists on the road (coupled with an acknowledgment that those of us on bikes are more vulnerable and deserving of consideration.) On the other hand it also signals a sad fact that those of us that ride bikes regularly in urban areas actually have a greater understanding of how cars (err…. I mean traffic) flows and how best to mitigate risk.

  12. Pretty much all of my rides finish with me taking a left turn from the left lane of Kiely Expressway (er, Boulevard) heading southbound just after the Wells Fargo in Santa Clara. I encounter this A LOT, and it’s quite dangerous. In cases where the driver stops in the left lane and there’s nobody in either lane behind, I will wave them on and ride *behind* their car to make the point. My other option is to proceed straight and ride several blocks past my house in order to make two right turns to get back, but I’ve been right-hooked too many times at the three stop lights it takes to do that too often, so I take the left-lane-left-turn risk depending on time of day and traffic density. Often by timing a gap and forcing a line of cars to wait behind me, I worry less about being rear-ended, though drivers are never happy about that (whether in car or on bike, so who cares).

    Otherwise, like ladyfleur and wellsuitedforlife, I try to plan routes with just right turns (even when I drive). Oh, and I’ve definitely learned to center myself in the left lane when turning left – don’t leave ’em enough room to squeeze by on the right because they won’t even slow down while doing so!

  13. Regarding Moorpark, the eastbound stretch from Bollinger a block before Lawrence to the block after Lawrence where Williams goes off to the right is a danger zone. I time gaps and take the lane just before the road widens at Wunderlich so people pulling out of that road see me, and to mix with the people behind me heading south on Lawrence. I often keep the lane for that duration or take it again just after Lawrence to avoid being right-hooked at the drug store and new development there on the right, or being raced to the right turn I’m taking onto Williams. Map is here: https://goo.gl/maps/JDsVN

    Richard, do you have contacts I could reach out to on this project to get this input to? I was and am unable to make the meetings due to extended travel starting tomorrow. Thanks!

  14. …another situation where sharrows and BMUFL signs in those blocks in addition to, or instead of narrow bike lanes on the far right might make sense.

  15. Here’s the plan for Moorpark at Lawrence. The project is just pavement maintenance and stripes with no geometry changes planned (or budgeted).

    Moorpark Ave at Lawrence Expwy

    Jessica Zenk at SJ DOT did the community workshop for this project so I think you would send your input to her.

  16. There are enough problems with the Lawrence/Bollinger/Moorpark intersection already mentioned, yet I have to add one more – the blind trail entrance on the northwest corner of this intersection: https://goo.gl/maps/jCHee. It’s hard to imagine who thought it was a good idea to have a trail dump out right onto a right-turn pork chop island with the view blocked by 7 foot high walls on both sides.

  17. Moo, you are so right. This used to be the same on San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail @ Cabrillo, but Santa Clara listened to our input and fixed it during the trail extension. I suggest informing the San Jose BPAC about this to see if they have any connections that may consider action. I have some San Jose improvement proposals myself but have been too busy to get them moving (plus dealing with Sunnyvale and Santa Clara and they’ve been quite responsive).

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