What yield arrows look like in person.

A Radical Intersection Recommendation

A December post asked if we have too many stoplights in Minneapolis. The prolific commenters gave a resounding “YES!”

Red Light, Waiting for Nothing

Red Light, Waiting for Nothing on a Warmish Day

I’d been thinking about the same question ever since it got cold, as I’m a year-round bike commuter to downtown.  I’m not very good at leaving work at the same time as everyone else. That means I spending a lot of time freezing/waiting at lights in a traffic-free downtown and feeling like an idiot for not running the lights. Sometimes I shiver and do, but I’ve got my self-identity as a basically rule-abiding Minnesotan to preserve.  (Norwegian genes, I guess.)

All that time waiting at lights has given me plenty of time to think, particularly about my time in Norway.  I didn’t recall any sitting and waiting at lights, and although I was mostly in Oslo I don’t recall much congestion.

Noodling on that reminded me of a traffic law I struggled to grasp when I arrived there at age 18.  The concept I was trying to understand was “vikeplikt,” [Google trying to translate the Wikipedia entry on vikeplikt] which I now know is “duty to yield.”

A Norwegian yield sign -- an incredibly common sight.

A Norwegian yield sign — incredibly common.

As an American passenger with two years driving experience, this “right of way” thing seemed like drivers were reading each others’ minds at 40mph. That’s when someone explained about “høyreregelen”or the “right rule.” Did you read the last line of that Wikipedia article carefully?  Let me give it a more legible shot:  If the intersection is not otherwise marked, vehicles must give way to vehicles coming from the right (“right rule”).

Yep – you just always yield to cars coming from the right.  Sure, some streets (mostly roads) get a consistent right of way as marked with these signs.  My favorite sign is a pavement marking, yield arrows.  They are used in most places where someone has a duty to yield, and if they are point at you, you better not inconvenience anyone coming from the cross street.

Norway's Vegvesen's instructions for marking a roundabout. Those tiny dots are yield arrows. (Details here http://www.vegvesen.no/s/bransjekontakt/Hb/hb017-1992/DelC_Detaljkapitler/18.Vegkryss/18_Detaljutforming_av_rundkjoringer.htm)

Norway’s Vegvesen’s instructions for marking a roundabout. The triangles are yield arrows. (Details here.)

What yield arrows look like in person.

What yield arrows look like in person on a newly paved road.

As for actual stop signs and lights, they exist, but are amazingly rare — at least to an American driver.

So, there you have it. Fantastically efficient and predictable traffic management at intersections, no waiting if there’s no oncoming traffic, and all without spending millions installing and hundreds of thousands powering (and repairing, and replacing) traffic lights.

Sadly, I’m certain my revolutionary recommendation is not viable to save my cold fingers in a Minneapolis January.  I’ll try to warm them with envy of those pedaling around Norway* while I’m sitting at the lights, waiting.  Of course, they have to deal with cobblestones.



*Norway is no bike rider paradise, design- or weather-wise.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?