Solutions to this particular driving visibility issue
June 15, 2016 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Seeking hacks or vehicle recommendations for safely navigating cramped urban neighborhood intersections with too many parked cars and poor visibility.

Street parking is the norm in the area I live. Drivers tend to park right up next to the corners of four way intersections, and to my knowledge, the city does not enforce regulations prohibiting this. Particularly at two way stops (which are the most common in my neighborhood) I find it nearly impossible to see whether a car is approaching without scooting a quarter of the way into the intersection. I hear other locals and visitors complaining about the same problem, and fender-benders seem to occur pretty frequently.

I have managed to get by with biking and walking so far, but I'll soon be buying a car and commuting for work, so I'll be driving more frequently. Is there anything I can do to help mitigate this particular visibility issue? I've tried googling for some sort of hack or car recommendations, but I'm coming up short. Does sitting higher help? Or it it better to go for a smaller car that can peek out into the intersection more, er, nimbly? I guess other people manage to drive in my area, but this issue stresses me out every time.
posted by figgy_finicky to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Kia Soul, which has such a short little front end that I could be halfway through an intersection before anyone would be able to hit me. So definitely, a smaller-nosed car can help with this sort of thing.

You tend to lose them in parking lots, though. Teeny, teeny, teeny.
posted by xingcat at 7:21 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Don't worry about the impatient folks behind, just go slow. Liberal usage of lights and blinkers can't hurt. Look many times every direction. Sometimes stopping a bit back if there's a gap that lets one see the flow of traffic at a light down the street, but don't surge forward even if sure all the idiots have zoomed past.
posted by sammyo at 7:26 AM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm in the same situation as you and yeah, I go super slowly through the intersections. Boogie right up into them as tentatively as I can, look carefully, nose in some more, keep looking, then proceed on through. idrgaf if someone else is pissed off by it because hey, maybe my forcing them to go slowly stops them from hitting someone trying to cross the intersection the other way.
posted by phunniemee at 7:38 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Assuming a one way to a one way intersection, try to get to the very far side of your street from the traffic on the cross street. This will give you a better angle to see cars from the direction of the cross traffic. The tendency is to be in the middle of a one way street, but as you approach the intersection move to the side of your street away that is furthest away from cross traffic. Not sure if I am describing this correctly, but move to get a better viewing angle and a few more feet of stop distance for the cross traffic.
posted by AugustWest at 7:39 AM on June 15, 2016

If there are dark-coloured cars and/or cars with tinted windows parked on the far side of the cross-street, you can sometimes see the reflections of upcoming cross-traffic before you see the cars themselves. Not foolproof but helpful.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 7:45 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Depending how tall you are, you will sit lower in a compact car/sedan than you do on a bicycle. This can be unsettling.

Come to a stop at the line, creep into intersection, once cars have cleared double check for cyclists and pedestrians, then go. You get used to it, sort of. Better to change your route so you are on the nonstop route if possible. The intersection crossings should alternate so you might make extra turns to avoid.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:12 AM on June 15, 2016

By "two-way stop" do you mean an all-way stop at the intersection of two one-way streets? Where both streets have a stop sign?

In these situations, the driver who is there first has the right of way. This means, if you get to the intersection, and nobody is at the stop line on the other street, you go. It doesn't matter if someone is coming, because you were there first. This is a very good solution to the problem of parked cars blocking visibility, IMO, because you don't need to see all the way down the street - but you do need to be a little aggressive.

Now, if you're talking about regular stop signs, where you have to wait until traffic is clear on the crossing street, then the visibility is a problem. I live in a place where this is common, and I often use AugustWest's method - you move to the side almost as though you are going to make a turn, as this gives you a better angle, while gradually creeping out into the street.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:44 AM on June 15, 2016

Yeah, I also use the "gradual creep-out" method, angling my car into the turn as much as possible without fully getting into the intersection.

This is also something that will evolve over time, as you learn the traffic flow of these streets. You will get a sense of how quickly you can make the turn, how fast or slow traffic moves, and how likely it is that there is someone coming. Before you get there, though, there's no harm in going slow and not stressing if you miss your window and have to let a few more cars pass.

Also, as the person driving straight in situations like this, I can always see the car inching into the intersection from much further than they can see me, and correct my trajectory to avoid hitting them. Depending on other drivers isn't great, but it's a lot less likely than you think that you will get hit by inching out.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sometimes, I find there's a better view of the road a little ways back. Stop early if you can; there might be a better view between cars if you stop short of the stop sign. Sometimes, I'll wait until I see a car, so I've got a reference point. Then wait for my opening.... "It's clear after the red car," for example.
posted by hydra77 at 9:29 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

You'll start to learn which roads have easier visibility as well. Leaving my house in Seattle, I actually cut up one street to hit my main avenue, since there's a bus stop there that gives me a ton more visibility than if I just leave on the road I live on.

Also, sometimes sitting further back (which is good for pedestrians too) will let you be able to see through the sidewalk, at least to get a timing on cars coming through.
posted by chillin411 at 9:54 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

In these situations, the driver who is there first has the right of way. This means, if you get to the intersection, and nobody is at the stop line on the other street, you go. It doesn't matter if someone is coming, because you were there first.

I would not recommend this. Sure, you may have the right of way, but the goal isn't to be right, it's to avoid getting in a car accident. For this reason, I also observe the method described above: Go slow, nose into the intersection, check both directions again, and then proceed through the intersection, continuing to keep an eye out for anyone coming from either side of you.

This exact method is what saved me from getting T boned by a pickup truck that blew through an an intersection where they had a stop sign. Going slowly and double checking was the only thing that allowed me to slam on the brakes fast enough not to get hit.* I'm not saying this to be alarmist, but as a reminder that it's better to be cautious, even if there are other cars behind you getting impatient. That's their problem, not yours.

Of course, YMMV, and you'll get a better feel for this as you start to drive in the area. You'll learn what streets tend to have better visibility, and what places people tend to drive faster or slower through. Also, if the street parking at intersections is a big problem in the neighborhood and other neighbors are also bothered by it, maybe you can petition the city or something to get them to enforce this more strictly. In neighborhoods it's often the same group of people parking in a given area, so if they start getting ticketed, they'll probably shape up after not too long.

Oh, and an SUV or truck that lets you sit higher up could help, but only if the cars parked are lower than you, and having a larger car can create problems of its own, especially if the streets are rather narrow. It can also make parking (especially parallel parking) more of a pain if the spots tend to be small. Personally, I prefer a smaller car to navigate in an urban area. It makes narrow streets with parked cars less of a concern, and it makes it easier to do the creep out into the intersection to check both ways, since you can do this without sticking out as far. Also they often can brake faster.

*I live in the Boston area, and the term "Massholes" was created for a very good reason. Maybe where you live the drivers are more cautious and observant of good driving etiquette. Still, better safe than sorry.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:18 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sometimes, when you're trying to pull out at an intersection and you just can't see to either side due to obstructions like parked cars blocking your view, the only thing to do is to slooooowly creep forward while swiveling your head as if you're at a tennis match, until you can see whether the way forward is clear or not. You have to trust that nobody coming down the road is so negligent that they clip your fender on the way by, and you might end up blocking traffic. It sucks, but it's not your fault that people are illegally parked. There isn't always a perfect solution.

This used to happen a lot with dumpsters(!) when I lived in New Orleans. Renovators would just squeeze them in wherever they could, even if that was right up at the corner of an intersection, and then leave them there for months at a time. It made it impossible to pull out without doing the ol' creep-and-swivel, and you couldn't see whether it was clear until you were way out into the traffic lane. It was a pain in the ass, and dangerous to boot, but that's driving in cities sometimes.

I'm sure you do things on foot or on your bike that aren't ideal from a safety perspective either, but which are necessary if you want to actually get where you're going. The same applies to driving—sometimes there's just not a great tactic, and you have to do what you must and hope for the best.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:19 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in a similar kind of neighborhood, and I keep my hand on the horn a lot of the time. Inch out into the intersection, hand on horn. Two of the streets that lead up to my street are ostensibly two-way but with cars parked on both sides there's no room for two cars to pass comfortably. I basically have my hand on the horn the whole time I'm on those little streets, especially as I turn onto or off of the street, and if someone doesn't seem like they see me coming I honk.

I drive a Yaris, and I feel like the nimbleness benefits of a small car outweigh the visibility benefits of a large car.
posted by mskyle at 12:53 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Would you ever consider getting out of your car to stand next to it in order to see over the parked cars? Not at every intersection, but maybe just one or two of the most obstructed ones, and only during times of heavy traffic.
posted by danceswithlight at 10:49 PM on June 15, 2016

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