Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
October 21st, 2006


The danger of having wheels

Every day, nearly everyone at Stanford must travel through the campus’ most successful linear particle accelerator. No, not SLAC; I’m referring to the “Intersection of Death,” the infamous spot where Lasuen Mall meets Escondido Mall at the Clock Tower (MapGuide, Google Maps). At peak times when classes have just ended or are about to begin, the bicycles, skateboards, golf carts, scooters, electric scooters, construction vehicles, delivery trucks, and intimidated pedestrians mirror a scene straight out of New York City, sans the yellow taxicabs. To get through this gauntlet of hurried commuters is an inhuman feat of skill and bravery. Sometimes there’s just no way around the intersection, since the five minutes from one class to the next certainly isn’t enough. So you try weaving in and out of the stalled bicyclists, who are as stunned as you at the sheer volume of traffic. Sometimes you make it.

Wednesday I didn’t. I thought I saw a clear path through the intersection, one of those rare moments in life that makes your day. My day surely was made when someone attempted to turn left onto my rear wheel, sending me flying towards the pavement. Now my bike’s in the shop for repairs, and I’m stuck walking a full 15 minutes to some classes. This is exactly the kind of mishap that the Department of Public Safety and PT&S have been looking to prevent with their still-confusing ban on biking in the Arcades and their wonderfully quaint “Slow Down” signs posted as you approach the intersection.

Unfortunately, these measures only force people to look both ways when crossing the Arcades – watching for police, not for pedestrians – and slowing down at the Intersection of Death – only because of a traffic jam, likely caused by the influx of former Arcade users. Passing through the busiest intersection in a one-mile radius is still a major gamble.

The University should’ve taken a cue from the d.school students who successfully turned the intersection into a roundabout for a day. Unlike the students, the University has the clout necessary to make such a change permanent. As far as I can tell, the intersection has just enough room to make a traffic circle that could handle the peak volumes around lunchtime and provide enough room to maneuver around.

But, as usual, there’s no silver bullet. Even a roundabout would only solve one part of the problem – the current lack of a right-of-way system. There’s more, though. For instance, some people still find it sane to bike while talking on the phone, even though it’s going to be illegal to do the same while driving a car (arguably an easier thing to do). And some still find it cool to bike with both hands in their pockets, wearing a smug face until they realize the need for brakes.

Of course, they didn’t cause my accident. What happened to me on Wednesday was just poor timing, compounded by poor road planning. Instead of promoting traffic distributors to ease the load on this one intersection, the University has opted to funnel everyone through a 50-square-foot logjam. Rather than finding reasons for an arbitrary ban, can we please do something about this much-maligned intersection?


  1. Today was the second time that a man stopped me in White Plaza and offered me ten dollars for being an undergrad and wearing a bike helmet at the same time. Plus: f2o, my wonderful host of five years, is calling it quits.

  2. As part of their overblown mischievousness this year, the Band erected a rather stylish traffic control device in the Intersection of Death last week, creating a much-needed roundabout – one with a Santa hat and trousers – where I...

  3. Earlier this summer, the roundabout in the former Intersection of Death was removed. Originally placed there by the Band to add some color to the otherwise-loathsome junction, the wooden platform had saved countless bikers from head-on collisions, and ...

  4. For the past three months, I along with three partners have toiled in stealth mode to build a disruptive product that will revolutionize media consumption as we know it, by synergizing television watching with bicycle riding. We are proud to announce t...