There is a bridge in Portland called the Ross Island bridge. It’s a relatively nondescript bridge architecturally. It’s not very pedestrian friendly. Sure, there are some nice views, but nobody is writing home about the Ross Island Bridge.
But maybe they should be. Because tucked away at the west end of the bridge is one of the most hopeful spots in the city: A special intersection where people cooperate for no good reason at all.
Road 1 goes over the bridge and has the right of way. Road 2 dead ends into Road 1 and has a stop sign. According to the law, the cars on Road 2 must wait at the stop sign until there is a safe opening for them to merge onto Road 1 and head over the bridge.
The cars on road 1 have no stop sign. They are free to speed through like they normally would anywhere else.
But they don't.
At this intersection there is an unspoken, unofficial code of conduct based on cooperation and maximizing group happiness.
My good friends at Google have managed to document this cooperative code of conduct in action.
Step 1 - The good human in the White Prius has no stop sign or any official reason to stop, yet they slow to let the teal Subaru merge onto the bridge from the far left lane (road 2), which has a stop sign.
Step 2 - The Prius then goes ahead and continues in front of the navy minivan.
Step 3 - This back and forth cycle continues forever.
And lest you think this only happens midday when traffic and tensions are low, think again.
My friends at Google came back to investigate during the heart of rush hour, and sure enough, even in totally backed up traffic when people all across the rest of the city are frantically cursing, honking, cutting people off and generally stressing out the world, the good people of the Ross Island Bridge are engaged in serious, multi-lateral rush hour diplomacy. They patiently trade back-and-forth, letting one lane go, and then the other, despite the fact that one of the lanes has no official obligation or incentive to do so.
I mentioned this phenomenon to my friend the other day, and before I even said the location, he knew exactly where I was talking about.
“Whenever I drive through there,” he said, “it always makes me feel a little more hopeful about humanity.”