The Yoga of Bernal: Drive. Slow Down. Wave. Yield. Connect.

No, After You

Andrea Ferretti moved to Bernal Heights last year, and she’s noticed that living here has had an enlightening influence upon her approach to daily life. She traces the root of that experience to the ritual that take place when two cars try to pass one another on one of Bernal’s tiny, narrow streets. Andrea calls this “The Yoga of Bernal”:

Bernal marches to its own drummer and the pace of that drummer is verrry slow. When I first moved there and I would drive home from work, I found myself exasperated as soon I reached Bernal. I would be in fast-twitch, downtown mode, eager to get home when suddenly I’d be halfway down a steep, narrow hill nose to nose with a driver coming the other direction. One of us would have to awkwardly back up or pull into a driveway to let the other pass.

Then one day something shifted. I noticed the rhythm to driving in Bernal: If you see another driver coming toward you in the distance, you pull over to the right—this is easy to do once you reach a small intersection—and it allows you smoothly weave around each other in a sort of dance. You do this over and over again as you drive through the neighborhood—either you choose to yield or the other car does— and it works out perfectly. When I clicked into this simple Bernal dance I felt like I’d finally arrived as a local. Sure, you have to slow down a bit, you have to give your neighbor driver a friendly wave, and you have to be willing to yield. But that’s all part of what living in Bernal is all about. Slowing down, giving a wave, yielding when it’s necessary.

PHOTO: “No, After You!” by Telstar Logistics

16 thoughts on “The Yoga of Bernal: Drive. Slow Down. Wave. Yield. Connect.

  1. A true Bernal resident will pull over at the intersection when an oncoming car is up to 3/4 of a block away. They will see that they have a spot to pull-over and the other guy doesn’t, so they do the right thing. A “tourist” will barrel down the narrow street and expect you to back up. Sunday from 2pm-4pm is peak tourism season.

  2. Depressing that someone has to have an epiphany to learn basic driving skills. At least now we know who’s been blocking up the streets.

      • I don’t agree that this phenomenon is “basic driving skills”.

        I cannot think of any DMV instruction on this. For that matter, I cannot think of any other place in the US where two-way streets are commonly not wide enough to allow two cars to pass each other when going the opposite direction.

  3. LOVE this. I feel exactly the same way. You can always tell the drivers who aren’t used to it, especially when it’s two of them: “YOU back up!” “No, YOU back up!” until some locals come out of their houses and help them make peace. I’ve done this, and it’s really funny to see how apoplectic people get about it.

  4. Hey now, us tourists (from the Portola) aren’t all bad. We always pull over for the car with the right of way. The car going UP the hill has the right of way and we give it to them. LOL Of course, we have had to give in to the car barreling downhill as well. It’s just easier sometimes.

      • I looked it up. I thought it was that downhill had the right of way because it is harder to stop momentum, but the opposite is true. Uphill has the right of way because it is harder to go uphill from a stop.

  5. Being out of towners who visit Bernal frequently, we are constantly amazed at the courteous attitudes of drivers and others in Bernal. They are definitely Bernal’s Chamber of Commerce. Love it!

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  7. i just always assume whoever has the first opening to pull over should give way, seems to make sense. but good to know about the uphill right of way, not that anyone else will know or follow it.

    it doesn’t always happen, but i always appreciate when someone gives me a courtesy wave when i pull over for them. i know i always give them one when they do for me!

  8. A friend from LA was in town last week, and the little streets were stressing him out! He was driving up the hill and saw another car coming down and started freaking out a little — I was like, “It’s cool, they’ll pull out of your way in that spot up there,” and that was exactly what happened. Then I told him he had to wave. He was a little amazed…

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