Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 22, 2012

Squirrels at the crosswalk: Common sense needed

My View
Peggy Rambach

---- — I’ve noticed that Andover pedestrians are crossing Andover crosswalks like squirrels.

Now, I am well aware that pedestrians have full legal right to step directly in front of an approaching car if their foot falls inside of our town’s well-marked crosswalks. However, before placing that foot within those lines, the pedestrian might use a modicum of common sense.

Common sense would be to look both ways. Common sense would be to make eye contact with the driver, because, it’s true, drivers are more often than not, scrolling through their iPods, scrolling through their contact lists, texting (despite all those roadside digital messages and laws that urge them not to,) looking at their next bite of Big Mac. Or they might be looking at the road, but lost in the wireless daze of cell-phone conversation that impairs the ability to think, hear, see, and oh, yes – drive.

Finally, common sense means timing. Timing is fundamental to street-crossing safety, even for those who are neither musical nor coordinated. Much like squirrels, we rely upon it when it comes to the “walk or wait” decision. Should I step in front of that moving car…now, or now? Or should I wait? Waiting is the one thing squirrels might be better off doing a little more of, but the inability of some squirrels to figure this out is forgivable. Not so with humans.

Recently, I witnessed a rear-ender at the crosswalk near Bertucci Minucci restaurant. Here’s how it went: A Mercedes was about an inch distance from rolling slowly over the first crosswalk demarcation line, when a man stepped off the curb. Of course the Mercedes driver, not of a mind to injure the man (or maybe his fancy car) hit the brakes instead, which caused the van, following close behind, to bump into the Mercedes’ rear.

Meanwhile, the walker continued across the street, but not without yelling self-righteous invectives at the Mercedes driver, since the fact that the pedestrian was in the crosswalk divested him of all responsibility for the incident. The Mercedes driver leaped from his car to scream, not at the walker who deserved a dressing down, but at the van driver. And the van driver, understandably fearing he might soon be a road rage casualty was the only one who was not yelling, and yet he was the one who was going to have get his bumper repaired (the Mercedes hadn’t a scratch) and pay for the points on his car insurance for years to come when nothing that had just occurred was his fault.

Because in my court of law the gavel of guilt would have to fall directly upon the pedestrian.

Had he exercised a little common sense, and better timing, instead of his state-given crosswalk rights, none of it would have happened.

Same thing the morning I wrote this, when I stopped my car at a stop sign and crosswalk to prepare to enter Elm from High Street and, seeing no approaching vehicles on Elm Street, none turning in from Main Street, none heading north toward Elm from Central Street, and no one waiting at the curb, I dared to roll slowly forward. But then suddenly, there appeared a man, who having just arrived at the edge the crosswalk, stepped into it and directly in front of my car.

I, too, like the Mercedes driver of the day before had no choice but to hit the brakes and by not bumping the man with my bumper, became subject to the man’s impromptu through-the-windshield Driver’s Ed lesson on how, because a sign says stop, you’re supposed to stop at it, which, of course I had.

I suppose it would be helpful if, not only the vision impaired, but all pedestrians at every crosswalk and intersection, could be told again and again by the calm and disembodied voice at Chestnut and Main, “Walk light is on at all crossings. Walk light is on at all crossings.”

But still, I would like to hope that all of us, pedestrians and drivers, could figure out, without instruction from a light pole, how to cross each other’s paths with the civility and sociability of, well — squirrels.

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Peggy Rambach writes from 1 Arundel St.