I am resident of Williamstown of 14 years, and for some time now, I have been meaning to write to the College about the habit some students here have of crossing Main Street without pausing, looking up or acknowledging oncoming traffic. I thought I would urge the College to put up more prominent signs at the crosswalks and raise this matter at the orientation of new students. But somehow addressing this letter to the College never seemed quite right and I never sent it. Now I realize why. This letter is for the students, not the College.
A majority of Williams students have the good manners and the good sense to pause and wait to make sure oncoming drivers see them before using the Main Street crosswalks. But some of you do not do this. You apparently feel you have a priority in using a public thoroughfare, even when doing so requires oncoming traffic to stop abruptly. Often you are talking on cellphones and do not even look up. I say to these students: You are not more important than the rest of us. If you expect to be treated like adults, act like adults. Most of your schoolmates do not do this and I never see faculty members and administrators using the crosswalks in this way.
This habit is not only ill-mannered and annoying, but also dangerous. There have been 10 pedestrian accidents on Main Street in the last 13 years. It is even more dangerous at night, when many of you wear dark clothing and the vision of drivers is impaired by the headlights of vehicles headed in the opposite direction. Furthermore, you should consider that when you leave our bucolic environs and live in a normal city somewhere else in the world, as many of you will, you will find drivers to be less keen on indulging this sort of behavior. There are cities in other countries where pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way. Stepping off the curb without looking could get you killed or seriously injured. You should also factor it in that many Route 2 motorists and truck drivers are passing through town for the first time and are familiar neither with our quaint tradition nor with the sense of entitlement it indulges. These drivers need to or want to get where they are going just as much as you do.
Lastly, I point out the hypocrisy in professing to care about the environment and at the same time, expecting motor vehicles to come to an abrupt stop so as to permit a cellphone-engaged Williams student to stroll unimpeded across the street. It takes a non-negligible amount of energy to get a 3000- or 4000-pound car moving again. Trucks can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. There is a serious amount of CO2 involved in this – perhaps a physics student could do a calculation. I have noticed that whenever students talk about doing something about the environment they are saying other people, or the College or the government, must do something. But crossing the street properly is something you can do, even if it takes you five seconds more to get where you are going.
Fred Leber is a resident of Williamstown.