Stop, look and think

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.

Comments (6)

  1. Totally agree students need to look both ways–that’s basic safety. But I take issue with the tone of the piece and the phrase “You apparently feel you have a priority in using a public thoroughfare.” That’s the point of a zebra crossing, pedestrians DO have right of way, or as you put it, “priority.” The letter also generally takes a condescending tone “If you expect to be treated like adults, act like adults” which is off-putting and definitely not the way to get through to students.

  2. okay so assuming specific enthalpy of combustion of fuel is -2 kJ/g[1], and a mass of 2000 kg coming to a halt from 15 m/s[2], the energy waste is equivalent to burning ~1/9 kg of fuel at unreasonable efficiency.

    making some assumptions, each is equivalent to some 1.5-2 kg of CO₂ emitted.

    note that the same amount of energy is consumed per car stopped regardless of whether the stop is abrupt; you’re also wasting energy just by existing if your presence at the curb causes cars to slow down.

    [1]: not a reasonable assumption.
    [2]: ~34 mph. not sure whether 10 m/s would be more realistic.

    Disclaimer: I’m p sure science does not actually work this way.

  3. Thought it may be more courteous and safe to look up and wave while crossing the street (and to not talk on the phone), it certainly isn’t required, and assuming that we have “priority” isn’t selfish or rude. It’s actually the law…

    ” Section 11. Marked crosswalks; yielding right of way to pedestrians; penalty
    Section 11. When traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be so to yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk marked in accordance with standards established by the department of highways if the pedestrian is on that half of the traveled part of the way on which the vehicle is traveling or if the pedestrian approaches from the opposite half of the traveled part of the way to within 10 feet of that half of the traveled part of the way on which said vehicle is traveling.
    No driver of a vehicle shall pass any other vehicle which has stopped at a marked crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross, nor shall any such operator enter a marked crosswalk while a pedestrian is crossing or until there is a sufficient space beyond the crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle he is operating, notwithstanding that a traffic control signal may indicate that vehicles may proceed.
    Whoever violates any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $200. ”
    If you want people to do something, you should probably a) be nice, and b) do your research…

  4. To “it’s the law dude”: The law is to yield to someone who is in the crosswalk, not someone who is approaching the crosswalk, or waiting at the crosswalk. You do not have priority until you are in the crosswalk.
    Look, it’s just common sense to stop and look to make sure that you’re not about to get flattened when you step into the crosswalk. Yes cars should stop once you’re in the crosswalk, but that isn’t going to make a difference after you’ve been hit by a hunk of moving metal.
    Waving to someone who’s stopped to let you go is a nice touch, but stopping and looking (aka “look both ways before you cross the street”) is really the important part.

  5. And a note to Mr. Leber: you’ll find it may be more effective to be less condescending. There are ways to get your point across that didn’t include you treating the students of Williams like a cross between toddlers and sullen adolescents.

  6. athletes going to the gym…

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