Look both ways when crossing the street

Street Crossing, Sculpture by George Segal

You can't drive through West Concord Center and Concord Center as often as I do without stopping at at a number of crosswalks to allow pedestrians a chance to cross the street. Both centers are pleasant venues and stopping for walkers not only provides greater safety for all but also has the pleasant effect of slowing a driver's pace in the rush from here to there and back again.

My Toyota Camry weighs in at just over 3,000 pounds - and a little bit more than that with me on board! I'm happy to bring my one and a half tons of mobile machinery to a complete stop to let others make a safe crossing from one side of Main or Commonwealth to the other. Townies or tourists, I'm pleased to let them pass.

But I'm wondering what has happened to the wave, the little salute, the nod of the head - any acknowledgment from those on foot that their presence has literally -- stopped traffic. For a few brief moments they are sharing the road with drivers who have halted their own progress that walkers might advance theirs. But increasingly often, no sign is given and the grateful gesture that might have connected the one behind the wheel with those in front of the wheels has passed.

A vestige of a once common wave comes from pedestrians looking straight ahead and "waving" with but one twist of the wrist - as if to the pavement. Such a furtive gesture suggests the embarrassed walker is trying to keep it hidden from passers-by. But what's to hide?

I'm not writing here to complain about a lack of courtesy. What troubles me is what this disconnect in social code might mean. Can we afford to pass up simple gracious moments of connection when strangers cross paths on Main Street? I'm reminded of E. M. Forrester's powerful two word sentence in Howards End: Only connect! Few things are as important for human life and the preservation of that contact that nourishes and sustains life. Why are we failing to connect on Main Street? Why are we embarrassed to do so?

Some years ago when I was stationed at St. Joseph Parish in Medway I attended Medway High School's graduation. The valedictorian began his speech with these words: Each time a driver on Main Street stops to let a driver exiting from Gould's Plaza make a left hand turn , we take one more step towards world peace. Yes, there's some hyperbole here, but the young man made his point.

The next time a driver stops to let you or me cross the street, let's look up and offer a healthy wave of appreciation. It won't hurt. It might advance the cause of world peace. Only connect!


  1. I have noticed a difference at Concord crosswalks than in other towns. There are pedestrians that don't even bother to look before crossing, never mind wave at you! I find myself going at a slow crawl on Main St. in fear of hitting someone.

  2. I, too, appreciate a wave when I've stopped to let pedestrians have the right of way. On the other hand, I know I am guilty of NOT having waved on occasion, when there is so much traffic and noise and over-stimulation from whatever, (never mind the weather conditions) that it is all I can do to focus on getting myself and the kids across the street safely. During those times, I ask my young child to politely give the drivers behind the wheel a smile and a wave. So, like all things, there are two sides to the story...or in this case...to the crosswalk.

  3. Yes, the crosswalk can be a "rude meter" for us here in town, but that doesn't bother me nearly as much as the people who can't negotiate a four-way stop sign corner (so many are so eager to skip turns or go two cars from one lane at once!) or the dart into the rotary without respecting the other vehicles.

  4. Good point on having the kids wave! I've seen this happen and it warms my heart to know that parents are teaching their children this courtesy.

    I remember how faithfully my dad would signal his gratitude to other drivers on the road who might let him move into traffic or change lanes. His good example has stayed with me on that count.

  5. Some common courtesy should also include the countless bicyclists who swarm the streets of Concord particularly on week-ends. So many of them seem to feel they are entitled to an entire lane riding 2 abreast, cutting off cars, etc. While some politely follow the rules of the road, others seem to be taking advantage of their "privileges" as cyclists!

  6. Occasionally I have someone beep me from behind when I have stopped to let someone cross. I know immediately it is not a Concordian! On Swans Island, ME they have a lovely custom. When two cars approach each other from opposite directions, each driver gives a wave to the other. Makes me smile! At least in Concord we don't have some of the hand signals and language that one can experience in Boston. So for that I guess we should be grateful.

  7. When I've stopped to allow someone to cross the street and, if they don't acknowledge me, I just roll down the window and say, "You're welcome!" This way, you get one of two looks: (1) 'Oh, I'm sorry I forgot to say "thank you!"' and then you get a little wave or smile; (2) It's the look of disgust, as if to say, 'I've got the right of way so you have to stop for me just the same.'

    Then you have others who might not actually be IN the crosswalk, but NEAR the crosswalk and they step off the curb and EXPECT you to STOP for them. When I don't stop, I get a little hand gesture and it's NOT exactly what I would call a wave!

    When driving and waiting to make a turn, another kindly driver will allow me to do so and I give them a wave back and say "thank you!" It doesn't hurt and they usually will nod and wave back as if to say, "You're welcome!"

    Courtesy is such a small thing, really, but it makes a world of difference in commuication and peace with others.

  8. The other day- (early in the morning)- I was crossing the street to get to the train and a couple of cars stopped to let me cross... I guess I get kind of embarrassed or something and I don't look at anyone; I just hurry across as quickly as I can. Well, very soon after I crossed I thought of what I read here on this blog- I felt ashamed. It's not that I don't appreciate people stopping for me, it's just that I am shy and self-conscious and not very trusting. This is not an excuse; I hope and pray I will continue to work on this...

    I work with very young children in Boston and when we go out for walks we teach the children to say thank you to "the cars" that let us cross the street. They not only say thank you when in the street, but also when we are simply on the sidewalk and cars pass us by!! We get a lot of smiles from people.


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