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Cambridge streets from another view

Column/Daniel Crean

Cambridge is "the most cosmopolitan city in North America" if you believe the city Chamber of Commerce.

It's true there is a lot of diversity in Cambridge. There are rich people, poor people, and middle-class people. There are Arthur D. Little and Red Star Books, Legal Seafoods and McDonald's. Harvard Square and Central Square. Harvard and MIT.

This is a lot of diversity for one town, really, but there's one thing in which all Cantabrigians are seemingly the same: pedestrian-driver relations.

Boston-area drivers are notoriously disrespectful of both the law and pedestrian safety. Anyone who has walked extensively around town knows the perils that go along with merely being a pedestrian. Cars don't always stop for red lights and stop signs, never mind people in the street.

Drivers take corners while hardly slowing down, leaving those attempting to cross the street in a state of shock. Walking is like playing a game with one's life. In the winter the snow and ice compound the problem.

I imagine the problem is even worse for bicycle riders.

It's enough to make anyone without a car develop a loathing for automobiles. It's funny, really, because whenever I go home on vacations I really enjoy driving. It wasn't until I came to college and was confined to city life that I realized how much fun totally pointless consumption of gasoline was.

Driving is so satisfying, so utterly American, who could seriously find fault with the majority of law-abiding motorists?

It must just be Cambridge, I figured. This city turns drivers into heartless wild animals out to make life miserable for innocent pedestrians.

But this IAP I did a lot of driving around Cambridge and my outlook changed. Motoring all around town, I found that pedestrians were totally disrespectful of traffic laws.

They darted out into the street between cars and crossed even when the sign said "Don't Walk." They maneuvered as if they expected drivers to read their minds. They seemed to dare cars to hit them. They acted as if they owned the roads.

I got pretty mad at those pedestrians, but then I realized that most of the time I was one of them. I was one of those obnoxious people who ran out in front of cars, who expected cars to move around me. I was as guilty as they were.

So I guess I was wrong about the pedestrian-driver conflict being one-sided. Sure, drivers are pretty reckless around town, but pedestrians are reckless, too. It's a two-way street, so to speak, and anybody traveling on the roads and sidewalks has to play the game, has to cooperate.

Maybe the Cambridge traffic situation is awful for walkers, but part of the fault lies with those walkers. If you don't agree, try renting a car for a couple weeks and driving around. It's all in your point of view.