February 12, 2012

Crosswalk Conundrum: The Perils of Driving on Campus

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I think I get it. You’re a student at a prestigious, Ivy League university. You’re strong, attractive, and have scores of friends. In just a few years, your reflexes and reaction time will be at their peak. You’re independent and on the verge of being indestructible. In short, you’re just about in the prime of your life and relishing it. Me? Not so much.Prime of life? I can’t even remember what that means. I wear hearing aids in each ear but I still don’t hear well, and the aids don’t shield me from distracting ambient noise.  My reflexes are shot — by the time it registers that I need to hit my car brakes, I hope and pray that I can raise my foot off the accelerator in time. Sad to say, my arthritis isn’t getting any better. In fact, every time I turn my head to see if there’s a car in my “blind spot,” there’s a sharp twinge in my neck and I can’t turn past 30 degrees. Oh, did I mention my eyes? During my last appointment with my optometrist he told me that my cataracts are spreading. I have other vision problems, too. I don’t like driving at night because I can’t see well, but I do it anyway. The headlights from oncoming cars often blind me. Rain and snow are real distractions. I have great difficulty seeing past the smears my windshield wipers leave each time they pass over the oily glass. In areas where lighting is limited, I’m often unable to pick out a human dressed in dark clothes. Do you ever wear dark jeans? Actually, I’ve noticed that some students do wear dark jeans and jackets. Did I mention that my glasses fog up when the humidity gets over 60 percent?Please don’t get bent out of shape reading this. I really don’t suffer from all of these afflictions. The sad thing is however, that I happen to be acquainted with people who do.  The point I’m trying to make should be taken seriously. One or more of these problems does affect everyone, at one time or another, and these people do drive on campus. Don’t take for granted that because you have the right of way in a crosswalk, that every driver will see you in time to stop. And don’t think that because you’re in hurry, darting into the roadway between parked cars is a safe shortcut.I need to be on campus frequently because I teach, and I often have lunch meetings at Banfi’s. You, obviously, need to be on campus a lot, too. I see you when I’m concentrating on finding a parking spot. We often meet at intersections where you, as a pedestrian, have the right of way. Because I’m on campus so often, I am aware of, and do notice the yellow diagonal signs trying to alert me that a pedestrian is crossing. But sometimes I get distracted even if I’m not texting.  (And let’s admit it, not everyone is as sharp as you and me).Often, you’re part of a long serpentine line of students winding down to a crosswalk where I have stopped to let you cross. Instead of following your predecessor by four feet, it would be wonderful if you would pause, just long enough, for us motorists to make our way to the next crosswalk. Maybe you could politely wave us through? Some of you don’t even take the time to make your way to a crosswalk. When you attempt to cross where I don’t have the benefit of a warning yellow sign, you’re really taking a chance that you’re going to be the reason that you, or I, or perhaps my children or grandchildren, might spend the rest of our lives trying to navigate our way through life in a wheel chair. Is it really worth it? By the way, do you realize how confusing — and frustrating — it is when you stand at the curb, talking on your cell phone? You often look like you’re poised to step into traffic but you’re actually engrossed in your vitally important call and oblivious to the traffic situation. What should we drivers do? Stop while you make up your mind, and hope all the drivers behind us to do the same? I fervently hope that when you step off the curb without warning I will be able stop in time and that the drivers behind me have the requisite reflexes and eyesight.  When you get off the bus, maybe you could glance in both directions before running across the street? And please don’t let your headphones or your cell phone detract from your alertness. All it takes is a bit of awareness that you’re not the only living being on the planet — or even on the Cornell campus.Henry Stark is an Ithaca resident and member of the Cornell Class of 1959. He may be reached at at hbs6@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Henry Stark