Crouch Library fronts onto the four busy lanes of Hamilton Road. Busses stop on either side, and cyclists can be found both in the right lane and on the sidewalk. I have only ever crossed Hamilton Road at a street light. When I commuted along Hamilton Road, though, I watched people risk the crossing daily. Every day, it goes like this:
The crosser stands at the crosswalk, toes curling over the edge of the curb. In four lanes, cars fly past. The crosser looks both ways. Cars fly past. The crosser waits. Cars fly past. And waits. Cars fly past. Sooner or later, a car (sometimes mine), interrupts the pattern.
The car stops.
When that first car stops, it’s as if the car casts a special sort of spell over its neighbours. I press my foot to the brake and the car oncoming stops, too. The driver makes eye contact with me from across the yellow line, and we make an agreement: Neither of us will continue until the crosser is safe.
With two lanes stopped, the crosser is not much worse off than they might be crossing any two-lane road in St. Thomas or Port Stanley. They never have to. The drivers in the next two lanes stop within seconds after car number two. Always. Time after time.
So how did the crosser move from waiting to crossing? The answer isn’t in the crossers; it’s in the drivers. Every driver sees the crosser. They hope vaguely for the crosser’s safety, but none of them sees a roles within that. With four lanes in motion, each driver decides that there’s nothing their one car can accomplish, so each drives by.
The crosser succeeds because one driver stops.
When the first car stops, the second driver sees an opportunity to create change. Each stopped car makes the next driver easier to convince. The third and fourth cars stop only seconds after.
The phrase leading by example is so often said that sometimes we forget it can be done. Every one of us has the potential to create change. The trick is to stop looking for places where change seems within our grasp. When we decide to brake whether or not a crossing looks possible, and to wait whether or not other drivers choose to work with us, that’s when we are leaders.
Anyone can go with the flow.
And anyone can stop.