Dan Osterman

Dan Osterman

Sometimes the news doesn’t tell the whole story; what you read about hit-and-runs and other traffic incidents in Cambridge is disconcerting but incomplete.

The cheery anarchy of our streets is almost always delightful, in fact. It’s more typical to note the road rage, the traffic, the knotted density, but these are hardly ubiquitous. Although there is the occasional glimpse of froth from someone hunched over a steering wheel, mouthing foul words in a sealed car, more typical is the driver pausing to blithely wave jaywalkers across the street to safety, a regard for the other, a flow that pulses rather than stutters. And instead of knotted density, the feel of the streets is more one of a sometimes gently raucous overlapping, usually a pleasant intermingling.

Drivers, bicyclists, skateboarders, runners, walkers, skaters, strollers: They assess; they are cool; they gauge each other’s presence and calculate distance and motion. They lock eyes, sometimes, with the appraisal of band members playing different instruments, confident in a sense of professionalism that the other knows when to cut in, when to come in. Usually, the decisions are correct, and the streets, and the businesses and pleasures of the city, roll on.

Is this new? Cambridge crashes reported to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in 2001, the most recent year available, are down almost 500 since 1991, continuing a steady decline, even though the population is up more than 5,500 in that time. An odd feeling arises that as the city grows in population it grows in community, that the more strangers getting crammed in also results in more neighbors — the friendly mob of the rock show.

Think not of the mosh pit, but of the stage dive, where, when someone falls, the crowd provides a bouncing cushion that keeps them up, moving, safe. Sometimes people fall to the ground, and sometimes people crash and collide, but that is not the purpose, it’s not why people gather: They’re in the same place because they want to be there, for the same purpose. They yield when someone wants to get through and are graciously yielded to when it is their turn.

Wave. Signal. Turn for the better.