My wife and I often have breakfast at the corner of Market and Central Streets, known traditionally as “Market Square,” but more recently as “Five Corners.” I never cease to be fascinated by cars and pedestrians negotiating that busy intersection with two stops signs and no traffic signal or any other form of instruction regarding how to proceed. For lack of a better phrase, I call this the “courtesy intersection,” but it is not for the timid. While motorists from our town almost always stop for pedestrians whether or not they are in crosswalks, driving through this intersection has its own unwritten rules.

Glenn Kennedy posted this sped-up video of Ipswich “rush hour” on YouTube.

Here are a few guidelines for negotiating Five Corners, (aka Market Square, Quint’s Corner, Tyler’s Corner):

  • To turn or cross from North Main or Market Street, nose slightly into the traffic lane to signal your presence.
  • Thoughtful local drivers will slow down and time their speed to give one vehicle the opportunity to pull onto the busier road, realizing that the same courtesy will be extended to them in the future.
  • Taking advantage of nice drivers to sneak in with the car in front of you is cheating.
  • People who race through the intersection are surely not from around here and should go back to wherever they came from.
  • Make sure to yell, “Get off your phone!”
View of Marketplace Square in the 1950’s

Perhaps every newcomer to the town is mystified by the absence of the familiar red, green and yellow lights that tell us when we must stop and when we must go, but long-time residents will tell you that there will never be a signal and it would be a bad idea if there was one. Outsidah columnist Doug Brendel has a brilliant solution that should make this intersection even more interesting to watch.

The system does seem to work. The city of Drachten in Holland removed all but three of their fifteen traffic lights several years ago based on the theory that drivers would instead take clues from their surroundings. The town’s center previously had an average of eight accidents annually, a number which has now been reduced to almost zero.

We might also learn from our namesake Ipswich, England, which improved pedestrian access within the historic village area by creating “shared space” and keeping traffic speeds low.

Sketch looking down the hill to Market Square, circa 1867. Not a lot has changed.

Ipswich folks are courteous and friendly but being of industrious Puritan stock we’re too busy to wait for a light to change colors. It’s the way we’ve always been. Ipswich prides itself as being the birthplace of American Independence because ninety years before the Boston Tea Party, John and Samuel Appleton and the Rev. John Wise along with other townsfolk led the “Andros Rebellion” against the English Crown’s imposition of a tax and revocation of local self-governance. We really don’t like being told how to do what we’re already doing.

Newcomers will discover that we haven’t changed all that much in three hundred and eighty years when they inevitably suggest installing a traffic light at the confusing intersection of Market, Central, North Main and South Main Streets. Just smile and wave the next person through. Drive slowly or find a place to park and take it all in–it’s the best show in town!

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