People drive differently here. Nicer. But there is an exception.
The dominant Twin Cities driving patterns evidently derive from “Minnesota Nice,” which quality is a philosophical near neighbor to Janteloven: the Law of Jante. (This was pointed out by commenter Addie Berg on my inaugural post.) This stance to life asserts that the individual and his welfare are less important than that of the group. Close correlates in other cultures include “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” (Japan) and “Tall Poppy Syndrome” (Hawaii). Janteloven, which goes by closely similar terms in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic, embodies a condescending attitude towards individuality and success. Minnesotans’ storied passive-aggressiveness follows directly from a Janteloven orientation.
Now, as to driving: I have never encountered such nice drivers. People are less likely to speed on I-494, I-35E, or MN-100 than on the highways of any other city with which I’m familiar. People at 4-way stops take turns in a bafflingly civil manner (from the point of view of a former Boston driver). Cars stop for pedestrians in crosswalks just about as religiously as they do in California. People don’t speed on densely populated residential streets, and they move over politely to let one another pass when parked cars narrow the road.
It sure is nice, in almost all circumstances.
My across-the-alley neighbor, who moved here recently from Ohio, asked if I had noticed the way people run red lights in the Twin Cities. Not particularly, I replied, then set out to watch for the behavior. It didn’t take long to spot it.
At many busy intersections of major streets — for example Snelling and Larpenteur Avenues — the lights enforce Minnesota Nice. Everybody takes turns, perforce. Left turners from Snelling onto Larpenteur get their turn; then left turners from Larpenteur onto Snelling. Then Larpenteur through traffic. Then Snelling through traffic. Each light cycle lasts almost a minute. So if you are heading (say) north on Snelling and miss the yellow light, you face a nearly 3-minute wait to get going again.
My friend Marcia, whose memorial I wrote about last time, had a term for the (typically Bostonian) practice of gunning it as a light turns yellow. She called it “pink light.” If we didn’t quite make it through an intersection before there was a flash of red, she would remark on how extremely pink that light had been.
Well, in the Twin Cities, if we managed to get through an extremely pink light, we would probably see three cars behind us barrel through a fluorescent, an incandescent, and finally a thermonuclear pink light.
In Boston, someone turning left at an intersection against steady oncoming traffic thinks of the yellow light as their property. Oncoming cars slow and stop and one car makes its left turn, although sometimes the light turns extremely pink before they are fully out of the intersection.
In the Twin Cities, the oncoming traffic doesn’t slow. After the third car roars straight through the thermonuclear stage, then the left turner makes his move. Probably followed by one or even two more behind him.
Woe betide any pedestrians, or bicyclists, mixed up in such a scene.
It’s not nice at all.