Finally, some bad press for this glittering city. Finally, a story about Minneapolis that doesn’t declare it the Top City in America to Start a Hand-Carved Toothpick Emporium or any other useless standard that might get someone from Portland to move here if they could be sure the bike racks accommodated unicycles.
According to TomTom, a company that makes those navigational aides that give you directions, we are … one of the worst cities in the world for traffic.
The world! The planet! That’s how one local news outlet put it. We’re number 127 in the top 200. Let’s put this another way: The list of the 100 worst cities for traffic is out, and the Twin Cities isn’t in it.
Same thing. Feel better? Or try this: Studies reveal the metro among the 17,264 worst places on Earth for rabid llama bites. And we’re #17,264. Because they ran out of cities after they listed every town in Peru.
Bah. Sure, our traffic flow isn’t perfect, but these things are relative. And by relative I mean my brother-in-law. He lives in the Bay Area. Until recently he endured a two-hour commute every day. Four hours total. That’s the Peter Jackson Director’s Cut Blu-ray of commutes. Now and then the Department of Motor Vehicles would switch into utter sadism mode, and just put out orange barrels to close off a lane, in which case his commute would be so long he was already late for work the next day by the time he got home.
Yes, things could be better here. Hwy. 100 for years has moved at speeds that make the assembly line at the nitroglycerin factory look like a Japanese bullet train, because it hails from an era when people said “cinch your bustle and grab your spats, I’m pushing this flivver up to 30.” The I-35W/94 commons is designed to handle the number of wheeled vehicles currently exploring Mars.
There’s one light on my daily drive that stays red so long people start thinking “the light must be stuck.” Because that happens all the time, you know. It’s stuck! As if you could kick the pole and the hamsters inside would wake up and start running around the wheel to change the light from red to green.
Every day someone loses patience and bolts through the intersection, and you have the same reaction every time: This is how societies start to break down, right here. We lose faith in the inevitability of the green light, and feel bound to no law. This is bad.
Ah, heck, I might as well go, too.
One of the reasons we have congestion has nothing to do with roads. It’s because some people can’t figure out the “merge” concept. You wonder if they put on their pants by starching them stiff, laying them on the floor, running across the room and sliding into the legs. C’mon: If you are blasting down the ramp, there are two things that will happen.
1. You will enter the flow of traffic like a warm spoon into fresh pudding, or …
2. you will find yourself screaming in fury because the 175-foot-long tanker truck filled with sloshing petroleum did not immediately drift left, sending small cars flying up in the air like startled ducks.
If you choose option 2, then you jam on your brakes and bump along in the breakdown lane until you can join the highway at 17 miles per hour, requiring everyone behind you to touch their brakes. And I say “touch” like I mean a mixed-martial artist “touches” an opponent’s face with his foot.
It’s the braking that causes pointless slowdowns. What’s the natural reaction to brake lights in the car ahead? I brake, you brake, we all brake. And so on, until everything congeals into a wad of expensive plastic slugs. Traffic has slowed for no good reason.
That said, there are good reasons for slowdowns.
1. There is debris in the road, because Unca Jed and Jethro didn’t tie down that mattress and it’s splayed across two lanes.
2. A road originally designed for goats and carts is now serving a community of 67,000 people.
3. The freeway designers’ boss said “give me a road with a sharp 90-degree turn that points people into the setting sun, so they have to take a hand off the wheel and put down the sun visor, suddenly aware they’re doing 60 mph while blind” and the design team pulled that one off to perfection.
4. Someone in the passing lane is not passing anyone, driving just as fast as the law says, giving you ample time to read all of his self-righteous bumper stickers and construct long, reasoned arguments against their assertions.
Note to slow drivers: This is why people glare at you as they pass. The printed rectangle by your license plate contained a logical fallacy — but only one, which explains his finger.
When we get self-driving cars this won’t be a problem, because you can sit back and read a book and have a relaxing beverage while your car lurches forward an inch every minute. Presumably the cars will be equipped with a robot voice that calls out curses in a flat metallic voice every so often: CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS? WHAT IS THE DEAL HERE?
It will be much, much better, but I fear we’ll lose something. Self-driving cars will not be programmed for altruism. They will not wave a driver in ahead of you because they sense the other car really needs to get over. And if the self-driving car does cut in front of you, I doubt it will it raise a robotic hand in the necessary gesture of THANKS, FELLOW DECENT MINNESOTAN.
Perhaps the rear windshield wiper will have to perform that duty. Stick a mitten on it for tradition’s sake.