Visiting the fast lane

I made a quick, impromptu trip to the Twin Cities to visit my “city sister.” I haven’t driven through Minneapolis and St. Paul for a while and I had forgotten what life in the fast lane is like.

A few years ago it seemed that traffic started getting fairly heavy twenty miles or so from the edge of Minneapolis. Every time I drive there it seems traffic picks up further west than it did the last time I made the trip. Traffic in the “fast lane” rarely slows down except for traffic jams. The cars can be nearly bumper to bumper and still they zip along at 70 miles per hour. The 55 or 60 mile per hour speed limit seems to be a mere suggestion and not even trucks and buses drive that slowly. Heaven help you if you hesitate!

It takes adjusting to go from heavy traffic in rural North Dakota (more than two cars in a 20 mile stretch) to keeping up with the vehicles speeding down the many lanes of traffic in the city. Simply remembering to be aware of traffic on all sides of the car requires rigorous concentration. Some cars zip from one lane to another, weaving in and out and around as though there is a prize for the commuter who gets to the front of the line. I don’t know how so many drivers do it while talking on their cell phones.

It is not only on the highway that people seem in a hurry. Shoppers don’t stroll down the street and through the shops, they walk with purpose. Sometimes they are impatient with busy sales people. They don’t wait for the light to change before crossing the street. Cars at intersections creep forward in anticipation of the red light changing to green. The drivers going in the other direction speed up to get through before the yellow turns to red.

Everyone In the city seems to be in a hurry.

It was pleasant to drive home where sometimes the deer on the road outnumber the cars you meet. It was good to know if you have car trouble, you might have to wait for the next car to come by, but it will probably be someone you know who stops to help you. Driving the speed limit doesn’t usually create backed up traffic for miles and you won’t get knocked down if you stroll past the brightly lit windows on main street.

The United Nations estimated that 2008 was the first year when more people in the world lived in cities than in rural areas. That number is expected to grow to 70 percent of the world’s population living in major cities by 2050. Today more than one-third of the people living in the world’s largest urban areas live without electricity, sanitation systems or durable housing. They live in cardboard shanties amid garbage and sewage.

What will be the effect on how we get along, how we work, how we play, when most of us live in crowded, fast-paced places? Will we become increasingly more suspicious and alienated? How does living in cities affect people’s health? Will we plan and build cities that allow people to form communities, ride bikes, walk, fly kites? Will we find ways to deal with the great inequities found in cities today? Will the poor continue to move to the cities to try to find work and only find poverty and exploitation? Will the rich buy up more of the rural countryside and build walled estates?

I’m glad to be home again, driving in the slow lane.

Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains