Can roundabouts trump “Minnesota Nice” at intersections?It’s been a rough ride for “Minnesota Nice” in recent weeks, thanks to a new series from Minnesota Public Radio wherein out-of-state transplants suggest that the state’s signature disposition is actually more passive-aggressive than polite.
By: Michael Kooi, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
It’s been a rough ride for “Minnesota Nice” in recent weeks, thanks to a new series from Minnesota Public Radio wherein out-of-state transplants suggest that the state’s signature disposition is actually more passive-aggressive than polite.
For the uninitiated, this snippet sums it up rather succinctly: “Minnesotans will give you directions to anywhere but their own house.”
But lifelong residents apt to take umbrage at such verbiage should take heart instead: One place that Minnesotans remain consistently friendly — to an infuriating fault, in fact — is the four-way intersection.
We’ve all been there: sitting at a stop sign, waiting while the driver with the right of way waves us or someone else forward. In most cases, the resulting paralysis persists for only a few moments — generally the amount of time it takes some jerk like me to lay on the horn — but the anger often lingers longer.
My “auslander” (German for “foreigner”) friends and I call it the Minnesota Standoff. Unlike its Mexican cousin, however, the Minnesota version delivers no tactical advantage to any participant. Everybody loses — especially those who are late for work.
So, why are my out-of-state compatriots and I so incensed by the loss of these few fleeting seconds? Perhaps it’s because Minnesota makes us pass a rules-of-the-road test before we can get state driver licenses — as opposed to merely swapping our old ones for new ones.
Those rules are quite clear when it comes to rights of way at stop signs: If you arrive at the intersection first, you go first. Otherwise, you must yield to the driver on your right.
Yet, all too often, simplicity yields to misguided gallantry — thus triggering the standoff.
That’s why I was so thrilled to read that the city plans to explore using roundabouts to solve some of the traffic snafus that may result from additional development near CSS and UMD.
(Yes, larger issues exist within the Higher Ed Plan. But that’s the irony of this 600-word soapbox the Budge has given me: Its size is friendlier to the fey and frivolous than it is to the serious and substantive.)
Roundabouts would automatically defuse standoff situations by keeping traffic flowing around a central circular island. Drivers must yield to vehicles already in the circle, but once you’re in, you keep moving until you’re through.
Better yet, roundabouts deliver benefits beyond lower blood pressures. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “[w]here roundabouts have been installed, motor vehicle crashes have declined by about 40 percent, and those involving injuries have been reduced by about 80 percent.” This is because the speeds of all vehicles are reduced through the intersection, and because the number of head-on and right-angle collisions is reduced.
On its website, IIHS also cites numerous studies that suggest that the improved traffic flow also leads directly to reduced fuel consumption and air pollution — thanks to less time idling and accelerating from a full stop.
Make no mistake: Roundabouts take some getting used to — perhaps especially for elderly drivers who’ve never driven through one. Fortunately, roundabouts actually help mitigate the most common issue — failure to recognize and yield right of way — in crashes involving seniors, according to IIHS.
In the end, the roundabout’s European origins may pose the greatest threat to their acceptance in Duluth. After all, if we believe our friends on the right, we should treat all such imports as gateways to smothering socialism.
For my money, however, a little continental flair is a small price for removing “nice” from our intersections.
Michael Kooi is a freelance writer living in Duluth.