Monday, April 19, 2010

Small City Driving

Ever since we moved from a big city with millions of people to a much smaller one with only about 150,000, I’ve started enjoying driving again. There is a lot less traffic to contend with and drivers here are much more courteous. In my old city, I don’t think a single week went by that I didn’t run across an aggressive and obnoxious driver. I couldn’t wait at a stop sign to allow a pedestrian to cross without someone behind me inching closer and closer to my car until all I could see in my rear view mirror is their frustrated face. As if getting up that close behind me was going to make the pedestrian walk faster. Perhaps I was expected in return to inch closer to the pedestrian to intimidate him into walking faster?

And changing lanes? Forget about it. If you were ever foolish enough to signal that you wanted to move over to the next lane, the driver occupying it (usually far enough behind for you to be able to move over effortlessly), would make it a point of speeding up to prevent you from getting in. Because how dare you get in front of him? Actions like that were taken personally and you didn’t stand a chance. There were only two things you could do if you needed to change lanes while other cars were on the road with you: 1) Change lanes swiftly without signaling or 2) Wait until there was no driver in the next lane close enough to cut you off no matter how much they sped up. Of course, you could also avoid this problem by driving only between the hours of 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM, which would guarantee the ease of changing lanes since you’d have the road to yourself, more or less. Or you could stop driving altogether and stick with public transportation.

Respecting speed limits in a big city? Say what? In a big city, there are oodles of self-important individuals in a big hurry (they have things to do, people to see, places to go), therefore you (mere, insignificant mortal) are obligated to break the law to help them keep up that fast pace. If there is more than one lane, you are expected to move into the next one immediately to allow them to pass. And if there’s only one lane and you’re in the front, the driver behind you will tailgate you to death to get you to speed up – way past the speed limit. I’ve seen elderly drivers harassed in this manner, which must be very stressful for them. What about speed limits posted on signs, you ask? Clearly visible to all drivers? Puh-lease. No one in my previous city took them seriously; they’re merely suggestions on how fast you should go.

Crosswalks? Target practice - with pedestrians as targets. The minute you stepped foot on one of these, a car would appear out of nowhere, pick up speed and aim for you. You were much safer crossing in the middle of traffic. Crosswalks in my old city were blatantly ignored. I think most drivers didn’t even know what they are.

So what’s different in my new city? Everything.

I’ve been here for almost a year, and in all that time, I’ve been tailgated once. Once, people, just once. And that’s once in almost a year as opposed to once every fifteen minutes, which is what I dealt with before I moved here.

Changing lanes? It seems that almost everyone signals here, so I’ve joined that bandwagon. At first, I was reluctant to do so, thinking that it would just encourage other drivers to speed up and cut me off when I wanted to change lanes. “Better to hide my intentions”, I thought. But 10 months later, I’ve discovered that I’m worrying for nothing. The people here let me change lanes. And not only do they let me; they even slow down or wave me in when I signal my intentions. For the first couple of months, I was suspicious of these ‘supposedly’ polite people. I believed they were toying with me, setting me up for the fall. I imagined myself starting to change lanes after one of these people waved me in, and as soon as I’d begin, they would zoom forward, cut me off and laugh hysterically at my naiveté. So I wouldn’t go. But they kept waving me in and waving me in, so I decided one day I’d do it and see what happens. And lo and behold, I changed lanes while the other driver slowed down or waited patiently. This happened again and again and I found myself thinking: “What’s with these people? They’re so...nice...”

And crosswalks? I merely have to be approaching one for a driver to stop and let me cross. Sure there is an occasional driver that pretends he doesn’t see it (or me), but 98% of the time, the driver will stop. Kingston motorists actually respect the crosswalk laws. Imagine that.

I could go on and on about driving and of the rude experiences I dealt with in my previous big city as opposed to the courteous ones I’m enjoying now, but the point I’m trying to make is that the drivers in my smaller city are much more courteous and much more patient than the big city folk I lived amongst up until last year.

Do I miss big city living? Not one bit. And would I ever consider moving back to a big city? Not a chance.


  1. You portray both world well. Very surprising indeed, because we get so detached when packed as sardines in the busy city but feel very close and connected in the emptiness of a country side.


  2. I think bangchik put it well. With less crowding, people take their time and see each other as fellow citizens, not the opponent. Here in the Deep South, people are known for their hospitality, but sadly that special southern flavor is often lost in the larger cities.

  3. I grew up in small towns in the South where people were too polite to even honk at you to go when the traffic light was green. Later, I moved to the city and was so shocked the first time someone gave me the finger as he passed me---all because I was going the speed limit and that was too slow for him. Sadly, that became a fairly common occurance, so that I stopped looking at people as they passed.

    Kingston sounds wonderful.

  4. Bangchik, you are right; in the big cities where we are packed like sardines, we do become more detached. In smaller areas, I guess people are less stressed and tend to be more patient.

    Debsgarden, I've noticed a huge difference since we moved here. I think it's the best thing we ever did. We've slowed down our own pace, which was much faster in the big city.

    Beth, there's no doubt that big city folk are much more stressed and impatient and people living in smaller areas. Everyone seems to be in a rush in the big city, and less courteous. I'm glad we moved; our quality of life has gotten much better.

    Yes, Kingston is a lovely place; moving here was the best thing we ever did.