Merging Traffic

Today I would like to discuss merging traffic.

I think that when two lanes merge together on a highway, people should be adults – take turns, watch the road, adjust speed accordingly so that everyone is able to make a smooooth transition without causing traffic to halt.  

Yeah, right.  So here’s the situation:

There’s an area in the Minneapolis metro called the Crosstown.  In the past couple of years there’s been a lot of construction to make the area around one historically horrendous intersection (that of 35W/62) better, and it IS.  My complaint isn’t with that area, but with the other end, the area where 62 Eastbound merges with 212 North and 62 Eastbound.

All Crosstown commuters know this spot.  The highway here narrows down from two lanes to one.  For some reason (or more likely multiple, individual reasons) most people line up in the right lane – the lane into which all traffic eventually merges.  There are a few people who (again, probably for multiple, individual reasons) speed along in the left lane until the last possible minute and then merge when the left lane disappears.

I admit to being a passive driver in this situation.  I get in line and usually crawl forward for about five minutes until I’ve passed the merge and then traffic starts to flow again.  I say that I “admit” to be a passive driver, because I think the speeders are in the right; they’re moving forward in an open lane and then merging, just like they’re supposed to do.  

But not everyone feels this way, and I’m nervous about the Right Lane Road Ragers.

Remember, most people line up in the right lane, thus avoiding having to be active mergers.  I think that the mindset for the Right Lane Road Ragers is that we in the right lane have the “power”;  we get to allow people to merge with us because we’re already where we’re supposed to be, right?  And gosh darn, we waited in line – we waited our turn, so no speedster is gonna zip up the left lane and merge in front of me!  ‘Cuz I waited my turn!

Ugh.  It’s so stupid.

Right Lane Road Ragers try to punish the mergers.  One popular punishment is riding bumper-to-bumper in the right lane.  This blocks the merging traffic and forces them to come to a stop when the left lane ends.  The problem with this ploy is that the mergers never stop.  They are a hardier, ballsier breed and they will force their shit into the right lane, causing all of us to stop.

Another popular punishment is riding the line, or out-and-out blocking the the left lane waaay before the left lane ends.  I snapped a photo of a particularly bad example of this a couple of days ago:

See the space in front of the SUV in the left lane?  There’s probably a good half-mile stretch before that lane ends.  This incredible, Self-Righteous Jerk decided to take it on himself/herself to completely BLOCK the left lane.  He/She went exactly the same speed as the right lane traffic for the entire distance from here to the merge, ignoring the sustained honks, the aggressive attempts to move around on the left or right side, the hand-gesturing and yelling.    

What happened is the people in the left lane did some incredibly stupid and dangerous stunts to retaliate and/or just get around him.  One guy did this:

My drawing skills suck, so to sum up: Dude in pink who was being merge-blocked whips to the right, drives between two cars in the right lane, speeds up the shoulder, whips between two more cars so that he’s now in front of Self-Righteous Jerk.  Dude in pink proceeds to SLAM ON HIS BRAKES, flips the Self-Righteous Jerk the bird, screams something over his shoulder, then speeds away.

Truly, podcasts cannot compete with this sort of freeway entertainment. 


So, what am I saying here?

First – everybody STFU and calm down.  Download some soothing Celtic Moon new age-y, Waves on the Beach calming stuff and relax.  Or play some jazz or happy bubblegum pop, death metal, experimental hip hop techno goth punk rock choral arrangement…whatever puts *you* in that nice, peaceful My Fellow Human Beings Deserve My Attention and Respect And Really We All Just Want To Get Home So Let’s Work Together Here mindset (MFHBDMAARARWAJWTGH is the name of my REM cover band*).

Second – Let people merge, you bastards!  When you try to punish people who you think are in the wrong, you cause accidents or attention-grabbing kerfuffles, and that slows all of us down.  Dadgummit, it’s a merge lane, so let people merge!

Third – Isn’t there an entire branch of civil engineering that deals with this kind of situation?  Can’t we get some signs or a campaign teaching people how to use a merge lane?  Reducing the gas consumption, wear-and-tear on the roads, environmental impact from traffic jams, and increasing the ability of emergency vehicles to navigate efficiently through the city…wouldn’t these be great problems for a civil engineer to solve and put on their performance review plan for 2011?  Go team go!


So…I think that’s about it. 

Have a nice day and a safe, uneventful, merge-positive drive home.

*reference for all you non-P&S nerds


Update:  One of the commenters, Senja, called this type of merge a “zipper merge”.  I propose that the “Lane ends, merge right” sign be replaced with the following: 

You’re welcome.

Merging Traffic
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11 thoughts on “Merging Traffic

  1. 1

    Lovin’ the drawings, especially the little pink car and the “put put” car! I’m definitely a drive-in-left-lane-and-merge-at-last-second driver. I’ve also experience right lane jackass that decides to take up two lanes of traffic as a way to punish all…lovely. The civil engrs came up with this zipper merge to allow a peaceful merge…problem is Minnesota is just too nice and polite of a state, and drivers leave the left lane too early.

    1. 1.1

      Exactly, a ZIPPER merge! Why can’t they change the sign from “Lane ends, merge right” to a sign that shows how a zipper merge is supposed to work? Wait, this calls for another drawing…

  2. 2

    Only you can snap a picture of the traffic conditions on your way home, and then dissect, analyze, and narrate the situation to your readers while providing invaluable visuals, before you hypothesize and present several possible solutions. I am particularly fond of the details that went into illustrating your example, especially the yellow line separating the two lanes. As for your suggestions, STFU, “Download some soothing Celtic Moon new age-y, Waves on the Beach calming stuff and relax” had me laughing when I imagined that’s probably what the Righteous Jerk was listening to in the first place.

    American civil engineers are lazy farts and I challenge them to move to Belgrade, Serbia and try to figure out how to move its 2-million strong population twice a day from the centre to the suburbs/apartment complexes across the Danube using only 2 bridges before they start complaining of the difficult situation in cities like Minneapolis. Merge lanes suck – but they shouldn’t suck this much if someone did their job right. [-is my opinion.]

    1. 2.1

      Thanks Jana 🙂 I imagine the SRJ listening Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly talking about how people shouldn’t be getting free rides from the government. No free rides in the left lane, America! Oooo…there’s a joke in there somewhere about the left lane and liberalism…

  3. 3

    This isn’t a Minnesota problem, it’s a human nature problem exacerbated by car culture.

    Cars are purposely designed to isolate you from the world. They give you the illusion that you’re in your own little bubble over which you have complete control. They attempt to insulate you from everything going on around you. The last thing car companies want is for drivers to acknowledge that they’re part of a larger world. (Were that to happen, society might recognize the massive burden cars impose on the world around them.)

    This has a couple of interesting side effects: In a car, you are anonymous to anyone outside of your little bubble. Additionally, everyone outside this bubble exists somewhere else. They aren’t part of your world. You don’t know who they are; you don’t care who they are. In fact, for the most part, you just interact with other inanimate cars, not the people inside them. Furthermore, this sense of isolation causes some motorists to perceive themselves as somehow more important than anyone else on the road. So much so that any time anyone else does anything that one of these drivers doesn’t like, it’s interpreted as a deliberate, personal attack. This is particularly true if the offender’s action makes said isolated motorist feel endangered in any way.

    Human nature is such that the combination of this anonymity (manifesting itself as a lack of social accountability), the absence of the human interaction that evokes human compassion, and the sense of entitlement causes some people to feel that they can get away with otherwise unacceptable behavior. The internet at large is another amazingly complete example of how horrible people can be to one another under these same conditions.

    In both cases, I think the lack of societal repercussions is the largest enabler of this behavior, though the inability to see the ‘human’ effect this behavior has certainly amplifies the problem. Imagine, if you will, that motor vehicle registration records were publicly accessible (as I think they should be since it’s being operated in a public space) and you were able to enter someone’s license plate into your phone and pull up their name, address, and phone number. I’m certain that driver behavior would drastically improve.

    I also believe that if it were the cultural norm (and much easier) to drastically personalize one’s car (even moreso than just covering the back with awesome bumper-stickers ;-), the behavior of many motorists towards their fellow travelers would improve, as well. Though not to the extent of my previous suggestion.

    Incidentally, I’ve yet to hear of a cyclist becoming irrationally irate at another cyclist (aside from online, naturally), even in cases where one was clearly at fault for a major collision. I wish I could say the same for cyclists and motorists.

  4. 5

    In Sydney we have the same problem, and it causes waves of stop and go’s along the motorways.

    The Zipper Merge I learnt while I was in Holland, and it worked awesome, it had me questioning why the hell we arn’t taught this when going for our drivers licence??

    I totally agree that the Road Authorities need to educate people on how this Merging style works. I mean, we have it mentioned our road rules, but no explination of how it works. I have written in to Sydney news stations, newspapers and still no one willing to take a stand, put up and advertising campainge and fix our traffic problems.

    until then, we will just have to lead by example and continue to piss off the passive mergers.

    1. 5.1

      Teaching the zipper merge during driver training and making it part of the driving test is an AWESOME idea.

      Just the other day I was in the right-hand lane – watching the traffic zip by on the left – when some guy from my lane straddled the two lanes, almost causing an accident. Agh! I just wanted to yell at him “YOU’RE WRONG – GET OUT OF THE WAY!”

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