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.
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: