Merge – Jan 2019

Queue Rod Serling’s voice:  You are casually driving down the highway.  Traffic is light to medium, your pulse rate is barely above resting state. Your wife is sitting contentedly next to you, the dog is sound asleep in the back, skies are clear – it is a great day to be out on the road.

In the distance, you detect an orange construction sign that tears you from your reverie.  As you approach, you read “Right Lane Closed 1000 Feet”.  

The dog is still asleep, your wife is still content.  But you have taken on a new persona.  

Your pulse rate elevates, mouth is dry, hands are sweaty, you check for any adjacent vehicles near you during the 30 trips you take to the rear-view mirror in the next 20 seconds.  It is hard to say exactly, but it feels like everyone’s speed has just crept up.  Furtive looks.  Strategic positioning.  When do I leave the right lane and merge into the left… good versus evil.

The driver passing by you, who moments before reminded you of Forrest Gump…

…  has morphed into Hannibal Lecter.  

I’m having an old friend over for dinner

It is now a race – keeping in mind that you have for hours been ambling down the road at a casual pace with not a care in the world.  It does not matter.  This is war.

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Merge Zone (apologies to Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone).

It is, after all, a new year and it might, or might not, be relevant to reflect on our driving habits.  What are your inclinations as you head down the road this year… 

A friend of mine posted the picture below in Facebook, and while I do not share her view, it does raise an interesting discussion about the proper etiquette for merging traffic.

I think we are all familiar with that merge zone and how much drama and road rage can be created. It is really silly, but it exists.

Now I have seen a solution! In several states, when the first merge signs go up, they also post signs saying “Maintain 2 Lanes Traffic”, and at the final point where it drops down to one lane there is a big assed sign that says “MERGE HERE!”.  This is actually called the zipper merge.  No drama, no road rage, everyone behaves like adults, and it is highly efficient.  More states should do this.

But that unfortunately is the exception, not the rule.  So, for us mere mortals, what is the right etiquette?

My curiosity caused me to do a little research.  I even looked at etiquette blogs, but I found them woefully inadequate to this vexing issue.

I went to our son who is a civil engineer to get his perspective.  He hates things that aren’t well thought out or are inefficient.  He implied, basically, dad, you are out of your lane even talking about engineering issues.  Here’s a son who clearly understands the hard stop limits of his father’s abilities.

Being the anal-retentive soul, I could not leave it there.  I had to find out more.

According to Wikipedia, “In traffic engineering, the late merge or zipper method is a convention for merging traffic into a reduced number of lanes. Drivers in merging lanes are expected to use both lanes to advance to the lane reduction point and merge at that location, alternating turns.”

According to the Minnesota DOT (Department of Transportation), their recommendation is to merge late and perform the “zipper” merge in order to reduce road rage and improve the merge process.  In almost every state, there is active discussion about the merits of the zipper merge method.

According to my research, in most countries, drivers can be ticketed or otherwise penalized for not taking the late merge approach (merging only at the last moment).  In Germany and Austria, it is required by law!  

Apparently, Tennessee is one state that does not support the zipper merge and prefers the early merge, but that is one of only a few states that take this approach – overwhelmingly, most other states prefer and recommend the zipper merge.  You’d think the home state of the guy who invented the internet would be a little more forward thinking… J

Let’s go out on a limb.  Let’s assume that orange barrels placed in a lane of traffic implies that lane is closed.  I think we can safely agree on this as not being controversial, right?  So similarly, if there are orange cones set up that do not block a lane of traffic, shouldn’t we assume that lane is open for traffic?  Just sayin’.

Regardless of strategy, my advice to everyone as you travel the highways and byways this year? Be kind.  Be thoughtful.  Don’t be a dick.

Welcome to my lane.

You’re welcome.


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