I‘m done with school for the year, and so, also with my exciting four-hour commute up to Connecticut. Especially after the thaw, that already painful commute got further complicated with lane closures as they tried to repair the damage of Father Winter.
When a lane closes, the remaining lanes move slower. It’s that simple. People follow the instruction to merge (to the left or to the right) well in advance of the last possible point of merging, and as a result, the lane that is about to disappear always moves faster. And as a driver, you are faced with the ethical decision of when to move over. How many cars can you pass and still feel good about moving over? Or should you move over at the earliest possible moment, and sit in traffic as others race past?
It’s a classic ethical decision. I was, initially, of the “early mover over” camp, but then I realized that was dumb. Yes, taking advantage by cutting in on people who are in a queue is rude, but this is not a formal rule of the road, it is simply a warning: slow down and prepare to merge. Some people see that as “merge immediately,” some as “merge when required by the cones,” and most somewhere in between. I thought it was a good idea for the flow of traffic to start to move over, thus reducing the speed drop of forced merges. But there will always be “late mergers” and as a result, it’s stupid to leave all that asphalt unused. Seriously: why on earth do we think that increasing the total length of the lane restriction is a good thing?
Not surprisingly, this has been relatively well-studied, with much of the literature focussed on the type of merge to set up. In relatively sparse conditions, a nice long merge is a good idea. With more congestion, a late merge is smarter (again, since it uses up more of the road). The major problem here seems to be aggravated drivers at the merge point. Since I’ve crossed over from “early merger” to “late merger,” I’ve encountered these drivers. Pissed at having waited their turn while I zoomed up in an empty lane, they refuse to allow me to merge. Usually, the next person (or, ironically, the person ahead of them) waves me in. I understand their frustration–I used to be there, though I never would have aggressively tried to close the space so someone couldn’t merge.
Those who refuse to make space for a merge are the real problem, not the people who are zooming past in the soon-to-be-closed lane. By slamming on the accelerator and brake to make sure there are only inches between their car and the one in front, they set up the preconditions for fender-benders that then lead to extreme delays for everyone. The question now is how–short of leafleting the lane as I pass–is how to educate early-mergers to see the light and use the road?