Thursday, August 07, 2008

Lane-merging: The scientific way

At last, vindication.

While researching totally other topics, I found this piece in Sunday's New York Times magazine addressing at length the question of whether it's OK to zoom to the front of the vacant lane when a merge looms, and the other lanes are full of drivers patiently waiting their turn.

Remember the piece I did last month, "A contrarian look at lane-merging"? It hit a nerve, with most people firmly on the side of those who wait patiently in line. You'll note I didn't say I do this. I don't want people shooting me the finger, or maybe bullets. I just said it would be more efficient if people just did alternate merging.

The scientists who study that sort of thing -- and amazingly, there are many -- appear to conclude that if the world were full of perfectly behaved drivers, it would be more efficient if everyone used all the lanes possible, but left enough space in front so the mergers could merge without anyone having to stop.

This will happen, of course, about the time that all our kids do their homework with no nagging, bluebirds sing in the meadows all day and everyone learns the proper use of it's versus its.

16 comments:

Sloan From SouthPark said...

I'd leave the drivers alone, and wish for perfectly behaved developers instead.

Just think. No unfinished skycrapers uptown, no single-family neighborhoods ruined by 10-20 story projects, no mega-mansions where they don't fit, no deforested acreage sitting idle, no rezoning battles, no campaign contributions with the intent of influencing city or county officials.

The downside is that Mary wouldn't have as much to write about.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again, how many posts till this turns into a north/south "debate".

Anonymous said...

The problem is not when traffic is still moving, it is when you are stopped and people feel the need to blow by you in the lane, then the emergency lane all to stick their nose in.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. I don't see anything in Sloan's comments above that would even hint of a noth/south debate. Can you enlighten us?

Anonymous said...

Sloan, you need to post as "Anonymous" like the rest of chickens, instead of using a name tied to a particular part of town. That way folks won't make unreasonable, prejudicial assumptions about what you're stating.

I far as I'm concerned, you expressed some valid points.

(P.S. - That was probably the McCain campaign weighing in above.)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The north/south comment was in refrence to the 3 different blogs on this topic last month.

Anonymous said...

It's all because of all those people moving in from out west, I tell ya!

Rebecca said...

Hey Mary this is totally off topic but who in the city is responsible for street cleaning? Every morning as I walk to my office I am more and more dismayed at the out and out filth on the sidewalks. Mondays are the worst - restaurants seem to feel free to leave trash and stinky stuff spilling out of dumpsters and leaking all over the sidewalks. Not to mention the decaying vomit (and worse) from the weekend revelers. Where can I call to complain/rent a powerwasher? I may need to start weraing rubber boots!

tarhoosier said...

It's-meaning it is, or it has, is rendered with an apostrophe (it's). All other uses are without apostrophe: its.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's probably true that if cars were not driven by people, but by computers with perfect driving skills and the ability to wirelessly communicate and coordinate with each other in order to maintain an appropriate level of speed and spacing, then it would be more efficient to use as many lanes as possible.

But cars are driven by people. Given that slightly more than half of all people are below-average drivers, have bad reaction times, and don't pay attention to what's going on on the road, we have to use rules that don't allow for a totally logical approach. One of those rules is: When you see something blocking the lane up ahead, GET OUT OF THAT LANE. It's not fair for someone to charge up the empty lane and then butt in in front of those who've been waiting patiently to proceed past the obstruction.

And it doesn't matter how many scientific studies you trot out.

Anonymous said...

I am willing to bet that the accident rate would skyrocket if we actually had to depend on people to merge properly at the last second while maintaining a reasonable speed. It would take about 3 minutes for someone to get cut off, causing an accident which would block the only remaining lane.

At least when people "bail out" in advance they have time to slow down, put on a turn signal and wait for a good samaritan to let them in safely.

Mary Douglas said...

I lived in a big city in another state for many years. The norm there is to use all lanes until the point of merger. Everybody does it, it moves traffic faster, it is more efficient.
Manners has nothing to do with it.
It makes no sense to leave a lane unused, but given this is the way it is done here, best to respect local custom.
Re: this blog, people should take responsibility for their opinions/tone and sign their comments.

matt said...

I am a blow-byer. I will continue to do so, but it is completely idiotic to sit in a long line of traffic when a lane is wide open.

Merging is perfectly acceptable; it is not rude. What is rude is for drivers to make a possible short conjestion site into a five mile long backup because they want everyone to wait patiently.

So, throw me your finger. I will be the one up ahead of you using lanes for what they were meant for - driving in.

Anonymous said...

I am a blow-byer

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

Dill Wilstrom said...

There is nothing scientific about it. It's completely fair to use all available space and then go 1 by 1, alternating. Everyone gets a fair shake. Willy-nilly stopping and merging at a random time based on when each individual driver realizes they have to merge necessarily slights the 1/1 order of merging based on factors like if the car in the lane being merged to happens to be driven by someone who will let you in at a random time. How can anyone possibly say that it is rude to use the full lane when it is efficient and the only fair way to merge!? Insanity. I have long witnesses this bizzarre behavior on the freeway in many parts of the country and have considered it one of the most salient examples of human stupidity. I comment about it every time I see it. I feel highly vindicated to have seen this discussion and am baffled at the amount of opposistion it engenders.