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Why Traffic Scientists Want You to Cut People Off

Akash Panda is a blogger, entrepreneur, and writer. He is also a professional content writer who writes content for social media sites.


We've all been in this situation: you're going home from the hospital after a serious injury caused by a fan throwing bricks at you as a joke, and you notice that the right lane is about to stop due to the construction of a new McBurger Wendy's, and you're stuck in traffic.

A multi-lane roadway will be reduced to only one lane. So, how do you go about it? So, being the morally upright, law-abiding citizen that you are, you merge into the left lane as soon as possible and wait in line while listening to your podcast Showmakers, which is now accessible on Nebula.

However, while you wait in line, thinking about what a wonderful point you're going to make in the podcast, you see that some punk-faced idiot in a hot-red sports vehicle doesn't merge over. He stays in the right lane until just before the convergence point, when he merges left, cutting you and everyone else in front of him. Isn't that a jerk? Wrong.

What if I told you that the "jerk" in the right lane was none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? I'm sure you're kicking yourself for calling him a jerk now. What if I also told you that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn't cut in line; instead, he did exactly what traffic experts recommend? It turns out that merging early is detrimental to traffic flow. It's like debating politics with your grandparents–it may seem like the proper thing to do at first, but everyone just becomes angrier, and you get left out of pop pop's will. The explanation is simple: amid congested traffic, everyone merging early clogs the available lane unnecessarily, leaving a large stretch of perfectly fine road idle. Instead, traffic experts propose the zipper merge, in which automobiles travel in both lanes until they reach the merge point, then take turns passing through it, shutting like the teeth of a zipper.

Some experts claim that implementing the zipper merge may cut traffic by 40%, while others claim that dolphins can swim at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The second group of specialists was made up of dolphin experts. In Fort Collins, Colorado, near the junction of Southbound Lemay Avenue and East Horsetooth Road, directly adjacent to the Warren Tennis Courts, Warren Lake, and the offices of an Allstate insurance agent called Jennifer Harms, one real-world example of the difficulties a zipper merge may address can be observed. On Lemay, there are two left-turn lanes, but here's the thing: most folks just want to be on Horsetooth for a split second before turning right back onto Lemay right here. As a result, all of the vehicles prefer to congregate in the inner turn lane, ensuring that they will be in the right lane after they turn, allowing them to make an easy right turn back onto Lemay.

The number of vehicles that utilize South Lemay's far left turn lane is the same as the number of vehicles that have been hit by: one blue Acura. And here's the issue: because there's usually a big line of cars in the inner turn lane, it takes longer for them all to pass through the signal, which means the traffic lights have to stay green for longer to clear them all out, which means everyone at this junction has to wait longer. Everyone would be better off if vehicles equally split themselves in the two turn lanes and then zipper merge into the right lane on Horsetooth. That's why the Colorado Department of Transportation has supported the zipper merge, even dedicating a full page to it on their website, complete with a video showing the nasty chef from Orange is the New Black and a youngster violating labor rules.

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Minnesota's Department of Transportation ran a full-fledged campaign in 2011 to encourage drivers to use the zipper merge, including billboards, public service announcements, YouTube videos, and even purchasing the domain name, which they've since abandoned and may now be owned by someone whose name isn't mine. North Carolina even added a set of speed sensors and large light-up signs in 2019 that would detect impending merging congestion and advise vehicles to "USE BOTH LANES TO MERGE POINT, Y'ALL."

Zipper merging has been a widespread procedure in Germany for years, and they even have a long, complicated German name for it: Reißverschlussverfahren.

However, not all states have agreed to combine their zippers. And that's because, like airport security, communism, and this joke about communism, works well in principle but not usually in practice. And this is because theory ignores the human component of driving––specifically, our potential for malice.

Because so-called "traffic vigilantes" observe someone trying to perform a late merge and refuse to let them in, they believe they're exercising pure, cold traffic justice by refusing them admission, rather than what they're doing, which is causing even more congestion and danger of collisions.

The good news is that if humans don't figure it out soon, computers will, at least if self-driving cars are ever pushed out in the widespread fashion that experts have said will happen in the next three years for the past 10 years. The most effective method to minimize traffic is for all cars to travel at a constant pace at a fixed distance from the car in front of them, which is one of those things that people are terrible at but computers are fantastic at.

Until then, now that you've read this article, you may start merging at the last minute and bask in the joy of knowing that you're right and they're wrong when others honk or shout at you.

© 2021 Akash Panda

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