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A Lesson You Didn't Learn In Driver's Ed, Now You're Enrolled in Remedial Merging 101

by on May 05, 2015 6:30 AM

Take a close look at your calendar.

Spring has been with us for over six weeks – we're halfway to summer!

Trees are budding, plants are flowering, why, you've probably mowed your lawn four or five times already.

Along with all these floral indicators that it's safe to store our winter clothes comes one of Happy Valley's favorite signals of warm weather– the sounds of honest labor.

You will see the flash of their warning lights, you will hear the ringing of their jackhammers, and you will know what they are doing. By the sweat of their brow and the strength of their backs and the courage in their hearts, you will see those vibrant chartreuse colors.

Yes, road construction is underway around the region!

North Atherton Street, Route 322, Route 26, and various bridges in the county are being repaired, replaced or remodeled. Invariably these activities result in the dreaded "lane closure," which brings us to the reason we are gathered here today. Merging.

Yes, merging. For two lanes of traffic to combine into one; to blend or come together without abrupt change. (And yes, technically it could be three lanes becoming two or less, or four lanes becoming three or less, but we're discussing Centre County, Pennsylvania here, savvy?)

Now, I know what you're thinking. I'm a true-blue Pennsylvanian, honorable and fair, and I believe in waiting in line in an orderly manner. As soon as I see the "Right-Lane Closed Ahead" signs I move over into the left lane.

And this is the crux of the matter – you shouldn't be doing it.

What I am about to tell you goes against years of ingrained behavior as well as your own personal moral code of right-and-wrong. It will probably feel like a violation of the laws of nature. But here it is...

When you are driving along and see a "Lane Closed Ahead" sign – if you are in the lane being closed – STAY IN YOUR LANE! From that point there are two possible scenarios that can occur.

The first is you will drive along at the roadway speed, approach the merge point and see that traffic is moving smoothly through the closure at the posted speed. In that case, get in the other lane at your earliest convenience and enjoy your trip.

The second is you will encounter traffic – most likely stopped or moving at a greatly reduced speed. For this I provide you with the language PennDOT uses on many of its road work news releases:

In high traffic locations, motorists are encouraged to use both lanes of travel to the merge point. Once at the merge point, motorists are encouraged to take turns merging into the open lane and continue through the work zone. When motorists cooperate and use the late merge system, it will create a zipper like effect with traffic which will reduce the length of the queue, allow traffic to move more fluidly and also prevent a lot of aggressive merging.

Get it? Use both lanes to the merge point.

I know, I know. You approach a construction area and see a line of vehicles in one lane well before the merge point, with a perfectly clear strip of asphalt with no vehicles on it next to them. And for a moment you imagine the little devil on your shoulder saying, "Go for it, stay in this lane and pass all those people, you don't have to wait!" And then the angel on the other shoulder says, "No, what are you thinking?! You merge right now so you don't have to cut in line later!"

Sure enough, next thing you know, you're in a long line of vehicles. With a clear roadway next to you.

Well, here's your opportunity to live a little, be a trendsetter, and make the world a better place at the same time. Listen to that proverbial devil – stay in your lane and use the clear stretch of asphalt (or concrete as the case may be) all the way to the merge point.

Here's why. Several states have studied merging traffic and their findings are that using both lanes to the merge point shortens the line (by as much as 40 percent!), prevents aggressive merging, and reduces differences in speeds between the two lanes. In addition it creates a sense of fairness and equity that all lanes are moving at the same rate, and best of all, gets more vehicles through. In other words, you're happier, less agitated, and on your way more quickly.

Within the last decade PennDOT began to get on board with the "zipper-merge" and started posting signs reading, "Use Both Lanes to Merge Point," in some work zones. What they found is an approximately 15 percent increase in traffic flow through those areas. It seems when drivers are given "permission" via signage to use both lanes to the merge point, there is less likelihood of resentment building from the drivers who choose to merge earlier than others.

And resentment is not good because when folks in a long line of cars see a driver in the other lane passing them, they think, "Hey, that guy/gal is cheating and trying to sneak ahead!" Then the resentment builds and turns into anger, and the anger turns them into vigilantes who start acting aggressively, and then everyone has a problem because these vigilantes are now a danger on the road.

So please, to keep the Happy in Happy Valley, do what I do, say what I say, and make us all proud. Use both lanes to the merge point!


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John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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