On the Merge of a Nervous Breakdown
(Posted by guest blogger Steve Hendrix) Since we only have a half-day today (they are changing the oil on the blog machine between noon Tuesday and noon Wednesday), let's tackle the following Hypothetical Driving Ethics Situation That Happens All The Time. What would you do?
The situation: The stretch of the Inner Loop in Montgomery County where 1-270 meets the Beltway is pretty-much permanently jammed. Normal there is defined as bumper-to-bumper traffic moving at 45 miles-per-hour or slower. But at the far left is a lane that is almost always empty. It's a merge lane bringing cars onto the Beltway from Wisconsin Avenue, and it's very long, almost half a mile. Well, half a mile of empty is too much for many drivers (the ones who want to be fighter pilots, mainly) and they pour into that merge lane and floor it. Sometimes they veer across two or three lanes to get there, all to leapfrog a dozen or so cars before the lane disappears and they have to merge back.
Important fact: There is a solid white line between the merge lane and the rest of the Beltway. And we know what a solid line means in traffic law don't we drivers? That's right. It means DO NOT CROSS.
I don't like this behavior. I think it's pushy, potentially dangerous and against the solid white line law. I have been known to quietly remonstrate with my fellow drivers when they careen crazily in front of me to do this, just to gain a few seconds of advantage over the rest of us.
Surprise twist: I was recently a passenger with two male friends on this same stretch of the Beltway when we observed exactly this behavior from other cars. When I expressed my disapproval, one of my friends, a generous and gentle soul in non-driving life, said: "Oh, I always do that." Well, it's always disquieting to come face-to-face with the devil and I was still reeling when my OTHER friend, who is a transportation professional with experience in traffic management, agreed! "From a flow perspective," he said, "It's a good idea to maximize all the available space in all the available lanes."
Surprise backward twist: "But what about the solid line law," I beseeched my traffic pro friend. He looked again and confirmed that it was solid. "You're right," he said. "That changes things. That is meant to keep cars in place to reduce the risk of collision at a particularly busy merge. You shouldn't enter that lane."
To which my Satanic friend said, "Pshaw."
So who is right?
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