Last week I was stuck in the mother of all non-holiday traffic jams-- Tuesday night repaving on I-95 northbound. For better or for worse, I entertained myself for an hour and a half by listening to the second presidential debate. Not a bad way to pass the time, but not what I expected to do during a trip that usually takes about 11 minutes.
The cause of all this craziness? Merging down from three lanes to one. You’d think by now folks would know how to do that in an organized, timely manner, but no. To find out why normally thoughtful, rational people are incapable of this simple maneuver, check out the latest by Tom Vanderbilt-- Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). In a recent interview he summed it up quite nicely:
Merging is the most stressful single activity we face in everyday driving, according to a survey by the Texas Transportation Institute. People who have done studies at highway construction work zones have also told me of extraordinarily bad behavior, triggered by this simple act of trying to get two lanes of traffic into one. Sometimes, it’s simply the difficult mechanics of driving — trying to enter a stream of traffic flowing at a higher speed than you are, for example.
Drivers, to quote a physicist who was actually talking about grains, are objects ‘who do not easily interact.’ But I also think there’s something about the forward flow of traffic that makes us register progress only by our own unimpeded movement; as in life, we seem to register losses more powerfully than gains, and registering these losses boosts stress.
Wow. If his theory sounds familiar, check out the financial headlines from last week.
So what did I learn from all this? The next time I hit 95, I’m checking the Connecticut DOT website before I head out. You know all of those cameras along the roadway? They record what the highway action is like in real time. No waiting for traffic info on the 8’s or 10’s (and praying they will say something—anything!—about the Connecticut roads), just live pictures of headlights and tail-lights moving right along.
Another option is to check out the Tom Tom One GPS system, a great resource for finding those less traveled alternate routes. Either way, you can bet I won't be listening to tonight's debate from my car!