AWESOME AWESOME ARTICLE!! I also live in western Washington State, just south of Tacoma in Lakewood. I worked for a few years as a Traffic Flagger and realized the same things about traffic flow as you stated in your article. But I never thought about it with scientific terminology like you phrased it. I used to come home from various parts of King County down 405, 18 or I-5. Very very VERY rarely did I use 167 because it's only two main traffic lanes with an HOV and is notoriously slow in the morning and evening. Most of the time I would drive across King county to get to I-5 instead of using 167.
Back to your article. After sitting in a lot of rush hour myself I too noticed the effect of maintaining a slower constant speed so I wouldn't get to the tail end of a back up until it was starting to move. A few times other people behind noticed why and how it worked and also started leaving a lot more space. Even though they could've passed me they didn't, just stayed behind and kept a large buffer. On the other hand there are many people that think because there's a large gap in a lane it must be faster. Well if that was the case than the traffic in that lane wouldn't be slowed too, even though there is a gap ahead!!
I've noticed sometimes it's not worth leaving a large buffer space of a 1/4 mile depending who is on the highway and how many of them are lane jumpers and just running ahead only to make the back up grow. If traffic is rolling at a constant speed like say 20 mph than I don't worry about leaving an extremely large gap for 2 reasons: 1. If it's moving slow but steady that's what's important, 2. If it's moving slow and steady and there's a large gap people keep jumping in and you have to slow down to regain the space lost. From what I've seen leaving the large gaps of 1/4 only seem to be most effective when traffic is extremely slow or stopped and usually people just stay put.
It’s funny how people tailgate me in a traffic jam cause there’s 4 or 5 car length’s of open road ahead. Than when the opportunity is right they jump lanes, pass me and than 5 seconds later we’re stopped again but now I’m behind them instead of them behind me.
That is very weird that you mentioned the idea of the State Patrol doing a rolling slow down to get the traffic back to a consistent speed. I had thought of the same idea while working as a Flagger except that’d it’d be easier to have DOT do it as long as they block all the lanes so the traffic can't race ahead. The problem is getting the vehicles to an area where they are needed. Of course they could have some units stationed in places that are notorious for back ups. But it would be expensive to have units stationed throughout the Puget Sound region and than having to use gas driving to a slow down and than more time spent maintaining traffic flow for say 45 minutes up to several hours.
I think the better idea would be variable speed limits. Have electronic signs so the speed can be adjusted as needed by traffic monitoring equipment like the equipment that controls the HOV toll rate on 167. Than to make sure drivers obey the temporarily lower speed limit have a State Patrol parked along the highway checking speed and issuing tickets for violators. Also doing an ad campaign on TV, radio, internet and articles in the newspapers would help raise awareness of how to drive in heavy traffic and what motorists can do make it smoother. With 3 large military installations in the Puget Sound and other large corporations we’re always getting new people. So the other challenge would be having to always educate new people by continuously publicizing how to drive in heavy traffic. Which would get annoying for those of us that know the techniques and what to do.
I realized a long time ago that mass transit is good. But here in Puget Sound the lifestyle has become when we want to go somewhere we have complete freedom to do that anytime 24/7 with our cars. To build a transit system to meet that same lifestyle would be very expensive cause there would have to be trains and buses available 24 hours a day. We definitely need mass transit, don't get me wrong. But there needs to be a lot more focus on better traffic management.
I have to come to think of the Puget Sound region (Pierce, Kitsap, King, Snohomish, Thurston and Lewis counties) as one HUGE GIANT suburb that spans tens of thousands of square miles and has a large variety of terrain from hills to valley's and lakes to inlets. And trying to develop a mass transit system that can efficiently transport someone from Buckley to work in Seattle or someone in Bothell that wants to see family in Yelm, just isn't feasible without a huge network of trains and buses and the willingness to do transfers and layovers at various stops. As compared to just driving a car directly and get from A to B in an hour or so.
I'm a firm believer in the zipper merge on the highway. But the DOT needs to post signs about using both lanes until the merge point AND just as importantly signs about leaving space so people can merge quickly and safely. When I'm on any of our various freeways and are approaching an on ramp and there's congestion on the freeway and on the ramp I make a point to leave A LOT of space to let 10-15 cars merge in and have noticed that once they're in the traffic lane if things aren’t completely stopped ahead traffic in the lane will get moving again fairly quick. I started doing this cause a lot of people get bumper to bumper when approaching an on ramp and those getting on can't merge cause there's no room. People on the freeway need to spread out and the people coming down the on ramp need to spread out so the two lines can zipper together quicker.
One thing that frustrates me to NO END is people that don't know how to get up to speed on a freeway on ramp. When I come down an on ramp I put my foot into the gas and have the mindset of watch out here I come. Of course I adjust my speed accordingly so I can merge with the flow. But my mindset is I'm coming down this ramp and I AM getting on the freeway. Why people come pokin down a ramp at 45-50 mph and traffic is moving at a steady 60+ mph and than expect traffic to slow for them is beyond me!! Another thing that irritates me about this is when I’m coming down a ramp at the speed of traffic and ready to merge and some idiot just refuses to let me merge. I read on another website that we learned this behavior from the lunch lines in school. That there are no cuts, you MUST get to the back of the line and wait your turn. Ironically enough though, when I get on the freeway I rarely stay in the far right lane. After I merge I usually get over at least one lane. So when it happens that someone won’t let me in and I finally find a merge point and get over and pass the person who wouldn’t let me in I wonder what they’re thinking now that I passed and are in front of them anyway.
I used to work nightshift in Federal Way and Maple Valley when I lived in Tacoma and now in Lakewood. (Which is why mass transit wouldn't work for me, cause there are very few buses and no trains that run at 9 or 10pm and could take me the 33 miles from Lakewood to Maple Valley.) Here's my point though. I would leave at 10pm to be to work by 11pm. I would get on I-5 and set my cruise at 60mph and just chill in the right lane and most of time had a relaxing commute to work in 35 minutes. (My commute Lakewood to Maple Valley during the morning or evening would be an hour if you're lucky, more likely an hour and a half, 2+ hours if traffic is bad.)
So anyway, I'm chillin in the right lane in my 4 cylinder Ford Tempo with my cruise on 60mph and approaching an on ramp all by myself with absolutely no other cars in my lane for miles behind me and none in front of me and here's comes an SUV down the ramp. I don't think much of it, they'll probably just speed up and go faster than me like most people do. But no, the other driver starts pacing me and it's getting to the point where they have to merge. They're not speeding up or slowing down. Several times it has happened at the very last moment they decide to step on the gas a little so they can cut me off and get right in front of me. After hanging there a few seconds they decide they wanna speed up and put their foot into the gas and take off for the horizon at a considerable speed. The opposite has happened an obviously much more powerful vehicle coming down the on ramp and starts pacing me and gets to the point where it's merge or wreck and they slow up to just below 60 so they can get behind me. After hanging there a few seconds and realize that I'm not going to speed up above 60 they put their foot into the gas and take off. It hasn't always been SUV's, big pickups etc. There are some cases where they were cars and some were V6 or V8 with obviously more power too.
In either case of being cut off or someone suddenly getting behind me I'm always dumb-founded why they found it soooo extremely difficult to merge with on single solitary car when all they had to do was accelerate more coming down the ramp and just merge in the lane before I approach the end of the on ramp too. Even with my little 4 cylinder Tempo I had no trouble merging into traffic I just come down the ramp with my foot in the gas and the mindset that I will be merging and start looking for a spot as soon as I start down the ramp, not at the last moment when it's time to get over.
A comment about Work zone merging from a Flagger's perspective. Waiting to do a zipper merge on the free way is a good thing if everyone plays nicely. The traffic barrels really don't care if you run up on them at 60 mph and merge over with only inches to spare. But when approaching a Flagger that is standing behind cones directing you to get over we really appreciate it when you do it sooner rather than at the last moment when you're next to the cones. The problem is when you're standing there in a lane of traffic and the only thing between you and the traffic are some rubber cones there's no way to tell who is paying attention and who isn't. Who is going to change lanes right at the cones and who is going to run through the cones cause they aren't paying attention? There's no way to tell and when a car is right on top of you it might be too late to get out of the way if they do run the cones. You would be shocked how many people I've seen driving distracted. Reading books or newspapers, doing make-up, talking on a cell phone, eating out of a food container with a fork, fooling with a laptop computer, fumbling with CD's. So when that car is running up on the cones there's no way to tell if they're going to get over, or run you over.
We also appreciate if you don't come running up to our stop signs at full speed and stop right next to us. Once again that's how people stop at regular stop signs. The stop sign at an intersection doesn't care if you stop at the last moment or come to a slow stop. But as for Flagger’s if someone is approaching to stop right next to us like a regular stop sign we can't tell if you're going to stop right next to us or run our stop sign. Flagger’s can't enforce traffic laws or issue tickets, we have no more authority to enforce traffic laws than any other joe on the street. Cops can only issue tickets for running a Flagger's stop sign if they see the violation, just like a regular stop sign. I almost had an unmarked Pierce County sheriff car run my stop sign on a side street in Spanaway. 35 mph road, all of our orange signs set up that some motorists ignore and here comes this cop and almost ran my sign at about 35 mph. I leaned my stop sign out and waved it a little to get his attention and sure enough he came to a very quick stop and than gave a quick abrupt wave at me cause he knew he was in the wrong.
Come to a slow safe stop anywhere from 20 to 30 feet back from the Flagger. If you get closer to the Flagger it doesn't mean you're going to get through quicker. Depending on what other traffic is doing or what is going on in the workzone you may want to stop even farther back. If for some reason you have the unquenchable desire to ask the Flagger a question allow your vehicle to roll slowly up to them and look at them and roll down your window. Some Flagger’s like lot's of personal space or maybe the workzone demands they keep traffic away from them. If they motion for you to stop than comply and wait patiently. Flagger's take a lot of sh*t from stupid and angry people and sometimes, like me, can have a terse very directive attitude like a drill sergeant. If they raise their voice or are very curt don't take it personally and flip them off, cuss them out, or swerve like you're going to hit them with your car (which is aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and you can be arrested if we get your plate & description to give police). Our job is to get cars through the workzone safely and efficiently and the job is stressful enough and dealing with motorists who don't understand what it's like as a Flagger makes it worse.
(I’m very happy this is an open forum. There are many websites I’ve come across where I’d like to leave a comment but they require registration. I don’t want to go through all that hassle cause I don’t do blogging and keep up on all these “threads” anyway.)