John Kelly
John Kelly
Columnist

Please, after you: Observing the first annual Merge Day

Perhaps Wednesday, June 12, 2013, will go down in history as the Day D.C.’s Traffic Flowed Smoothly.

In Tuesday’s column, I wondered what would happen if — for just one day — every driver who knew another driver wanted to merge actually let him or her in. Would it transform our commutes? Would spontaneous celebrations break out in parking lots from Springfield to Columbia? Would it move the needle at all?

I await your observations on 6/12/13, a.k.a. Merge Day. In the meantime, allow me to share some observations from readers:

Alexandria’s Art Guillory says most of the commuters he encounters are courteous when others are trying to merge. Yet some feel they are “super special,” nipping into exit lanes just to get ahead in slow traffic before squeezing back into the flow.

“Most of these inconsiderate drivers are professional drivers, taxi and car service drivers,” Art said.

Well, perhaps for them, every minute counts.

John Bartoli of College Park feels that he’s pretty generous to merging drivers, but not where a two-lanes-into-one situation has existed for years, such as where Interstate 270 splits off from the inner loop of the Beltway. “It’s not a surprise, yet people insist on staying in the disappearing lane until the last moment to squeeze every last bit of effort into getting just one more car ahead of those who have already merged in an orderly fashion,” John wrote.

My problem with those drivers is that they slow down — sometimes even endanger — motorists continuing on I-495.

Annandale’s Carrie Kausch had an unpleasant encounter recently when merging onto I-66 west from the toll lanes of I-495 — or trying to. “I put on my turn signal and started to try to merge,” Carrie wrote. “The driver I was hoping to merge in front of sped up alongside my car, rolled down her window, and began beating on my car with her hand. She broke my side rearview mirror.”

Carrie was so shaken up by the violence that she didn’t get the license plate number on the other car. (We can at least hope that driver got seven years’ bad luck.)

Would “the zipper” help in any of these instances? That’s where vehicles that are merging from two lanes into one alternate, coming together like the teeth on a zipper. It means resisting the impulse to merge early into the through lane, since that wastes the capacity of the soon-to-vanish lane.

Severna Park’s Penny Zahn put it nicely: “Merging involves ownership of a space which must be relinquished. Zippering implies both sides are equal and dictates that people come together smoothly, one after another, from both sides.”

Jean Gregory has noticed this practice in action in Frederick, where Route 26 meets Route 15. Signs specifically tell motorists to take turns. “Everyone alternates, and it works,” Jean wrote.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a nice explanation of the zipper merge on its Web site, complete with a video of it in action.

Zippering requires that we sublimate the urge to move quickly into the through lane. It also means we must tamp down the irritation we have with drivers who seem to be “getting ahead.”

Zippering isn’t applicable in every situation. It doesn’t, for example, address the simple act of trying to pull into a busy street from a side road. For that, we need to work together, practicing automotive bipartisanship. Call it bi-car-tisanship.

Of course, that seems in short supply these days around Washington.

Send a Kid to Camp

I’m writing this a little before lunch on Tuesday. Perhaps you are reading this a little before lunch on Wednesday. All I know is, I’m hungry now and you might be hungry then.

If so, may I suggest you stop by one of the area’s Clyde’s restaurants, including the Hamilton, the Tombs or the Old Ebbitt Grill? Order the wild Alaska salmon and local berry shortcake and a portion of the proceeds will benefit Camp Moss Hollow, a summer camp for at-risk kids from the D.C. area.

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by going to washingtonpost.com/camp and clicking where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-0045.

Some readers have asked why checks are mailed to Pittsburgh. The bank that is handling the donations is a local one — Bethesda-based Eagle Bank — but its mail-processing center is in Pennsylvania.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

 
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