Aberdeen merge shows possible help for 3-304 clash

The in basket: Linda Carr of South Kitsap e-mailed what looked at first like a pretty standard complaint about the rush hour merge where highways 3 and 304 come together west of Bremerton. She described the much-discussed inside lane-outside lane conflict and said that it is so annoying she now goes to doctors and shops in Gig Harbor and times her remaining trips to Silverdale to avoid late weekday afternoons.

“I think others are doing the same because I can notice a mass

exodus,” she said.

Then she surprised me with an anecdote about something she saw last summer while driving from Aberdeen to Hoquiam on Highway 101 where a lot of road work was going on.

“In heavy traffic, two lanes were merging into one,” she said. “I was amazed at how quickly and orderly traffic was getting through the construction zone, and all because of the simple signage they had erected. The first sign instructed you to fill both lanes, the second sign instructed you to merge at the end, and the third sign said “take turns,” and everyone did.

“I wonder if something this simple could improve the situation at this intersection?” she concluded.

The out basket: It was like a breath of fresh air to hear that this had been tried somewhere in the state.

I have been arguing for years that the conflict at that Bremerton merge would be greatly reduced if drivers filled the two lanes equally instead of getting over prematurely. Further, I have come to believe that those who use the right lane to scoot past the drivers who get over early but then loose their nerve and try to force their way into the center lane before they have to, causing that lane to back up behind them, are a major cause of the problems.

I now exclusively use the outside lane when the line is shorter there, and force myself to wait until the two lanes narrow to one before I move over. I have had only one conflict with a driver in the inside lane who sped up to cut me off, but I simply slowed down and pulled in behind him. Traffic usually flows smoothly at the merge.

The maneuver is generally know as the zipper, as cars in the two lanes take turns, like the sign in Aberdeen instructed, meshing like a zipper. I’m told there are signs at merges in Europe that actually depict a zipper.

So…will what Linda saw work in Bremerton? I recognize that a construction zone has a continual conflict, while signs to duplicate that here would seem odd during the majority of hours where there is no backup.

Steve Bennett, operations engineer for the state highways, has this to say:

“Linda is correct, this kind of signing and delineation was used on a short term basis in Aberdeen as part of a construction project.  While we were able to gain approval from the Federal Highway Administration to use this kind of non-standard signing for temporary, low-speed situations, they did not favor its use for higher speed installations.

“The “’take your turn’ idea would probably work well during the peak hour during high volume/low speed conditions, and it may even work well in the middle of the night during low volume/high speed conditions.

“Our concern is during those transitionary times of relatively high volume/relatively high speed conditions.  As this kind of signing does not assign right-of -way, it would not always be clear to drivers who should go first.  We feel that kind of direction is important, especially during those transitionary periods.”

3 thoughts on “Aberdeen merge shows possible help for 3-304 clash

  1. There is plenty of room shoulder room for emergency vehicles. I asked about maintain speed signs a couple weeks ago and it seems the state is refusing to try something a little outside the box that could be a cheap, simple partial solution to this problem. Right now traffic comes to a complete stop. A few well place instruction signs may keep traffic moving even if only 15mph it would be much faster than now. Someday in the near future this area needs a complete revamping, but since it is not even on the 20 year plan, some outside the box solutions must be tried.

  2. I’m coming in on this a little late, but taking turns does indeed make traffic go much faster and smoother. There have been studies done on people panicking and trying to jam their way through doorways versus people lining up and going through the doorways one at a time. In every case, it’s been found that people who rush for the doorway tend to jam up, fewer people get out, and it takes them longer to do so. Something to remember if you ever have to exit an airliner or a room when there’s a fire.

    I also know that when I was doing traffic control and funneling cars coming at me from three sides going into into one lane, I was offered a tip on how to keep people cool about it. That was to simply tell each person who he was to follow out into the road and keep rotating around the three side streets in turn. It worked like a charm (to my surprise). No one tried to cut in, there was no honking, yelling or road rage and while traffic didn’t exactly move steadily, it moved very smoothly when it did move and I received numerous kudos from people who expected to be there for hours.

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