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
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
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
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
“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