Tag Archives: merge

Some thoughts on changes planned at 3-304

The in basket: I read that money has been set aside to modify the merge where highways 3 and 304 meet west of Bremerton, described in news stories as restriping to allow both lanes of Highway 3 to flow through and eliminate the merge into a single lane that now backs traffic up past the Loxie Eagans interchange during rush hour.

The stories say it will cost about $4 million. I wondered how on earth they could spend that much on restriping, until reporter Sun Ed Friedrich supplied the answer on page 1 a week ago

The out basket: Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the Olympic Region of state highway, says, “The work at the SR 3/SR 304 merge will be much more than just a restripe. The project will do some widening and ramp reconstruction to change the configuration of the interchange.

“When the work is complete, the two southbound SR 3 lanes will continue through the interchange (where now they narrow to one lane), and SR 304 traffic will merge onto SR 3.

“This project’s goal will be to relieve peak-hour congestion. The current timeline of this $4.2 million project is design from 2015 to 2017; construction from 2017 through 2018.”

So much for my advocacy of getting rid of the signs directing southbound Highway 3 traffic to merge left early and adding signage encouraging the “zipper” move of cars alternating at the actual merge point. With both lanes going through, there no longer will be a need for that. I don’t suppose the state is likely to introduce such a change for the three years the existing merge will continue.

I’ve long had the nagging notion that the existing interchange was different when it was built than it is now, and the Bremerton mayor of the time successfully lobbied for some modification that served the city’s interests. I asked former Mayor Gene Lobe and he said he tried to get it built with two lanes from the city but didn’t succeed.

But, in fact, says Bingham-Baker, the interchange was originally designed to allow both Highway 3 lanes to pass beneath the 304 overpass and merge to one later, but still before Highway 304 traffic met it.

In 1986, the merge point was moved back to where it is now, due to concerns about ice forming under the overpass in the winter. There was a drainage problem that created a pool under the overpass then and it was felt it would be easier for traffic in a single lane to deal with the ice when the pool froze than it would side-by-side traffic. In those days, freezing temperatures were more common than recently.

The roadway was originally built to accommodate two lanes southbound. It’s uncertain how long the two lanes crossed beneath the overpass, as they will again by 2018.

$4 million to restripe 3-304 merge?

The in basket: I read that money has been set aside to modify the merge where highways 3 and 304 meet west of Bremerton, described in news stories as restriping to allow both lanes of Highway 3 to flow through and eliminate the merge into a single lane that now backs traffic up past theta Loxie Eagans interchange during rush hour.

The stories say it will cost about $4 million. I asked how on earth they could spend that much on restriping.

The out basket: Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the Olympic Region of state highway, replied, “The work at the SR 3/SR 304 merge will be much more than just a restripe. The project will do some widening and ramp reconstruction to change the configuration of the interchange.

“When the work is complete, the two southbound SR 3 lanes will continue through the interchange (where now they narrow to one lane), and SR 304 traffic will merge onto SR 3.

“This project’s goal will be to relieve peak-hour congestion. The current timeline of this $4.2 million project is design from 2015 to 2017; construction from 2017 through 2018.”

So much for my advocacy of eliminating the signs directing Highway 3 traffic to merge left early and adding signage encouraging the “zipper’ move of cars alternating at the actual merge point. With both lanes going through, there no longer will be a need for that. The state is unlikely to introduce such a change for the three years the existing merge will continue.

Once again, the 3-304 merge in Bremerton

The in basket: Mark Darling e-mailed recently with a suggestion about the afternoon backups where highways 3 and 304 merge west of Bremerton. His words matched almost exactly my opinion of how things can be made as non-aggravating as possible.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that it would be safer and more efficient to just state that there is one lane ahead and not give preference to one lane or the other.
“That way the merge point would move closer to where the two lanes actually become one and neither lane would feel ownership that they are in the continuing lane, maybe lessening some of the road rage that comes from the cutters and the blockers,” he said.

“I’ve seen a lot of gyrations from drivers moving left as soon as possible, racing down the right lane to pass those on the left, inching along in the right lane to prevent those who would pass on the
right and drivers with no traffic near them moving to the left lane at the last minute before it narrows down to one lane.” He said “This one really puzzles me, as there is no real reason to move left at that point and the right lane seems to be banked better for the right hand sweeping turn than the left.”

The out basket: Here, here, I told Mark, referring him to some of my past columns that urge just that, as well as adoption of the “zipper” maneuver in which drivers at the actual merge point alternate, having filled the two lanes equally by ignoring the merge left signs and choosing the lane with the shortest backup when they come to the congestion.

Drivers who insist that they have trouble getting into the single lane at the merge because drivers in the left lane won’t let them in mystify me.

As Mark notes, the banking at the merge point makes merging there easy. Just proceed slowly along the edge line. There’ll always be an opening that doesn’t slow down those in the left lane, unless an aggrieved driver in the inside lane risks his own vehicle to frustrate you. The one time that happened to me, I just slowed down and pulled in behind the hot head.

I’m convinced that the driver whose conscience or lack of nerve causes him to force his way into the left lane before its necessary worsens the backup via what’s called the accordion effect, pushing the slowdown he creates backwards.

Mark replied to my reply and asked if the state has ever weighed in on the suggestion of not making it clear which lane is ending. I had to say I don’t ever recall getting the state’s opinion on that.

Claudia Bingham-Baker of the public affairs staff for the Olympic Region of state highways provided it for me when I then asked.

“(We) follow signing and roadway striping standards set in the federal Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD),” she said. “The MUTCD requires that when two lanes merge into one, signs be installed to let drivers know who has the right-of-way. The signs help drivers know what to expect. They also provide clear indication of right-of-way, which is essential for accident investigations.”

Incidentally, I’ve quit trying to apply the zipper theory where the Loxie Eagans on-ramp enters Highway 3, or coming out of Bremerton on Highway 304. The banking that makes it work at the 3-304 merge doesn’t exist in those other places.

Showdown on Highway 304

The in basket: Voris Siegle-Marsden describes an incident on Highway 304 coming out of Bremerton the afternoon of June 8.  “I was driving with a passenger at the point where traffic merges from the right,” she said. “A rental pickup and trailer hauling two fork-lifts sped up from the right lane, forcing me to either get creamed,

or perform (an) evasive, avoidance maneuver.  I know it’s a moot point, but who has the right-of-way in that situation?

“Maybe I need to take the AAA safe-driver class again——.”

The out basket: Maybe so, but not on account of this incident.

Vehicles in the lane that is ending must yield to those in the lane that is continuing, if no signs say otherwise, and I believe there are pavement markings and signs that reinforce that rule of the road at the 304 merge. Those in the HOV lane have the right of way.

Had they collided, the driver of the truck would have been at fault. It sounds like that driver decided to push his weight around and keep his momentum up rather than slow or stop and have to wait for a break in traffic large enough for his vehicle to get into at a slower speed.

 


Why merge traffic toward the center line and not the shoulder?

The in basket: Linda Bruns of Belfair, a frequent traveler on Highway 3 between there and Gorst, read the recent Road Warrior column about left turns off the highway into Airport Auto Wrecking near Sunnyslope Road and called me up with a suggestion,

Why not have the merge of the two uphill southbound lanes of Highway 3 into the single lane be to the outside lane rather than the inside lane, she asked. That way the cars would be moving toward the ditch rather than oncoming traffic during the merge, which struck her as a lot safer if something goes wrong. It might even make those left turns into the wrecking yard safer, she said.

The out basket: I told Linda her suggestion made a lot of sense and I’d ask the state  why the merge is the way it is. What Linda and I hadn’t considered is a countervailing hazard of doing it the other way – the blind spot all drivers have at the rear right of their vehicle.

Steve Bennett, operations engineer for the state highways in this region, told me, “Merging traffic from right to left has become the national

standard for lane reductions.  The reason it is done that way is because of better driver visibility.

“When a driver moves to his left, it is

fairly easy to determine if the lane is clear as there is no blind spot. It is somewhat more difficult to make that same determination when

moving to the right. Often, when moving to the right there can be a

small area to the right rear of the vehicle that is more difficult to

see.  For this reason, at most lane reductions, we move drivers from

right to left.”

Merge problems on Warren Avenue Bridge

The in basket: Two readers have written me about problems they’ve had with drivers merging onto the Warrren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton at the very short off-ramp from Callahan Drive to proceed south toward downtown..

Archie Fuhrmann and William, who asked that his last name not be used, both told of drivers who merge without looking, signaling or …..  (egad) stopping. Bill advocates a stop sign on the ramp and Archie proposes a flashing light on the yield sign there.

The out basket: I’m thankful that I rarely see a driver stop on that on-ramp because of traffic already on the bridge. I regard stopping on an on-ramp, even on one that short, as clear evidence of a timid, fearful and inexperienced driver.

I often use that ramp and have never had a conflict I couldn’t resolve by either speeding up or slowing down slightly to avoid the other car in the bridge’s outside lane.

The state law requires any driver merging there or on any on-ramp to signal and anyone who doesn’t risks a ticket. Still, I don’t know what it adds to safety. There’s nothing else a driver on the ramp can do but merge left.

When I’m on the bridge, I prepare to merge to the inside lane if I’m not already there and I see a car coming up that on-ramp. I encourage others, especially those who  find that spot scary, to do the same.

A stop sign would just make things worse. It would keep all merging drivers, not just timid ones, from maintaining a speed that provides the flexibility to either speed up or slow down as the situation requires.

The Yield sign there is on a street light pole. I suppose a  flashing light could be added, but it seems to me that Bremerton, which would have to add such a light, has numerous other shortcomings on its streets more deserving of its street money.

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.”

The “accordian effect” and “shockwave traffic jams”

The in basket: Dustin Butler of Port Orchard writes, “I’ve noticed over the years that the merge at the Bremerton treatment plant on Highway 3 doesn’t really cause the huge backups. The same is true coming onto the freeway from Navy Yard City too, now that the HOV lane is there.  The problem actually seems to start with people not speeding up again after the merge or slowing down well after the merge, possibly nervous when meeting with the other lane.
Recently, Dustin said, “I went through there during the normal (about 4 p.m.) rush hour. Since it was holiday, there was no back-up of cars merging, but well after we were in one lane, but before meeting up with the second lane, all the cars came to a complete stop then started creeping slowly not gaining speed until after meeting the other lane. That is just one example of seeing this hundreds of times in this area.
“In other areas (I can’t recall an exact area, but California I believe),” he said, “I have seen signs that say maintain speed or similar wording.  Is there any evidence these signs work and has the state considered trying something like this in this area?  The small cost of the experiment would save millions in waste even if it just worked a little.” he concluded.

I doubt that very many of those who pass through that area at weekday rush hour would agree that the merge doesn’t cause the backups, but I often see what Dustin describes slightly ahead at about Windy Point, when all the merging of Highway 3 and 304 traffic is complete.

I asked state officials if the highway pros have an explanation for the phenomenon there and other places where traffic regularly comes to a standstill for no reason that is apparent when one finally gets to the point where traffic starts moving freely again. I also ask about the practical impact of “Maintain Speed” signs.

The out basket: Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olympic Region of state highways, replies, “I’m not sure if this applies to your question exactly, as I generally think of this happening on longer corridors, but there is something called the accordion effect that may explain this phenomenon.

“Basically, it occurs went traffic is heavy and for some reason a driver slows. This then sends a ripple of braking down the corridor, each driver, in turn, slowing slightly more than the driver ahead of him.  If the line is long enough or speeds slow enough, this can eventually get the trailing traffic to zero mph.”

Steve referred us to a New York Times article about “shockwave traffic jams” that can be seen at

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/what-causes-traffic-jams-you/.

It includes a video of a Japanese experiment that created  a shockwave jam in which a vehicle slowing creates a shockwave behind it that grows until traffic is barely moving  at all. The test in the video involved a whole bunch of cars traveling in a circle at 30 miles per hour until something caused the cars to bunch up and slow. Check it out.

As for “Maintain Speed” signs, Steve says, ‘No, there is no evidence that these types of signs have any effect on traffic.  Drivers tend to drive the speed they feel comfortable going and will not modify their behavior because a sign tells them to do so.”

Corolla driver has problem with new Highway 16 merge

The in basket: Marsha Bradshaw prefaces her complaint about the new interchange at the Burley-Olalla Road on Highway 16 by calling it “wonderful”

“I lost the year to construction but it is so worth it.  The contractor did an excellent job on our wee little overpass and so timely, too!

“But….when one is headed towards Gig Harbor from the Burley-Olalla road on the new on-ramp…those of us with small cars cannot see to merge until the last teeth-grinding seconds of the ramp and the freeway travelers cannot see us to help us merge because the Jersey barriers block our approach all the more. (There’ve) been some fearful moments for a lot of us!

“Side mirrors, twisted necks and rear views are of little help if all one can see is the cement barrier.

I drive a Corolla sedan,” she said. “There are a lot of us short cars around using the on-ramp as well as the taller, more  visible SUV’s and semi’s….please help.”

The out basket: State Project Engineer Brenden Clarke says it’s the first complaint he’s heard about this and there are no plans to modify what is there.

“The distance between the end of the barrier and the beginning of merge area into Highway 16 (the end of acceleration length) is approximately 1,025 feet.  Based upon the average driver and automobile, a 1,025-foot acceleration length would take a driver from 25 mph up to 60 mph.  

“Assuming that a motorist is traveling at 60 mph when they enter into the ‘merge area,’ they will then have adequate distance to merge into Highway 16 traffic and they will be a thousand feet from the barrier so it will not block their line of sight.  

“Difficulties could arise if a motorist does not accelerate up to 60 mph while traveling on the ramp, but this would be true at any interchange.  

“I understand that it does feel more comfortable for motorists to be able to see mainline traffic for the entire duration of the on-ramp, but again, there is sufficient distance in what we call the ‘merge area’ for motorists to look over their shoulder and in their mirrors to identify traffic and make adjustments in order to safely merge into mainline Highway 16.

“The concrete barriers are a permanent feature,” he said. “The reason this interchange makes use of so many concrete barriers is that there are retaining walls between the on- and off-ramps with substantial differences in elevation.  The retaining walls allow the ramps to be closer to mainline Highway 16, reducing the amount of right-of-way necessary for the interchange foot print.

 

 

Freeway mergers must yield

The in basket: Joy Forsberg of Central Kitsap said she got a dirty look from a women who was merging onto Highway 303 at Central Valley Road, heading to Silverdale recently, after Joy had decided to maintain her speed in the outside lane rather than moving over or changing speed to allow the woman in ahead of or behind her. 

It wasn’t the first time, either, she said. Is it no longer the responsibility of the person entering a freeway to yield to anyone on the freeway already, she asked.

Though she often does move to the inside lane in such situations, that time she chose not to. “She should not expect me to speed up or slow down” to let her in, Joy said.

The out basket: No, the law hasn’t changed, and should there have been a collision, the woman entering the freeway would have been at fault. 

In the real world, though, most drivers do move over to the inside lane to make way for the entering car. The dirty look may have been because the other woman was expecting that, rather that a belief that it was a requirement.

The woman did slow and fall in behind her after scowling at her, Joy said. 

She noted that often a car in  the inside lane keeps a driver from moving over, though she didn’t say if that was the case during her small confrontation.