Tag Archives: zipper

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.

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.”