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letting some cars get ahead of you is NOTHING
February 21, 2011 7:54 AM   Subscribe

10 years ago Metafilter discussed William Beaty's Traffic Wave theories about why traffic jams happen. Since then he's conducted some experiments that he says prove regular drivers can help stop them from happening.

Also recently there's been some more formal corroboration.
posted by Potomac Avenue (105 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Science has no chance against douchebaggery on the road perpetrated by egotistical morons who think letting someone in ahead of them is tantamount to socialism. You could explain this till you're blue in the face and 90% of male drivers will still speed up to close the gap the second I put my blinker on to indicate I need to merge.
posted by spicynuts at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


I believe his is metafilter's own. His own website is full of awesome science stuff.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:01 AM on February 21, 2011


I do this all the time, since I first saw that post. I get weird looks from the typically brain-dead St. Louis drivers -like "Why aren't you more aggressive?!?!?!?" It's great to see the people behind me, after shaking their fists and honking at first, get this mellow, well-I'll-be-damned look as we just kinda coast along at idle.
posted by notsnot at 8:02 AM on February 21, 2011


I could spend my entire commute trying to get two car lengths farther than everyone else, but it would be stupid and pointless.

This seems to be the entire theoretical underpinning of traffic going into Providence between 3-6pm. It is indeed stupid and pointless.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:03 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's all keep one foot behind the car ahead and everyone step on the gas as soon as the light turns green.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:04 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I believe his is metafilter's own.

Neat! I just sent him a MeMail.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:08 AM on February 21, 2011


I have no idea if this is helpful to the flow of traffic or not but I've realized that on long drives if I just hang out in the right lane going slower than 90% of traffic (usually the speed limit) I pretty much never have to pass anyone, have plenty of space in front of me, and am a lot more relaxed.
posted by ghharr at 8:13 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


The wave theory was the an answer to a tailgating askme I had a couple of years ago, and it completely changed my driving habits. I force myself to maintain at least two car-lengths or more depending on the speed of the stop and go, and I've discovered that, in doing so, I use my brakes only a fraction as much. And not hitting my brakes means that all the cars behind me are keeping a consistent speed as well.

In my head, I call it "breaking the wave".
posted by quin at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2011


Apart from causing jams, the follow distances in SoCal (and other parts of the country I presume) are INSANE - having a follow time of <3s (corresponding to ca 400 ft at 65mph+) will likely get you killed if there is a real crash.....
posted by lalochezia at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whoops, that should have been a link: tailgating askme
posted by quin at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2011


and 90% of male drivers

Male drivers? Seriously?

Look, I was a full-time point-to-point courier driver in the greater Phoenix metroplex for nearly 3 years. Logging someplace between 250 and 300 miles of urban traffic each work day. And I'll tell you, based on that rather extensive informal polling of other people's driving habits, this isn't about gender, at all. Some of the most aggressive, selfish drivers I've ever seen were females driving Escalades.

But all that aside, I think most of traffic frustration comes mainly from not understanding the true zen of traffic. You must be a droplet in the stream, not a pebble. Reach out with your senses, learn to read the ebb and flow, plan ahead but not rigidly. It takes practice, but it's pretty easy to be the droplet and not the pebble if you truly want to learn how.
posted by hippybear at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2011 [33 favorites]


I remember years ago seeing a story, I think in Car & Driver. Two cars started in Dallas. Car 1 pushed it the whole way, car 2 just set his cruise control with the flow of traffic and took it easy. The guy in car 1 did get to Atlanta quicker, but it was only 30 minutes or so IIRC, definitely not enough to justify the stress and hassle of trying to push it halfway across the US.
posted by COD at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2011


Male drivers? Seriously?

Do you think I've conducted a scientific study? It's an anecdote from my own experience. Just like yours. I'm perfectly willing to admit that the douchebaggery extends to women.
posted by spicynuts at 8:23 AM on February 21, 2011


You must be a droplet in the stream, not a pebble.

I am a leaf on the wind.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:25 AM on February 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


We CAN stop traffic jams! Everyone jump on your Twitter or Facebook account and overlay your profile pic with a tire tread as a sign of solidarity!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:25 AM on February 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing the part where he talks about actual traffic jams? Not "someone stepped on their brake and now there's a wave of stoppages" but "there are just too many cars on the road for the amount of space available and more cars are entering at every on-ramp". I've tried the "maintain the average speed of traffic", but what if the average speed of traffic is less than my car's idle speed?
posted by muddgirl at 8:35 AM on February 21, 2011


So, I'm stopped dead in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and some asshole comes whipping up the slow vehicle lane which ends right ahead of me ... my letting him in makes everyone go faster?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:40 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with this approach to stopping traffic jams is there's no reward for the actor who solves the problem. He's expecting largesse; I'm the polite guy who leaves two car lengths ahead and lets jerks merge in front of me so that people behind me will not have a traffic jam 10 minutes later. Nice idea in theory, not so much in practice.

I sure hope automated driving systems eventually get adopted. Just a little bit of central control for traffic spacing would solve a lot of congestion. Metering lights at on-ramps already do this in a crude way and it seems to work very well.
posted by Nelson at 8:42 AM on February 21, 2011


You all prolly heard about the nth midwest snowstorm that happened yesterday into today. I was late getting out of the house by 10 minutes and managed to get to point B faster than I have ever been able to because folks were driving 60ish. And sure, volume had a hand in it as well, but still... I am glad there's a website that can explain this.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:44 AM on February 21, 2011


So, I'm stopped dead in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and some asshole comes whipping up the slow vehicle lane which ends right ahead of me ... my letting him in makes everyone go faster?

No, No... even William Beaty can agree, screw that guy.

I mean, pissing that guy off is one of the legitimate joys in life
posted by deliquescent at 8:52 AM on February 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Looks like a serious amount of traffic wisdom here. I thought the whole 'If I let them get in front of me I'm LOSING the RACE!' mindset was localized to me. I think the psychology of the drivers is the most important part of traffic.

All that said, I'd love to see some analysis of Raleigh, NC. I've never seen normal traffic on a 65+ freeway come to a standstill in one lane for anything less than an accident before I drove in that city. Poorly managed exit design and blind corners still have their role.
posted by NBJack at 8:53 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, I'm stopped dead in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and some asshole comes whipping up the slow vehicle lane which ends right ahead of me ... my letting him in makes everyone go faster?

I especially like the ones who then begin to merge in front of you despite having no room, as if you're going to be intimidated into letting them in. No, jackass, you don't get to force me to a complete standstill to get into traffic. Go ahead and sideswipe me going 20 mph. I have good insurance and I'm not in a hurry.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:53 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel like this dude maybe has some unrealistic expectations of drivers in large aggro metro areas. If you leave a huge space between you and the car in front of you on the BQE, the only thing that's going to happen is the immediate merge of a dozen cars from other congested lanes into that empty space, solving nothing.

This is why we need hood-mounted lasers.
posted by elizardbits at 8:57 AM on February 21, 2011


I don't know what they're like on a day-to-day basis as I don't commute on the 520/90 bridges, but I *love* the dynamic speed limit system they've put in place, at least in theory.

Does anyone who commutes one of those routes have anecdotal evidence that things are better/worse than before?
posted by AaronRaphael at 8:59 AM on February 21, 2011


Every traffic study should ultimately conclude with "and this is only until we have intelligent traffic computing grids robust enough to robot-drive every car and keep them all moving at ideal speeds with no stopping ever, not even through busy intersections."
posted by Burhanistan at 9:01 AM on February 21, 2011


The super aggressiveness of everyone else creates a law of large numbers / efficient market hypothesis with respect to lanes much of the time. It doesn't matter what you do, so just chill.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:01 AM on February 21, 2011


Bill Beaty is Metafilter's Eternal September.
posted by Tube at 9:01 AM on February 21, 2011


I feel like this dude maybe has some unrealistic expectations of drivers in large aggro metro areas. If you leave a huge space between you and the car in front of you on the BQE, the only thing that's going to happen is the immediate merge of a dozen cars from other congested lanes into that empty space, solving nothing.

Well actually the idea is that it solves a lot because it evens out the wave dynamics of speed differentials. Essentially if everyone is driving slowly rather than speeding and stopping the jam will dissipate. Giving speeders a place to go accomplishes this, at little loss to you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:03 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it just my observational bias or do BMWs commit more than their fair share of douchebaggery?
posted by whuppy at 9:05 AM on February 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is it just my observational bias or do BMWs commit more than their fair share of douchebaggery?

BMWs come equipped with a specially-designed precision douchebag augmenter. In most cases, the driver is not engaging in douchebaggery, it's just been carefully engineered to seem that way.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:07 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Is it just my observational bias or do BMWs commit more than their fair share of douchebaggery?

That is indeed a good question. I've noticed many 5-series BMW owners acting as if they were driving the greatest car that ever was or ever will be produced, and that in turn means that they were the secret sperm donors for Jesus--they are just that awesome. But, then you'll see idiots driving dinky tricked out Scions or Cavaliers or whatever also acting like they're driving the baddest ass Lamborghini. The problem is their sense of self was never taught proper boundaries so they expand well past their body and into their car, whatever brand it may be.

But anyway, ever since I read about wave-like traffic jams 15 years ago I've made a conscious effort during slowdowns on the freeway to avoid tapping the brakes if possible, thus somehow reducing the jam. I'm glad to see my hunch wasn't unfounded.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:10 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


So . . . if we can change human nature, we could eliminate a problem that involves humans.

This will continue to be a problem, I forsee, until we have self-driving cars, and a generation has grown up using them exclusively. Until then, "me first!" and "None Shall Pass!" will continue to blockade the road and hold everyone else up.
posted by Blackanvil at 9:12 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Front and rear mounted bazookas would be just as effective.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:14 AM on February 21, 2011


The most interesting factor in driving psychology is that people think the driving behaviors that frustrate them are unique to their city.
posted by thebordella at 9:14 AM on February 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've longed for a car-to-car communication system. You could punch in the plate # and state of the car in front of you, and it would anonymously transmit your message of choice after a moderate delay. I'm thinking a choice of:

"Way to go douchebag! Obviously I was saving that car-length in front of me specifically for you!"
"Thanks for hitting your brakes with 50 car-lengths in front of you to the next vehicle"
"Next time instead of tailgating would you like to crawl up into my asshole?"

and so on.

Or maybe just a warning light (check engine style) that alerts a driver when a nearby car is upset with them.... "I'm watching you asshole!"

of course, I would never get lit up......
posted by ish__ at 9:30 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


if we can change human nature

You know, driving like this is human nature, too.
posted by mediareport at 9:39 AM on February 21, 2011


Just a note, William Beaty did not invent the shockwave hypothesis. It's been a standard explanation for inefficient traffic flow for probably 20 years or so. I took an Intro to Traffic Engineering class in '94, and it included the shockwave explanation.
posted by electroboy at 9:51 AM on February 21, 2011


Good point: I meant they were "his" insomuch as he was championing them.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2011


Is it just my observational bias or do BMWs commit more than their fair share of douchebaggery?

BMWs come equipped with a specially-designed precision douchebag augmenter.


Is it just my observational bias, or do Audis come equipped with TWO douchebag augmenters?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:04 AM on February 21, 2011


electroboy: Just a note, William Beaty did not invent the shockwave hypothesis. It's been a standard explanation for inefficient traffic flow for probably 20 years or so. I took an Intro to Traffic Engineering class in '94, and it included the shockwave explanation.

Part of me thinks it might be older than that. I'm trying to remember if it was discussed in a book I looked at on traffic modeling from the 60s. That definitely had something about traffic as a Boltzman gas, but that's different.

Anyway, it seems from the arXiv that cellular automata are the rage these days.
posted by hoyland at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The best thing about driving a BMW is that I don't have to worry about soiling other BMW driver's good name with my douchebaggery.
posted by sexymofo at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, jackass, you don't get to force me to a complete standstill to get into traffic. Go ahead and sideswipe me going 20 mph. I have good insurance and I'm not in a hurry.

Recently, on AskMe.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2011


We CAN stop traffic jams! Everyone jump on your Twitter or Facebook account and overlay your profile pic with a tire tread as a sign of solidarity!


How about a sticker across the rear window which reads

"Am I driving too slow?" TrafficWaves.org
posted by fullerine at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


His Zen warrior effect - "the calm philosopher that helps everyone around me" is why I drive like he does. It makes driving so much better for me even if I am actually not shattering traffic jams.

My current bumper sticker says: "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." Flow like water, baby.
posted by acheekymonkey at 10:13 AM on February 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I commuted from OC to LA for several years, then from Ventura County into LA for many more. It was a very long commute. Once in LA, I usually had to run around to various parts of town for work, so I got a pretty good familiarity with the freeways and traffic patterns.

At the very beginning it was massively frustrating. Then I decided - in free moving traffic - to cruise at 62-63 in the right hand lanes, and at other times, just to chill in the middle lanes, keeping lane changes to a minimum. Commuting, you frequently see cars you come to recognize, day after day, hitting the same spots at more or less the same time. I was very amused to see some cars race past me and disappear into a knot of traffic ahead of me - only to see the same car race past me again ten minutes later. And again in twenty minutes.

I look at it like this. If you drive for an hour at 70, you'll get where you are going about ten minutes sooner than if you drove 60. Now, in metro traffic, you need to drive much, much faster than 70 to keep that average speed at 70. Figure in surface streets and lights for when you are off the freeway, and that average is pretty much impossible to maintain. There is no realistic way - in traffic - to get anywhere ten minutes faster, at any distance. So just chill out. The open highway? Sure, let her rip.

I also found that if my behavior was much more predictable, the traffic around me seemed to be much more mellow and predictable. Letting people in a clogged lane used to bother the hell out of me, but after a while I just said the hell with it, and if people need in, they need in, and I don't need to be a dick about it. It had zero negative effect on my driving time, and I was a lot more relaxed.

Once I understood metro traffic, I realized that I was among the best and most courteous drivers in the world. I have never had a problem changing lanes in heavy traffic, and have really seen real dickish behavior a couple of times - you know, people speeding up to cut off an open lane, that sort of thing. That's human nature, and it's the attitude of an "amateur". The commuters know the unwritten rules, and know that we are in this together. We cooperate.

Oddly enough, the traffic in the hinterlands is worse. People have a much greater sense of entitlement, and have not developed the social skills required for driving in heavy traffic. I find that you are more likely to be cut off or squeezed out in the suburbs than anywhere else. Metro traffic is heavy - not bad. Suburban traffic is bad, but not heavy.
posted by Xoebe at 10:13 AM on February 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


I am an unabashed WAVE GOBBLER. I eat those fuckers up like Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast. Wave Gobbling is a wonderfully good feeling, in fact, I dare say I feel entitlement from the knowledge that I am single handedly destroying a rat bastard traffic jam. Want to get in ahead of me? Good luck, because I don't exist and neither do you. For the concept formally known as "I" - once a feared and hated warrior of the road - has now transcended space-time to join the cosmic consciousness.

WAVE GOBBLE 2012
posted by special agent conrad uno at 10:24 AM on February 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


The concept formerly known as "I" doesn't proofread because proofreading fucks with zen like whoa
posted by special agent conrad uno at 10:26 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like to create a giant wave behind me, so that everything ahead is smooth and serene.

Surfing the wave is where it's at.
posted by zippy at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2011


Xoebe: Almost as importantly, commuters know how to read other driver's signals. Driving well in heavy traffic means paying attention to other drivers and reading their "body" language. It's why during commute hours traffic drives a lot smoother than it would with fewer cars on the road at other times. (It's also why I'm convinced Friday traffic is almost always so much worse than the other days of the week. Too many people going into the city for the weekend who don't normally drive in heavy traffic.)
posted by aspo at 10:34 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't read this article in a long time, but I've been thinking about this author for years.

Whenever I'm driving and come to a jam, I think about the author glancing up in his rear-view mirror and being so sure that his suave driving is affecting miles of cars behind him. I still don't understand how anyone look in his mirror and be able to assess this, even if he wasn't concentrating on keeping a nice, smooth distance from the stop and go cars in front of him. I've tried it--even on the same bridge he talks about; maybe I need to do some vision exercises or something. I think I'll probably rear-end someone one day trying to do it. But for years my vision of this guy has been this smug motorist internally hi-fiving himself for being Captain Traffic and saving the universe from jams--with people three cars back not even noticing a difference. Then I see his picture on Metafilter and it humanizes him, and I don't know what to think anymore.

I agree, this helps smooth things out a little, which is good for your car, which is good for your mpg. But it doesn't solve anyone getting anywhere any faster. His own animations seem to show the same number of cars merging together whether or not it is a smooth line of traffic or not. When you have too many cars in one area, it just slows down.

The one thing I wished they instituted in Seattle was on-ramp lights that were lit a block ahead of the actual onramp. If the light were offered as a deterrent from getting on the freeway in the first place, I could choose another method to get where I want, both saving me time waiting in traffic and reducing traffic on the freeway by me not being there. Volume of cars changes a lot more than style of driving.

Then again, style of driving is one thing I think Seattle has problems with. Because it's such a transplant city, there are many different styles of driving. And the Polite-Seattlite "you go first", stopping miles of traffic behind does not match with the aggressive recent transplant from LA (that's what they all assume), so nobody knows who to expect when merging, and cars do the equivalent of the awkward sideways shuffle dance you do when you're trying to get around someone when walking.
posted by razdrez at 10:37 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Letting people in a clogged lane used to bother the hell out of me, but after a while I just said the hell with it, and if people need in, they need in, and I don't need to be a dick about it. It had zero negative effect on my driving time, and I was a lot more relaxed.

This. So much this. It is so tough at first, because you don't want to be behind the asshole who zoomed up, but the thing is, if you don't let them in, they are going to force their way in behind you and stop everyone for several cars back because of people seeing the brake lights and freaking out.

Now I just take the, "You want in? Sure, go ahead". I don't believe in karma, but I can say that my hour spent in the car each day is much less stressful.

I like to think of it like this: until I can legally force assholes off the road and beat an education in proper driving and paying attention into them, I'm going to take the high road and just let them in.

Because it's cheaper then killing them.
posted by quin at 10:52 AM on February 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


If this has been around for ten years, my question is: has anyone adopted this into their teaching method for new drivers. Why isn't there a PSA about this? Why no NOVA special? Frontline?
Some enterprising Mefite should surely make a bumper sticker that sez 'I break for waves!' so that like minded drivers can recognize their fellows and begin to act together in traffic.
Douchebags gonna douchebag, but i find that if i see someone breaking the wave i try to help, match their speed, do it myself, and it keeps me calmer in traffic.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:53 AM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


To the ragging on BMW douchebaggery: back when I drove a 528e several friends suggested to me that the difference between a BMW and a porcupine was that the porcupine had the pricks on the outside.

As a Bay Area driver, though, I have to say that I think I'm as likely to get cut off by an oil burning 1980s Honda with KPFA and "Free Leonard Peltier" bumperstickers as I am by an Escalade with child seats. As a former BMW driver, though, I admit that there could be some confirmation bias in that observation.

My hope is that even before we get self-driving cars, or even "road trains", a little bit of smarts combining GPS nav systems, real-time traffic information, and maybe (although this bit isn't strictly necessary) these new range-sensing cruise control systems should be able to dramatically raise road throughput.
posted by straw at 11:20 AM on February 21, 2011


> has anyone adopted this into their teaching method for new drivers.
Definite yes, and long ago. I recall something in a magazine about a professional race driver teaching classes involving this sort of flow management, ending with a 'race' across some big city during rush hour between the teacher and each student.

Dunno where. Maybe The Atlantic?

The writer, one of the students, said the pro always won -- his method being never to stomp on the brake and never to accelerate fast, and always leave room and give good signals to other drivers to keep them moving.

I'd already been doing it, having noticed how big clots of cars packed together tended to move along together with big open spaces between them, and realizing I could move much more safely if I drove just a bit slower and let each of those clots move past me than if I tried racing up from one to the next.

Example -- In rush hour traffic this gets some incredulous double takes when other drivers realize that I gave them a wave and a space to move into rather than a finger and a challenge, but most of them blink and take advantage of the opportunity, and traffic flows a bit better.

Example -- freeway driving, particularly at night, I stay as much as I can in the big open space between clots. Typical bind to avoid: coming up on a big slow truck in the right lane. Looking behind I can see a clot coming, cars side by side at the front. I know if I stay in the right lane, they'll rush up behind me in both lanes -- then start competing to capture the left and I'll be stuck behind the slow truck for a long while; if I move to the left most of them won't figure out why, and they'll rush up and try to pass me on the right and keep crowding through the space between me and the truck.

So I tap the brake lights (not the brakes, just the lights) and put my turn signal on, and move over slowly. And in the rearview mirror I notice the leaders of the clot also moving over into the left lane instead of rushing up on the open right lane.

I get past the slow truck and move right over immediately, signaling again. The clot flows around the truck and past us, I keep moving at the smooth pace, a few other non-clot drivers also move over past the truck.

I also hit the 4-way flasher when I see I'm coming up on a clot of very slow or momentarily stopped traffic, and start slowing down. The signal gets attention from drivers who would otherwise go rushing up at full speed, oblivious to the clot ahead, and then slam on the brakes -- and I can see the ripple of caution move backward as other drivers notice the extra blinkenlights and slow a bit, and a few others will also turn on their flashers. Often nobody has to come to a stop at all, and the clot dissolves at least for a while.

Works for me.

Smile as you blow by.
posted by hank at 11:25 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought this post was going to be about this MeFi author. I'm a few chapters in to his book right now. Interesting reading.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:31 AM on February 21, 2011


I minimize hitting the brakes when I drive. Which means I drive slower than most people around me when there's lots of traffic. Which seems to drive all my passengers crazy-- "everyone's passing you!"

I encountered the "people will just get in front of you" argument when I first started driving, because I left a space like the driving instructor had said to do. My response, at 16, was to ignore this assertion, as it came from someone who drives like an aggressive maniac. So I found out early that sometimes people will jump in the space, but usually not. I have done the aggressive driving thing, but "keeping a space" has makes driving in traffic a much nicer experience. Except when I have passengers.

Sometimes it's not so zen, not so pleasant. Sometimes I'll get the tailgater who drives 1 foot from my bumper. At night, sometimes I'll get the one who turns on his brights and forces me to flip down my mirror. My response to tailgaters is to go even slower, both out of concern that they're going to hit me and out of aggression.

And sometimes aggressive drivers are just aggressive, no matter what. A couple months ago, a driver pulled up and got me to open my window, at which point she yelled, "fuck you, too!" At my confused look, she yelled something about me showing her a middle finger, and then sped off. A few months before that, someone rolled down their window to accuse me of being the one to furiously honk at them as they waited in traffic like everyone else. They gave me a "yeah whatever" response when I showed them that my horn didn't even work.

Not having a horn made me aware of traffic around me like nothing else. I already had very few distractions-- my radio doesn't work either. But I am now hyperaware, because I've had no choice but to plan ahead and be very sensitive to what others are doing. It made me aware of a degree of entropy around each vehicle that I'd forgotten about since I stopped commuting by bike.
posted by zennie at 11:39 AM on February 21, 2011


I once did some playing around with time lapse photography of my commute; I drive across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to get to work, and it's one of the few ways to convey the scale of the bridge. So when the camera was running I set the cruise to a little under the average traffic speed so I wouldn't have to change lanes or use the brakes much, so as not to make viewers motion sick.

When I showed the video to some of my coworkers, one of them immediately yelled "What's wrong with you man! They're all passing you! You're driving like a little girl!"

At an apparent speed of seven hundred miles an hour.

I just said "there's something wrong with you, man."
posted by localroger at 11:40 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it just my observational bias or do BMWs commit more than their fair share of douchebaggery?

Another point in the anecdata array: We've got some pretty lousy Beamer drivers here in the capital of dumb new oil money on the Canadian prairie, but the worst drivers on our highways, by a margin so wide it seems certain to be part of the psychographic marketing profile of the vehicles, are drivers of late-model crossovers, those sort of but not really SUVs for people who kind of vaguely thought they cared about fuel efficiency but were too plug-dumb and/or vain to actually research it.

Drivers of the BMW and Mercedes versions are pretty bad, but the worst, for reasons I don't yet fully understand, is the Chevy Equinox. My encounters with Equinox drivers indicate that they are invariably texting on iPhones while watching Youtube videos and trying to put lipstick on their burgers, is how distracted and erratic are the Equinox drivers of Calgary. I don't even get angry anymore, I just take evasive action.

Anyway, if this link's of particular interest to you, two book recommendations that treat the subject with a bit more rigour:

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
(thorough deconstruction of our driving mania; makes a subtle but pretty watertight case for the idea that driving a car is the closest to literal insanity most of us submit ourselves to each day)

Critical Mass by Philip Ball - dense but layman-oriented overview of the lessons of partical physics as applied to human systems; has a chapter on traffic flows that compares them to phase transitions, and refutes pretty fully the idea that any one driver's behaviour can affect the overall flow of traffic once it has transitioned from moving to stopping; it's all about the aggregate behaviour.
posted by gompa at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've always heard the 'merge by putting your bumper in between two cars' thing as a "Baltimore Merge".


(And yes, I am guilty of it, but I try to get more than a bumper in place, if I can.)
posted by sperose at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2011


I've noticed many 5-series BMW owners acting as if they were driving the greatest car that ever was or ever will be produced, and that in turn means that they were the secret sperm donors for Jesus--they are just that awesome.

goddamnit I only have a 3 series
posted by desjardins at 12:34 PM on February 21, 2011


Multicellular Exothermic: "Audi"

Worst of the worst, only thing that is below them are American-made trucks in urban areas.
posted by wcfields at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2011


Since we're naming cars that we associate with douchebag driving, I'd have to mention Honda Odyssey minivans. I don't know why, maybe they wish they could still be driving their BMW but had to give it up to haul kids around.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2011


By a happy coincidence, the big-spaces, match-speeds, easy-on-the-brakes-there style of driving also improves your gas mileage; you keep cruising at one speed instead of having to accelerate again every few moments.

By another happy coincidence, having a big space in front means I don't have to tunnel my vision on the brake lights a yard ahead of my bumper. I can see more of what's around me, slot myself in among the cars merging from my right, time any leftward lane changes to fall right in a nice gap as it slides up past me, slip peaceably into the lane with fewest cars in front of me when I roll up to a light, and see what's happening ahead of the guy ahead of me. I know I'm doing it right when I see him brake hard at the exact same instant I was braking gently anyway.

Now, with our modern data infrastructure, we could be doing even better than that. Suppose you start building cars that report their velocity on a cellular data network, combine those reports from others, and light up a dashboard indicator to show the average speed of traffic one to five miles ahead. Forewarned is forearmed: You can build up a space to carry into a jam, anticipate a slowdown so you don't turn it into a shock wave, or even just grab the next exit and take an alternate route.

You'd have to be a bit clever to ensure that you could associate vehicle reports with the road they were on, but a good deal of the clever stuff has already been built anyway: in-car GPS, small cells with directional antennae on the towers, soft handoff (if you use CDMA) which allows several towers to triangulate position even without directional antennae, and so on. The cell infrastructure could be run for profit, or as a public utility. Or you could do without it, using a car-to-car packet network a la APRS, but GPS would no longer be optional.
posted by eritain at 12:46 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Double favorites for Xoebe and hank. It really does seem to help with the "I'm losing feeling if you reframe it mentally as taking charge of the whole flow, directing people where they need to go. Someone needs to merge. It's a fact. Ok, you go here, in front of me, problem solved, we'll all move on. Communication works, people. Use your turn signal and give it a minute instead of no-signal or short-notice surprises; the pros will adjust to what you want slowly, smoothly and easily. The observation that it's much tougher to drive around amateurs is spot on.

Funny, I'm in the Seattle area, too. Seeing his photo on his MeFi profile now, it's possible that he was that dude way back then.
posted by ctmf at 12:48 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has anyone else noticed that Volvo drivers are the new Audi/BMW douchebags? I can count at least 4 incidents in the past month and all have been Volvo sedans (and not the same ones each time).
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:49 PM on February 21, 2011


Since we're naming cars that we associate with douchebag driving

Lexus. This is actually my go to example when I'm explaining what "confirmation bias" is;

"Have you ever noticed that whenever you see a Lexus it's invariable someone who is driving like an asshole? More likely, you don't notice Lexus cars on the road when they aren't driving like jerks, and when you see a jerk not in a Lexus, you just think 'what an ass' and forget it, but when you see a jerk in a Lexus, it totally confirms your observation that Lexus drivers are all assholes, and so you remember it."

Which I always follow up with: "of course, in this particular case, you'd be right. All Lexus drivers are assholes. but that doesn't diminish the point of how confirmation bias works..."
posted by quin at 12:58 PM on February 21, 2011


sperose: I only do the "Baltimore merge" move on the rare occasion I'm in a grumpy mood AND some asshole intentionally speeds up to close an open space I've clearly signalled for. Someone did that to me on a two lane to one lane merge a few weeks ago. Things were going so smoothly, traffic was doing the classic zipper merge, then that happened.

She was stubborn, though. Wouldn't give it up. So we formed a little triangle of cars, the two of us one inch apart, both one inch from the car in front's bumper, me on the right, her on the left. Unfortunately for her, the road gently curved down a hill to the right, which kept creeping the car in front over toward me until I was fully in the lane and she was fully on the left shoulder driving through all the debris an inch from the concrete barrier on the other side with everyone looking at her like wtf lady? I felt kind of guilty, like, "what a douche I'm being, but today, fuck it. I'm just going to go ahead and do it."

She got so mad she dropped back, managed to merge in, and when the traffic picked back up she caught back up to me and laid on the horn and cussed me out for a good couple of minutes before blowing by. (Again, everyone looking at her like, eh?)

20 minutes later I passed her again on the long almost no-traffic highway 16 to Tacoma - stopped by the WSP.

And that's my pointless story. Carry on, folks.
posted by ctmf at 1:02 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Have often thought about a little radar on the back of the car. All it does is watch for the doppler of some boy racer charging up like Benny the Bull preparing to service Maisy, and tap on the brake lights for a second or so.

What could happen, what may even really happen, is an adaptation of the TCAS system that imposes situational awareness on aircraft. That sits there squawking out its position, altitude, speed and so on to everyone in the area, and listening to all the other TCAS doing the same thing.

If it thinks there's a chance of the separation rules being broken, it says "Traffic! Traffic!" at which point Jo The Pilot knows to check the screen, work out what's going on, talk to ATC or whatever. If it thinks there's a very good chance of a prang, it says "Ascend 1000 feet NOW!" or whatever it's worked out will resolve the problem - meanwhile the TCAS on the conflicting traffic is telling its driver something complementary. Rules are you do what it says, there and then.

Only after you've levelled out or established on your new heading do you get on the blower and let ATC know what's happened. And if ATC is telling you one thing and TCAS is telling you another, you obey the robot. (You can guess how that particular rule came about.)

TCAS works. It's saved a lot of lives. And that means teaching pilots - who are necessarily so much more "this is my plane, I shall fly it as I see fit" than any number of testosterone/estrogen fuelled SUV jockeys - to do what they're told by a machine without stopping to think.

There will be a vehicular equivalent. Insurance alone will make it happen. It will probably cut out the driver when it feels like it, because frankly you just don't get the quality of training in your ton of high speed road death that goes into letting you slump behind the controls of a winged chariot.
posted by Devonian at 1:09 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


/that/than/

Could do with TCAS on the qwerty...
posted by Devonian at 1:11 PM on February 21, 2011


er... what? Carry on. It's been a long day.
posted by Devonian at 1:13 PM on February 21, 2011


I would like to hear what Bill has to say about a particular kind of traffic jam here in Alaska. Most of our highways, especially the two that connect Fairbanks to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula are two lanes most of the time. We HATE it when tourists come up here and drive 45 in a 65. Or worse, 35 in a 65. Traffic will back up for MILES (I've driven behind one of these slow, waddling behemoths for 80 miles before) with 20 or 30 cars sometimes. There is actually a law here that says you must pull over if there are 5 or more cars behind you, but often tourists don't know these rules. If the roads are icy or if you're in a mountainous region, there is NO passing without risking your life.

The only solution I've found so far is to pull over, get a bag of chips and a coke and hope to god that the jam is far enough ahead of you that Alaskan road rage doesn't take hold.
posted by madred at 1:14 PM on February 21, 2011


here is actually a law here that says you must pull over if there are 5 or more cars behind you, but often tourists don't know these rules.

I think that law is everywhere.

Having driven on a variety of city and rural roads, I think there's a real disconnect between people who learn to drive on rural highways and people who learn on city or suburban freeways. Rural drivers, as a generalization, know to stay out of the left-hand lane unless they're passing, to pull off if they're driving to slow, and so on... but they aren't equipped for heavy-volume commuter driving and are often the worst sorts of tailgaters. On the other hand, city drivers may be excellent commuters but they clog up rural traffic by traveling in the left-hand lane, or don't pull over if they're getting tailgated.
posted by muddgirl at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2011


That's just it. There IS no left lane here most of the time. There is no escape. No hope...
posted by madred at 1:25 PM on February 21, 2011


Since I know you good people will appreciate my nerdery, here's my traffic heuristic, based on Beatty's website and research from a few years back. The general rule of the game is that you want to hit your brakes as few times as possible. (That might be directly from him.) In terms of deciding when to accelerate:
1. Am I going faster than the speed limit? If yes, coast; if no ...
2. If L is the number of lanes going in my direction, and B is the number of cars with brake lights engaged, is B > L ? If yes, coast; if no ...
3. Is the distance between me and the car immediately ahead of me shrinking / staying constant? If yes, coast; if no (that is: if they're pulling away from me) ... I can accelerate.

Obvious caveat: You brake whenever prudence dictates that you brake.

Otherwise, the heuristic works really well, and has turned driving into a kind of game.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, no, I know. I grew up in rural California, which has tons of "two-lane highways" (ie, one lane in each direction). Driving through some of that country with my spouse, who learned to drive in Boston, MA, was frustrating to say the least. I kept saying, "Dude, there are like 1 million cars behind you. Pull over when you have a chance!" and he'd counter, "Come on, they're not going any faster than me!" It's like to him, those cars appeared out of thin air.
posted by muddgirl at 1:30 PM on February 21, 2011


Speeding is very, very easy to detect, and to fine people for doing. All it takes is one camera on the side of the road. Unless there's something wrong with the detector, it's inarguable that that car was doing that speed.

Tailgating is a lot more difficult problem, and in order to detect it, the cops basically have to be there at the time to see it happen. This is why there is such an enormous emphasis on policing speeding, rather than tailgating, which is far more dangerous especially at higher speed.

ish__ "Way to go douchebag! Obviously I was saving that car-length in front of me specifically for you!"

Actually yes, you were saving it for the douchebag. That is the whole point of the theory. Save a gap so that people can easily get in ahead of you, and if they do, ease back again so that you recreate that gap. Always let people in.

My only concern with the theory is the "what if everybody did it" problem, ie if this was legislated to the effect that "a driver must endeavour to maintain X car lengths gap from cars in front of his/her vehicle, must make reasonable accommodations to permit vehicles ahead to change lanes into that gap, and after a vehicle has entered the gap, must endeavour to restore that gap as soon as possible" - fuzzy wording I know, but I'm sure that time limits and distances could be decided. Anyway, at two car lengths between each car, and each car being an average of 4m long, there are 10 cars in 120m. At four car lengths between, 10 cars take up 200m. Obviously they compress down to the minimum space when stopped at lights, but the overall effect is still going to produce some slowing. My gut feeling though is that there will be much, much less slowing than there is in no-gap traffic, so the whole train of cars will travel much more efficiently.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:32 PM on February 21, 2011


I am a decent practitioner of the "leave a gap" rule of highway driving (or at least, not trying to block a merge) here in the SF Bay Area, but had I tried that near Boston, say on Storrow Drive at rush hour, I would have averaged 0.5mph to everyone else's 15 - 25mph, and possibly also been beaten by the drivers behind me.
posted by zippy at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2011


I feel like this dude maybe has some unrealistic expectations of drivers in large aggro metro areas. If you leave a huge space between you and the car in front of you on the BQE, the only thing that's going to happen is the immediate merge of a dozen cars from other congested lanes into that empty space, solving nothing.

Everyone keeps not mentioning the most important and amazing part. The huge space is there because you have matched speeds with the car in front of you. If he’s going 63, you’re going 63, just with 5-10 car-lengths in between.

Anyone going faster than that can pass you, and merge into that space, but they’re going to catch up with the car ahead as well, and then have to merge back out to pass him as soon as they can. If they’re passing you, they don’t want to go your speed. And your speed is the same as the car 10 lengths ahead.

Result: the merging car accelerates away from you (you don’t have to hit your brakes at all), and disappears back into the other lanes almost immediately. It’s incredible to watch, but it happens all the time to me in the Seattle/Tacoma area. (4 years driving this way so far.)

The easiest way to get into this driving style is to choose the speed you want to maintain, find another car going that speed, then match his speed, set cruise control -1 mph until you create the gap, then increase to match him.
Sounds crazy. It works.

If you have trouble going only 60mph on the freeway, it may help to remember that the USDOT says that every 5mph over 60 costs you an additional $.20-$.60 per gallon of gas. Your car is most efficient when it at its minimum speed in its highest gear. Every rpm over that will cost you.
posted by LEGO Damashii at 3:04 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


LEGO: that last stat makes no sense. Gas costs what it costs - the gas station doesn't know how fast you were driving. You just use more of it driving faster. So maybe $.20-$.60 per gallon mile?
posted by ctmf at 3:14 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


You shouldn't be going the same speed as the guy in front of you - you should be going slower. If you're going the same speed as the car in front, then you are not maintaining the average speed of traffic, and will have to break.

Really, we're talking about 2 or 3 different kinds of driving here. If you can maintain 5-10 car lengths from a target car, that is not "traffic" - that's just regular old driving.
posted by muddgirl at 3:16 PM on February 21, 2011


I mean brake!
posted by muddgirl at 3:25 PM on February 21, 2011


My father, who always thought things through very carefully, taught me to avoid hitting the brakes on the freeway. They were designed, he said, for continuous traffic flow, and so you should leave plenty of space in front of you, anticipate slowdowns and lane changes, plan for alternate lanes in case of a slow down, and only use the brakes as a last resort. I believe his advice is sound. If everyone drove this way, there would be no stoppages on the freeway. You might have to wait longer to get on the freeway, but you would get to your destination faster.

Asking how this is supposed to work in the middle of stop and go traffic is misunderstanding the principle at work. If most drivers acted this way before there was a jam, the jam would not happen. Look at his animated diagrams to get the gestalt. And if there is a slow down and you do leave space in front, it does affect the people behind you, whether they notice or not. Since there is no way they could be aware of the counterfactual, they won't notice a traffic jam that didn't happen.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:28 PM on February 21, 2011


I mean brake!

Just before I hit the post button, I had to go back and edit the "break"s to "brake"s. Heh, heh.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:29 PM on February 21, 2011


If everyone drove this way, there would be no stoppages on the freeway.

In my experience this is just not true. At some point there are simply too many cars on the road. This causes a form of "stop and go" traffic that is mostly stop, followed by a short period when I can take my foot of the brake but not apply it to the gas, followed by a stop again, and so on.
posted by muddgirl at 3:31 PM on February 21, 2011


My favorite thing about driving using the accelerator only and braking minimally is how much it completely FREAKS OUT drivers behind me.

Most "speed zone ahead" signs are placed at a distance ahead of the actual speed limit change to allow for non-braking slowing of the car. So when I hit the first sign, I usually take my foot off the gas and let the car naturally slow down, often hitting exactly the new speed limit just as I get to the sign. It's kind of like some kind of strange IRL video game achievement in my brain when it all works out right...

Anyway, it's pretty typical around here that the car behind me is driving too close to begin with. But slowing without braking? Oh, man. That utterly flummoxes the driver behind me. It's as if they aren't paying attention to the signs on the road they've driven regularly for eons, and instead only react to what other cars are doing. So if they don't see brake lights, obviously I'm not slowing down.

I've nearly gotten hit more than a couple of times, but in WA, a rear-end collision is pretty much automatically the fault of the driver in the rear. And I haven't ended up with anyone buying me a new car (yet)... So I don't mind freaking out other drivers when all I'm doing is obeying the clearly posted signs.

Yes, I have driving zen, but I also have a certain sadistic streak toward people who can't follow basic common sense when it comes to following distance.
posted by hippybear at 3:35 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


At some point there are simply too many cars on the road.

You see, what you're experiencing there is the result of people not driving the way I described. Driving that way may mean you might have to wait a little while to get on the freeway until there is room. So, no, there wouldn't be "too many cars on the road," but you might have to be patient.

Now, I can be taken to task for not mentioning traffic accidents, which will cause slowdowns leading to jams. But the type caused by everyone trying to scrunch up together because traffic has slowed a little will not occur if most people follow this way of driving.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:38 PM on February 21, 2011


I've nearly gotten hit more than a couple of times,

I've more often been nearly hit (and actually hit twice) when I was using my brake. Never been hit slowing down naturally. Anecdata, I know, but I instinctively look in the rearview mirror whenever I have to hit the brakes on the freeway.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2011


Driving that way may mean you might have to wait a little while to get on the freeway until there is room

I guess I'm confused - will there be some meter telling me when to go? Are you assuming that on-ramps are long enough after the meter to get up to speed? Because it seems to me like both these things and more would be necessary.

Think of a road as a pipe, and cars as water. There is some volume of cars that can travel through that pipe at the speed limit without a back-up. But when you add more water to the same pipe, you increase the volumetric flow rate. But the system described here does the exact opposite - it says that when cars are added to the system via an on-ramp (call it on-ramp A), all cars behind that on-ramp must slow down to maintain their spacing. What if there is another on-ramp behind on-ramp A (say, on-ramp B)? As cars enter at A, all cars behind A are slowing down to accommodate. That means that cars at B are also slowing down even further, and cars at C, and so on. Do you see the problem? We're adding cars to our pipe at a faster rate than they're leaving. There's no way for individual drivers to fix this problem with courteous driving.
posted by muddgirl at 4:10 PM on February 21, 2011




I still think being passed/overtaken is a sign of weakness.
posted by marvin at 4:41 PM on February 21, 2011


This BMW rear-ended this Honda, on a 2-lane street in town yesterday, while passing slow traffic (or, the driver says he had a siezure and amnesia).
posted by hank at 4:56 PM on February 21, 2011


Zennie, why don't you just let people pass?
posted by bonaldi at 5:40 PM on February 21, 2011


I don't know, I'm sort of with muddgirl here... the idea of this works great if you're already in the traffic flow, in the middle lane. But if you want to drive on the right, where people are merging in, and you insist on 'safe' following distances, you're going to end up slowing the entire lane (at least) to the lowest possible speed that any idiot wants to try to merge in at.

I never use my brakes on the freeway, and I think it has a beneficial effect on the traffic behind me. But (and as an aside to whomever upthread positied that drivers everywhere are all the same: it just ain't so. Might have more to do with freeway design than temprament, if you can separate that out.) consider the freeways in the Twin Cities. Using any of the freeways in the metro area there is a *nightmare* because of the consideration and caution that everyone thinks they're using.

So- merge to the right as soon as possible for any exit you think you might want to take, along with all the other smart folks.... and thus create stop-and-go traffic for at least a mile before your intended exit (so that smart people will skip the line and merge in at the past minute - at the exit, where there's always room to do it - without inconveniencing anyone).

Enter the freeway at about 35, because oh, I don't know, maybe traffic is slow today. (I wonder why!) Preemptively slow down where you know there's traffic merging in, because, oh, they might be merging slowly. (No kidding!) I'd venture that most of the congestion on 94, either way, any time of day, could be fixed by people just going 10mph faster regardless of what the hell else is happening.

Course, the on- and -offramps in the Cities tend to be terrible, and no two of them are the same, but still: I've driven huge amounts in half a dozen metro areas around the country, and MPLS/St Paul is, ah, special that way.

TLDR: this is all smart stuff but at least in certain places, if widely applied, it would result in freeway traffic never getting over about 35 MPH, even at mild congestion levels, and therefore would slow everyone down unnecessarily.
posted by hap_hazard at 6:28 PM on February 21, 2011


Ever since this was originally posted, I've been managing the traffic around me according to his principles. It works wonders in Montreal.
posted by niccolo at 8:01 PM on February 21, 2011


Let's all keep one foot behind the car ahead and everyone step on the gas as soon as the light turns green.

Maintaining an ample following distance makes perfect sense to me, but what's wrong with everyone going when the light turns green? It's more efficient overall if everyone gets rolling about the same time, instead of each car waiting for the car in front to take off.

As for other cars filling in any space you leave open, I can only speak from my experience (DC beltway traffic mostly), but it happens so infrequently that it's not even worth worrying about. Zen driving is just so much easier; it amazes me that people would choose to drive any other way.
posted by papersnprayers at 9:15 PM on February 21, 2011


I'm glad we're talking about this again. Since first reading about it here (before I had my own membership, even!) I've been driving this way all over the North American landmass, and I've had consistently good results. Thanks, Bill.
posted by tangerine at 9:18 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I need to be on the freeway, I try to follow a semi just far enough back I can see their mirrors. Nobody wants to be behind a semi, so nobody gets in front of me unless they're entering or exiting the freeway (and even then, they tend to merge left or right pretty quickly). The semis around here go just as fast as the rest of traffic, so I'm generally making good time without any of the stress.

What I can't stand are the people that feel the need to go mach 10 by stopped traffic and then have the audacity to ask to be let in at the last possible spot, usually stopping traffic behind them in their lane until they get their way.

In my opinion, everyone should be re-tested and re-evaluated roughly every decade for their driving knowledge and skills. It'll never happen, though, as the DMV is hated enough as it is.
posted by narwhal bacon at 10:41 PM on February 21, 2011


sperose: I only do the "Baltimore merge" move on the rare occasion I'm in a grumpy mood AND some asshole intentionally speeds up to close an open space I've clearly signalled for. Someone did that to me on a two lane to one lane merge a few weeks ago. Things were going so smoothly, traffic was doing the classic zipper merge, then that happened.

She was stubborn, though. Wouldn't give it up. So we formed a little triangle of cars, the two of us one inch apart, both one inch from the car in front's bumper, me on the right, her on the left. Unfortunately for her, the road gently curved down a hill to the right, which kept creeping the car in front over toward me until I was fully in the lane and she was fully on the left shoulder driving through all the debris an inch from the concrete barrier on the other side with everyone looking at her like wtf lady? I felt kind of guilty, like, "what a douche I'm being, but today, fuck it. I'm just going to go ahead and do it."

There's this segment where 101 NB hits San Tomas in Santa Clara where the drivers have to weave left to avoid getting put back on the 101 SB. So anyway, it's 5:15pm. The significant other is in the passenger seat. I leave my 10 yard gap so that someone can merge in and a nice guy coming off 101 merges in and gives me a wave and I close up the gap a bit.

Now. Since a couple of cars had headed on the 101 NB there was a pretty large space behind me. This pushy lady comes zips up the merge lane and puts on the blinker about a yard in front of me. My girlfriend turns to me and says "she's trying to get in" and I looked at her and said "yeah well I already let someone in". In the end she stopped dead before hitting the 101 SB offramp and finally merged in behind me with the dirtiest look on her face.

Fuck them. Alone with the same assholes that zip along Central where it meets San Tomas, completely ignore the fact that they're in the exit only collector lane, go over the new median formed by the exit and basically merge back into traffic.
posted by Talez at 12:15 AM on February 22, 2011


ctmf - your car's efficiency goes down as you drive faster mainly due to air resistance.

'One reason is that aerodynamic drag increases exponentially the faster you drive; it simply takes more fuel to power the car through the air.'

link
posted by toastchee at 8:00 AM on February 22, 2011


I know that. But the price per gallon of gas is printed on the sign at the gas station. It doesn't depend on your speed.

So the stat would have to be that you expend more gallons (and therefore more money) per mile, or even more gallons per hour (which, duh, you're going farther in that hour.)

Even though I believe the efficiency and drag explanation (which I do,) 20-60 cents per mile, if that is the units, sounds hugely exaggerated. So I'm just wondering what the units were supposed to be.
posted by ctmf at 8:36 AM on February 22, 2011


Maybe not. 3.5 USD/Gal x 1 mile/0.5 USD = a difference of 7 MPG, I guess I could maybe believe that, except that it would have to be a less than linear 7 MPG/(MPH - 60) increase (and certainly not exponential). Otherwise my ~30 MPG car would run out of gas instantly if I were to drive 85 mph.
posted by ctmf at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2011


I have reservations about this "traffic controlling" behavior. The writer says he can see how it makes traffic smooth for a distance far behind him, but he also says that people behind him who want to go faster can't even see the big space he's left in front of him. He's wrong about that; unless the road is flat and straight, we can see it.

I do practice a form of smoothing, but I do not try to impose it on others. If I am not passing cars in the lane to my right, I get into that lane. I leave some space in front of me, so that I almost never have to use my brakes - but it doesn't have to be a huge space. Most often, I can just lift my foot off the gas when brake lights go on in front of me; usually, that only closes the gap a small distance. Some cars seem to be designed to not slow down when you lift your foot; this would not work well with those cars. When cars in front of me speed up, I do, too - maybe a little slower than they do, but I do get back up to their speed..

When traffic is only moderately heavy, I will get in the right lane and set the cruise control to a moderate speed (in this part of MA, that's about 10mph over the speed limit.) Most traffic passes me; I occasionally have to pass someone slower, but almost no one goes much slower.

Things I see that make traffic slow down:
* People who must move to the left as soon as they enter a highway. Lane changes in heavy traffic cause slowdowns unless there's a big gap there to accept the changing car. All this rushing to the left has the effect of making the far-left lane the slowest, and the far-right lane the fastest. People who enter the highway, then just stay in that lane often wind up far ahead of those who changed to the left.
* People who step on their brakes whenever they see brake-lights ahead of them, without evaluating how much the cars ahead are actually slowing down. People who do this frequently are usually following too closely, and make everyone behind them nervous. The worst are those who step on their brakes when brake-lights in another lane go on, even though their lane isn't changing speed at all.
* People who think they're doing a swell thing by implementing traffic controlling by going slow in the left-hand lane. Related are the idiots who read while driving, like the clown I saw in the left lane of Rte3 at morning rush hour last week. If you're not passing the cars on your right, you're in the wrong lane, and should get out of it.
* Cell phones.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:07 AM on February 22, 2011


...
* Make-up
* Texting
* Making out
* Daydreaming
* Intense conversation
* Gamesmanship
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:28 AM on February 22, 2011


Cool, another MeFi traffic peak! Just yesterday the trafficwaves video received an extra 100K views because of a traffic jam article on cracked.com

Yep, only recently did I finally make the leap that 2sec spacing of cars means that, in order to shave a few percent off my daily commute, I'd have to pass HUNDREDS of other drivers. That's easy in light traffic, but not during rush hour. In other words, heavy congestion locks us in to the grid, and any gains we make are really just playing "race" with ourselves. (In a race, moving past another car is a huge deal. Must ...leave losers ...in my dust! Arg, someone got ahead of me by setting their alarm clock 5min earlier than I did.)

Another random thought: if passing two other cars and gaining five seconds is that important to someone, maybe they should set their alarm clock five seconds earlier. Put on their underwear very slightly faster. Eat their toast in two large bites instead of five smaller ones. These things are critically important since EVERY SECOND COUNTS! :) And if every second doesn't count during breakfast, why are our commutes any different? Morning commute is all illusion and psych phenomena. If reality is temporarily that shaky, it means it's time to play with it. See if you can get away with magic.

I don't remember if I put this one on the FAQ: What if you were riding the subway or bus, and you watched someone get on in the rear, then race to the front; a person who was obviously convinced that they were "making headway." What if two such people started fighting over the front seat, since that position puts them twenty inches closer to their destination? Ignorant crazies on the bus. No different if you're in a car moving along in morning congestion. Your position in the bus seats doesn't count. Only trouble is: if the passengers start fighting over seating position, the bus driver cuts the speed by half.

Now here's something really weird. Since traffic is nonlinear and full of emergent effects, if trafficwaves.org gets read by more than a certain percentage of drivers, we'd expect to see a sudden inexplicable phase change. The average national flow rate would suddenly jump to a different level, and it wouldn't go back again. This has happened. However, it happened during the economic downturn, so it might just be a temporary glitch caused by fewer commuters on the road. (I've seen a couple articles pointing out that it started changing many months before jobless rate did.) However2 ...there's another measure that I'd never imagined. Highway fatalities. Traffic deaths is sensitively dependent on aggressive craziness. Go to google and search on "traffic deaths lowest", also search on "traffic fatalities lowest". NYC traffic deaths lowest since 1905?!! This is probably insane, but what if all that was caused by someone's blog getting popular?
posted by billb at 12:52 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, also the Federal Highway Admin has some things to say about merge jams. Wow, whoda thunk they'd come up with...

Merge principles:

#1 "Go slow to go fast"

#2 "Keep Sufficient Gaps"

#3 "Zippering"


Also: usually you're supposed to merge at the last minute
posted by billb at 1:36 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


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