By Christian Knight
Traffic moves better when drivers fill all lanes. Transportation engineers have known this for a long time. And they have told us this repeatedly, to fill all lanes — where available — and wait to merge at the end of the lane.
Unfortunately, a few Puget Sound drivers still cling to the outdated belief that a person who uses the other lane and waits to merge when it ends is cutting in line. And a few have taken it upon themselves to enforce this belief by blocking off lanes — thereby ensuring that they and their fellow drivers will waste more time in traffic than necessary.
This, quite obviously, is a violation of our traffic laws. But worse, it is vigilantism, fueled by a mistaken sense of transportation piety. And this vigilantism undermines the predictability on which our transportation system relies.
My family and I encountered this dynamic New Year’s night, on our return from Stevens Pass. The red river of brake lights began just west of the Boulder Drop rapid, near U.S. 2’s milepost 34.
When we had finally reached the four-lane section, a few miles east of Zeke’s Drive-In, we saw that the river of red brake lights, extended west beyond Zeke’s Drive-In and around the corner toward Sultan. But the right-hand lane, just a few feet to its right, was empty. Completely empty. Not a single automobile was in that lane.
I immediately chose the empty right lane, recognizing that my decision would earn me derision from my fellow drivers.
Surprisingly, though, I saw no outstretched middle fingers and I heard no horns. What I did see, a few hundred yards ahead, was a truck, deliberately straddling both lanes. The driver of that truck prevented me from passing him by, essentially, driving me out of the lane and into the shoulder. I was able to reclaim my position in the right lane only after I had juked him out and passed by.
Once I passed the truck, a second vehicle did the same thing — veering me out of the right lane and onto the shoulder. I was not able to pass the second vehicle.
I am sure the drivers of these vehicles believe whole-heartedly that I was the culprit in this scenario and that they were merely protecting themselves and their fellow drivers from the consequences of my transgression.
Clearly, they are wrong. A transportation engineer will tell you that the zipper-merge relieves traffic congestion. A State Patrol trooper will tell you that straddling both lanes is a violation of RCW 46.61.140. And an insurance agent will lay the fault on your insurance policy if you damaged another person’s car because you were trying to prevent him or her from using an open and legal traffic lane.
Christian Knight lives in Kirkland.