Friday, March 30, 2007

Why not to be Nice

Sometimes, being nice is exactly the wrong thing to do.

The other morning on the way to work, I was driving down a four-lane city street. Traffic was moving along nicely, and I was almost to work. Up ahead I noticed a city crew with amber lights flashing, blocking the right-hand lane about a half block from my upcoming right turn. (It was vital that they clean out the storm drain while it was dry ... at rush hour).

I slowed to let the left lane traffic get past me, signalled, checked behind and merged left. The cars who had been behind me in the right-hand lane continued on, even accelerating. Apparently, they thought they'd get there faster that way (wherever their "there" was). That's when people started being nice, and resulting in a traffic jam.

See, instead of those in the open lane simply driving forward through the green light ahead of them, they decided to take turns. Each would let a car from the closed lane, those who had failed to take their chance to merge properly, now merge ahead of them before going ahead themselves. This of course meant that neither lane moved, and soon enough the light turned red. So we all sat there.

I've noticed this ill-considered niceness during Interstate construction season, as well. Workers close a lane to patch a pothole, placing "Reduced Speed Limit" and "Merge Left" signs miles uproad to warn the unsuspecting motorist that disaster will befall him in the form of a jail term if he fails to heed the warning and change lanes. So of course a line of SUVs forms in the right lane, at the last point before the closure, inching into the left lane. Sometimes they even have their turn signal blinking helpfully, but usually they attempt to use vehicular body English.

If everyone merged to the open lane at their earliest chance, things would go a lot smoother. But they don't.
If everyone in the open lane drove along something near the speed limit, those abusers in the closing lane would soon find an open spot into which to merge. But they don't, Instead, some people try to be Nice and "fair", allowing the abusers to merge. To be nice to that abuser, though, they have to delay their own lane, so both lanes are delayed.

Furthermore, allowing people to merge at the last minute encourages them to do just that. The result is that no one moves.

My solution on the highway is to drive astraddle the two lanes. That's right, I drive right down the center of the road, just close enough to the next car ahead in the open lane to keep people from passing me, but grabbing enough of the closed lane to force would-be abusers to pass on the shoulder. A few get past, and I don't sweat it. Most of the time a truck driver or two figure out what I'm doing and get behind me. Pretty soon, since the abusers are kept out of the closed lane, the traffic jam is gone.

Yes, I know it's illegal to straddle the lanes. It ought to be illegal to be Nice.

Ask yourself this: if everyone did what I do, which is not to allow others to pass me, what would be the typical result? But when everyone does what they usually do, which is to try to get to the front as soon as possible and then take turns using the single open lane, you know the result: a parking lot.

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1 comment:

FrauBudgie said...

WEll said, Socrates!!!

My husband and I have decided that the endless roadwork around here is to provide training for apprentice construction workers!!!

Takes them YEARS to re build a road that was perfectly good to begin with. Our tax dollars at work, I guess.

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