Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Summer Congestion Pennsylvanians Struggle with Traffic Jams, Roadway Courtesy

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Summer Congestion Pennsylvanians Struggle with Traffic Jams, Roadway Courtesy

Article excerpt

A short time after I crossed from Ohio into Pennsylvania last weekend, returning from vacation, I encountered the day's first traffic jam - a sudden and complete standstill on I-70. After long, long minutes of stop-and-barely-go, I crested a hill and saw the problem's source.

Both lanes stretched, bumper to bumper, at least a quarter-mile ahead, right up to a semi with a bright green cab. In front of this truck, the empty right lane stretched on for at least another quarter-mile, until orange barrels gradually closed it off.

The merge point, then, was a good half-mile away, but the green-cab truck driver was straddling both lanes to make sure no one passed him on either side - thereby making the traffic jam worse.

The friend with whom I shared my tale of woe - because it made me about 15 minutes late - shook his head and said, "Only in Pennsylvania."

I agreed but realized later the trucker could have been from anywhere. I also remembered saving evidence that the inability to merge plagues other parts of this great republic. We Keystoners are not alone in our idiocy!

Back in June, a concerned Michigander posed the question "When should cars move into the lane that will remain open?" to none other than Parade columnist Marilyn vos Savant, one of the smartest people on the planet. (I hope the Michigander's question wasn't prompted by a drive through Pennsylvania.)

Ms. vos Savant's highly logical answer was a longer version of the signs PennDOT introduced a few years ago: "Use both lanes to merge point" and "Take turns at merge."

That's my memory of these very helpful signs, but I haven't seen them lately. (Where have you gone, PennDOT?)

The "take turns" prompt is pretty sad, really: Weren't we supposed to learn that in kindergarten?

Not enough of us did, apparently, so now this desirable but elusive courtesy has its own special term: "zipper merge." That's pretty cool, you traffic engineers!

Maybe calling it a zipper merge will make more of us want to do it. Pennsylvanians need to master this move if we want to improve our state's reputation. …

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