On long driving trips through mixed traffic, I have made several observations, some obvious and some surprising:
* Driving in congestion is no longer stressful. It just isn't. (Hence the "zen".)
* Dramatically improved fuel economy.
* It's possible to drive through even wildly erratic traffic (swinging from 100 km/h to 20 km/h) without ever touching the brakes. It becomes a kind of game. Manual transmission helps.
* Some other drivers seem to figure out what I'm doing, and they fall into place behind me at a reasonable distance. I've had people follow me for hundreds of kilometres this way.
* Even though you'd assume leaving a huge gap in front is an invitation for other motorists to cut ahead, they rarely do - especially in congestion. If they do, I just let them race up to the front of the gap and then fall back by a single car length to restore the same gap.
I absolutely swear by this driving method. It's easier on the car, easier on the heart, and even serves to create a bubble of calm around you in an otherwise turbulent flow of traffic.
 Edit to qualify "drive at a constant speed". As I noted later, my speed ranges dramatically based on the congestion level - what remains more or less constant is the safe opening in front of me. Sorry for any confusion with my original choice of words.
> Even though you'd assume leaving a huge gap in front is an invitation for other motorists to cut ahead, they rarely do - especially in congestion.
That's heavily dependent on time and place. I've lived in many different regions, and done a lot of driving in those areas. I've noticed that the tendency to fill in gaps is heavily dependent on local driving culture and the specific demographics on the road at a particular time of day.
> I absolutely swear by this driving method. It's easier on the car, easier on the heart, and even serves to create a bubble of calm around you in an otherwise turbulent flow of traffic.
That may, to some extent, be an illusion. Some people are infuriated by other drivers they perceive as holding them up -- which often includes people who are "wasting" lane space by letting a gap of thirty car lengths lie unused in front of them. Personally, I only get annoyed with such people when they try to keep other people from filling that gap, because as far as I'm concerned a steady gap (given a steady general traffic speed) creates irregularities in grouping through which ambient traffic can accelerate itself, but people who maintain a huge gap then rush to block out people who want to move into it are increasing the danger of driving and doing nothing to help improve the flow of traffic.
Please see my edit in my original post to clarify what I meant to write. In fact my speed ranges up and down based on the level of congestion, whereas the safe buffer I maintain in front of me remains constant - and by safe I mean long enough that I don't have to use my brakes when traffic slows.
As for my use of "zen", don't read too much into it. It was just a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that I stopped trying to fight the flow of traffic and instead simply pass through it as peacefully as possible.
>That's heavily dependent on time and place.
My observations are limited to highways in Ontario, Quebec, New York State, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
>I only get annoyed with such people when they try to keep other people from filling that gap
Hey, man, you're welcome to it. Blocking another driver from filling the gap would mean accelerating to close it, which kind of defeats the purpose of maintaining it.
The original comment, for those that don't get it yet, was a stab at apotheon's comment. It was an attempt to avoid the argument of "what is Zen" before it gets out of hand, as it's been known to do on other sites.
If you're curious, an example:
The main benefit for me, and one you don't mention, is safety. Knowing I have actual time to react in an emergency instead of being stuck with brake hard and pray I think really calms my subconscious.
The rule is simple and works for any traveling speed: pick any arbitrary mark on the road, watch as the car in front of you passes it, and count 3 seconds. You want at the very minimum, 3 seconds to pass before you pass that same mark.
This not only has the advantages described by the OP (he's definitely following it, if not calling it by name), but one thing he didn't mention is that it can save your life.
Why do car "pile ups" exist? It's because someone was driving along just fine, when suddenly they come to a crashing hault (at 70+MPH), and all of the tailgators behind them are not physically capable of reacting to the situation in time. SMASH! You're fucked.
7 seconds at highway speeds can be over 200 meters.
I'm all for safety, but that is excessive.
PS: Thinking you have a 2+ second reaction time helps to cover when you are not directly looking at the car ahead of you. The less of that cushion you have the more you need to focus on the car in front of you.
I've driven like the article suggests on Rt. 128 and it totally works. My lane ended up moving smoothly (albeit at a reduced speed; I still can't go any faster than the average speed of the cars in front of me), and nobody cut in front of me.
However, drivers on Rt. 2 are routinely crazy. There've been times I've been going about 70 in a 45 zone, with a guy on my tail, then he'll pop out from behind me, pass me at about 90 mph, cut right in front, and then tailgate the person in front of me until he does the same stunt. Luckily traffic on Rt. 2 is light enough that this doesn't cause many jams, but it does cause its fair share of accidents.
Then there's the Rt. 2/3/16 intersection by Alewife, where it is customary for about 5-10 cars to run the red light before somebody finally stops.
I figure if my method can work here, it can work anywhere. :)
I tend to leave about twice the gap of other vehicles on the motorway, still strictly not the full stopping distance (but having been a motorcyclist I feel I read ahead well). I always find that people invade my stopping/slowing space; then one drops back and another car is in there.
I'm in the UK.
When I do this before stoplights I sometimes catch a green light with road to spare, and I'm able to avoid stopping at all. This helps me somewhat, but as a side effect it helps the traffic behind me a lot more.
I'll try to do this more often. Keeping in neutral is easier then trying to compute an optimum speed, and it'll help a lot with the consumption too.
In any case, you're not really saving any gas over coasting in drive or, alternately, setting the cruise control.
Instead of competing to get ahead the game has changed to strategising to keep the traffic moving. It's beautiful and fun and transforms the whole driving experience, very zen.
Heh, you didn't happen to learn to drive in, say, Massachusetts did you? It's called the "rear view mirror", but I've found that due to the accent, many people here in Boston have always thought it was the "review mirror".
I picked it up from truckers, who uniformly take this strategy.
While there are some courteous and sensible UK truckers, most of them seem to be driving right up against their speed limiters, and will tailgate then overtake anyone in front who dares travel 1mph slower than them - even if this involves attempting to overtake while going uphill, causing a wall of congestion on an otherwise free-flowing motorway.
I also fond that places with a higher percentage of auto drivers are heavier on the heavy traffic scooch-and-brake.
People don't do that in a manual because it's not fun.
*In Italy people drive mostly manuals. They also drive like suicidal grandmas in fast forward.
1. Are you driving faster than the speed limit? Coast. If not …
2. Can you see more brake lights (that is, cars with brake lights on) ahead of you than the number of lanes traveling in your direction? Coast. If there are more lanes than cars with brake lights …
3. Is the buffer between your car and the car in front of you getting smaller / staying the same? Coast. If the distance is getting larger, you can accelerate.
So, essentially, the only time you get to accelerate is when you're below the speed limit, there aren't many cars braking in front of you (in any lane), and the gap in front of you is getting larger.
And here (below this) was the copy I'd worked up for the page. I was calling the approach "coasty," and was applying some game design theory to it, so if there are any "game" references in the copy below, that's what they're referencing.
The goal of Coasty is to consume less gas, to drive more safely, to get to your destination in about the same amount of time as you would otherwise, and to have more fun while driving.
Consume Less Gas:
Almost every time you brake, you’re wasting gas. You had to use gas to accelerate your vehicle, and you’re now intentionally slowing the car down. You’ll then need to accelerate again, to get back up to speed. You're doing twice the work, for the same amount of output. By braking less often, you end up accelerating less often, getting more miles-per-gallon and saving money (both in gasoline and engine wear). (Obviously, if you’re braking because of a stoplight / stop sign, this doesn’t apply.)
Drive More Safely:
When you're driving aggressively, driving closely to the car in front of you, and focusing on getting where you’re going as quickly as possible, the more likely you are to get in an accident. The amount of space and time you have to make a decision (and execute it) is determined by the amount of space your car has in front of you, and the speed at which you’re traveling. It’s counter-intuitive, but by focusing on braking-and-accelerating as little as possible (and by coasting as much as possible), you end up with a larger buffer in front of you, and you generally enter that buffer at a slower speed.
Get To Your Destination In About The Same Amount of Time:
It’s not fun to be late. And — let’s be honest — you probably aren’t going to stick with a new approach to driving if it compromises your ability to get somewhere on time. But with this approach, you’re reaching each “micro destination” (that spot further down the highway, that exit ramp, that streetlight) only a few seconds behind where you’d be otherwise. In some cases, you'll get there even faster, as you might end up approaching a stoplight while coasting, as it turns green, rather than approaching it, stopping, waiting, and then accelerating again from a stop, while the guy in the lane next to you cruises through at 10 miles an hour.
Have More Fun While Driving:
This approach actually makes driving fun, as the goal shifts away from “getting where I’m going as fast as I can and who do these jerks think they are, getting in my way?!?!” to one of a game mindset, where you’re trying to follow the rules, seeing how far you can go without braking, and seeing how much your fellow drivers have to speed up and slow down while you’re coasting along.
As a side benefit, creating a larger buffer and then eating it up enables the cars behind you to have a smoother trip at a more constant speed, where they aren’t having to brake as much, either, and dissolves the slow-down-then-speed-up-then-slow-down-again rubber-band traffic cycle.
I wish more people would check this site out. Traffic is a real problem that wastes billions of taxpayer dollars and hours on the road every year.
Another idea to make the roads better: lane-specific minimum speeds. Think about it. It would actually solve a ton of common traffic problems.
It is the same in Germany. I always assumed it was that way everywhere.
If it's a 70 limit, and someone is in the passing lane doing 70, you'd still flash them.
(OK, there are speed limits on most patches of the Autobahn. But there are some without.)
And no, nobody passes on the outside. Even if you're about to exit and the rest of the lanes are moving slowly, you'll still slow down considerably and look a bit sheepish as you drift past the main highway traffic.
One problem here is that people driving the maximum lawful speed are still driving too slow for the prevailing speed of traffic.
For example, in the state of NY:
Before you pass on the right on multilane roads such as expressways, make sure you check your mirrors, use the proper signals for lane change, and look over your right shoulder for other vehicles. After passing, be sure to check over your left shoulder, and to signal, before returning to the left lane.
In Chicago at rush hour, if you leave more than a car's worth of space ahead or behind you, it will be filled instantly.
Whether or not it actually helps traffic, I couldn't say.
In the rare situations where this doesn't happen, I usually have a longer space than I actually need, so I just eat the difference.
If it's the former, he addresses that concern on his site.
Again, consider a sudden lane change that cuts off someone who's already in the lane being entered.
Yet again, consider that most on-ramps are essentially a reduction of available lanes.
Any time one car slows down for any reason, inertia kicks in--they do not immediately return to speed.
In this case, small variations in speed mean that some drivers eventually catch up to others. Then they slow down a bit which reduces the space behind them. The problem is that the road is nearing peak capacity and has little tolerance for deviations.
The video doesn't even say "out of nowhere", it says "for no apparent reason".
New York city drivers are really excellent at the zipper merge thing. While living there, I got really used to not having to slow down much at merge points. Everyone just drove at a decent speed using all available lanes then smoothly merged at the point where the lane was closed.
Moving back to Pennsylvania, people start queuing up in one lane a mile before the merge point, and traffic grinds to a stand still. This is insane. Usually, though, if you do the sane thing and use the other lane up to the merge point, you can get in without trouble.
Maybe I was one of the early mergers before I lived in New York, and have just blocked it out of my memory. Now, though, seeing it happen really grates on my nerves. One of many reasons I'm glad I hardly ever drive anymore. :)
For instance, there is significant research that suggests in a 2 lane situation where both lanes must merge into one single lane (road work ahead, for example), it makes more sense for both lanes to proceed uniformly toward the point where they must merge. Most people would assume this would cause a deadlock at the point where the merge occurs, but it doesn't. When both lanes are allowed to proceed without switching lanes towards the point where they both must merge, they will achieve far better results than if they were to organize into a single lane prior to that point.
This makes people /really/ angry. Once, when there was approximately 2 miles notice for road work, I stuck with the right lane and did not merge into the left lane like everyone else. I actually had a large pickup truck attempt to cut me off from proceeding in an EMPTY lane.
Of course, this only holds when there is an inevitable traffic jam. When it comes to /avoiding/ traffic jams, you are better off maintaining distance to allow other drivers to merge.
rush hour drivers here operate under a greedy algorithm. they see an opening that will allow them to speed up or gain extra distance immediately, and they'll take it, for no other reason than to be going faster right now, to be farther down the road right now.
and that includes eating up my buffer zone, forcing me to break/stop, killing my flow optimization.
Someone driving fast won't suddenly stop the speeding after being blocked. Just let them go!
1) go whatever speed you like
2) empty lane to your right? move right
3) no car in front of you and a car behind you? move right as soon as possible
4) slower car in front? move left if you can
(I note that I was on a mailing list with a bunch of relatively smart people once, and I mentioned what I did - and even among the smart folks there was a lot of outrage because I was driving "wrong" or "stupidly".
That reaction contributed to me leaving the list shortly thereafter. )
But every time I go down to Boston, or far away to other urban areas, I can never keep the distance that I want because someone would certainly cut in. So I increase the distance again, to avoid tailgating, then another guy gets in between us, etc, etc. And so we have a peloton of cars moving at 65+ mph a few meters away from each other. Not too pretty.
And if people were to implement this strategy, the provided space gives an incentive for those zooming ahead to merge a little sooner rather than risk waiting half a minute for someone to let them in right at the exit. It's been my experience that most of the "cheaters" will merge a little sooner if there's space rather than zoom up right to the end. They'll still be passing you, which is IMO aggravating, but at least things will move a little sooner.
The author goes into fascinating detail about driver psychology and discusses similar ideas like those mentioned in the essay.
Link to book: http://www.amazon.com/Traffic-Drive-What-Says-About/dp/03072...
Yes, but that one driver is never the guy in front of you.
The counter-point to this, in my opinion, is that at some point psychology comes in to play and you have people starting to get aggressive and angry because of a few people forming a "rolling-road-block". It's not rational but it definitely happens.
I would support 3PM-7PM dynamic speed limits on 520W toward the bridge. If the speed was brought from 60 (just past 405) to 30 as you approach the bridge it could probably keep things moving smoothly through the traffic burst.
When confronted with a single backed up lane, use the uncontended lanes to zip to the front of the wave and merge in _at speed_. Maintaining speed is important. If you don't find an opening, you'll have to abort and find another route to your destination.
The up-side is that this almost always pays off and you waste little time slowed by traffic or slowing others. The reason is because many people who queue up resign to the monotony and pull out their phone or their air drums, etc. They pay enough attention to brake consistently but not enough to accelerate as soon as is possible.
The vast majority of the time, you can slip in front of one of these 'sleepers' before they notice the opening or have fully accelerated. Because of inertia, they will go through an acceleration period where you pull away from them leaving them a very sufficient gap.
Another way to look at this is using the available real-estate to ascertain a proper zipper-merge. If done right, you wait less and no one gets stuck behind you. This is especially useful if you commute five days a week--the payoffs over time are well worth the occasional crap out.
The study does not directly address the effect of "cheating" late merges which can create waves, but did note that traffic signs which strongly encouraged early merging by everyone increased overall transit time through construction. That suggests that the default case is better.
That makes a little sense to me: a single lane can bear less traffic, so extending the amount of distance everyone has to spend in a single lane might result in higher latency overall, if not necessarily lower throughput.
Related to this is the need to "stay right". Especially in CA, some of my fastest travel happens in the far right lanes because people think of lanes as a "speed" rather than a "function", and so the right lanes are empty while the left lanes are crowded and slow.
The number one lane is not the "fast" lane, it's a "passing" lane. Guess what? The number two lane is a passing lane, too. If you're not passing anyone, you should be on the far right side of the road.
The peak performance of the system is actually a mix of altruism and selfishness.
The author says much the same thing on his FAQ page:
If EVERY driver was to constantly maintain a HUGE space regardless of speed, then it would probably cause problems. The merge-zones might stop jamming, but the capacity of major highways would be reduced. On-ramps would become choked as traffic backed up into them, and there would be slowdowns extending far out into the countryside.
It is, of course, a purely theoretical problem, since there is no shortage of non-altruistic drivers.
Taking this "zen" driving a step further and imagining an ideal world of cars that never break down on the highway and where the process of merging onto and exiting from a highway could be scientifically mastered such that the speed of the nearby cars is at most nominally affected, it is not inconceivable that cars could travel at speeds far beyond what is considered safe today.
The system uses switches on the roads ( replaced using RFID or other sensors placed on the ground or at the sides of the roads ), that detect the load on each path and route traffic accordingly.
Not much, but it worked like a charm !!
I.e. that continous and moderate spending instead of savings somehow keeps the wheels moving in the economy.
* This has the added benefit of making for a smoother ride, which also encourages those behind you to ease off the brakes.