Sorry, But We’re Looking At The Slow Lane

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But first, let’s take a fast look at the basics because I know most of us never see a freeway that’s not a packed with slow-moving traffic in every lane.

The Right Lane

According to the Uniform Vehicle Code, the right-most lane, a.k.a. slow lane is primarily for vehicles that have just entered the freeway or intend to leave it at the next exit. It has a second purpose, however, and that is to house vehicles that aren’t traveling with the flow of other vehicles. We’ll return to that in a second.

The slow lane in hilly terrain is also known as the climbing lane. The layout is such that two lanes head upwards on a freeway and one head downward. Heavy vehicles are more likely to use the climbing lane.

The Left Lane

The U.V.C also defines the use of the left-most lane, a.k.a. fast lane. The right lane is also known as the passing lane, because vehicles in this lane are, in theory, overtaking slower traffic in lanes to the right.

It’s worth noting that Colorado Police are particularly well known for handing out tickets for going slow in the fast lane. The high altitude and pitch of the climb on certain roads make it more likely for cars to travel slowly in the fast lane, which is truly a hazard.

The Middle Lane

The middle lane, or lanes, is for “through traffic.” These vehicles should be traveling at or near the speed limit. Since you’re supposed to be using the left lane for passing, it’s illegal in most states to travel in the left with the flow of traffic and not yield if someone is overtaking you.

Legitimate Reason to Drive Slow in the Slow Lane

Many states have a lower posted speed limit for Tractor Trailers or other vehicles with more than two axles. Also, most states have special speed restrictions for oversized loads. Some vehicles may be overloaded or awkwardly loaded which causes them to drive slower for safety. Also, temporary car trouble could be a legitimate reason to drive slower until a good exit can be found.

Being too old, too impaired or too blind to safely drive at freeway speeds is not a legitimate reason to camp out in the slow lane. If you don’t feel able to safely operate your vehicle at freeway speed, please avoid using freeways.

Differential Rate of Speed

The issue isn’t really about top speed. In theory, we’re all traveling the speed limit (wink) and if we’re not the police take care of it.

No, the issue is the difference in speed between one vehicle and another. It’s the rate at which you overtake the other vehicles on the road, which means acceleration and deceleration. If someone enters your lane going 20 MPH slower than you, you’d better have good brakes. The opposite issue is the source of most frustration.

When you finally break free of that slow car in the fast lane you want to get back to your cruising speed which is all about engine acceleration. It may seem like a little thing but it might just save your life. Cars which fail to accelerate at intersections or up hills or ramps can cause accidents. You need to be able to pick up speed when necessary.

Car acceleration performance is measured by the time it takes to go from 0 to 60 mph. It is not always possible to tell this just by looking at a car. The Chevrolet Camaro Iron Duke may have been marketed as a sports car but it still has an embarrassingly low acceleration rate of 0 to 60 in 20 seconds.

Did you Know the term ‘Slow’ travel is actually a thing?

But let’s move on from slow lanes to another kind of slowness; slow travel.

Sure we’ve all been on road trips where someone took too many rest breaks. For some people, due to their age, health or some other condition must slow travel–it’s the best they can do. (Though it is not an area the Kicker spends much time on.) For most car enthusiasts the slow traveler is the enemy.

The term, ‘Slow Travel’ was inspired by the term ‘Slow Food’ which came about in the 1980s. Slow food was a counter-movement against the sudden domination of unhealthy & over processed ‘Fast Food.’ It was based in the notion that it’s okay to have a different priority for your food than mere speed–things like taste and atmosphere. If some people preferred a ‘Slow Food’ experience maybe it some folks would also enjoy a slower pace of travel.

If freeways make you feel stressed, you might be one of the folks who understand that life is a journey, not a destination.

For the traveler who wishes to take the slow routes across America, possible suggestions include the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco or Route 6 from Provincetown, Mass. to Bishop, California.

Likely as not, it will go up the mountains and through the valleys. Ironically, traveling slowly is what the car commercials are all about. These routes are slower, which means more stops. More stops mean more meals and more nights in a hotel. It’s not cheaper, but it is more picturesque and you may actually get to meet some nice people you’d normally zoom past.

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Narrow Streets and Gridlock

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You are beeping your horn; you are impatient to get to work. You are stuck in a bit of congestion. Would it surprise you to learn you may have caused some of this congestion yourself?

To explain, gridlock is a traffic condition that effects intersecting streets (or as the people who live there tend to know them as, blocks). The drivers on each road cannot move because the space they could move to is taken up by a vehicle that is blocking their way, but then that vehicle is being blocked in by another vehicle and so on, seemingly forever.

Luckily, the gridlock can be removed by trying to squeeze the cars (generally turning them slightly) so there is some room for a car to exit. As with all puzzles it only works if all components work together. It’s a life-sized version of the childhood game concentration.

It’s fairly easy to fix though with a simple box junction and a pair of traffic lights and everyone following the proper rule of box junctions (a box junction without traffic lights might fix the congestion problem but might cause even more problems on the rood). This will ensure that at least one exit is free at any one time.

traffic-jam-688566_1920Maintaining Order:

This is why “blocking the box” has become such a crime. In New York it is subject to a $90 penalty. In Virginia Beach, it is even more; $200.

The box junction has been around for about 50 years, starting in the UK but spreading around the world.

The concept that bigger cars have such difficulty getting anywhere is generally why smaller cars are seen as better on city streets, they just find it easier to maneuver in problems like this. The more trucks in gridlock the harder the problem and trucks are the number one seller in America.

Sat-Nav to the Rescue?

Satellite Navigation actually can make the problem worse also. Some systems will look at the raw data of where traffic is and what speed it’s moving, and then direct vehicles onto side streets that aren’t designed for heavy flow. When it does this with a semi-truck or something pulling a trailer the narrower streets in the older section of town can create a blockage. The other thing about narrow streets is that traffic can only go one way and that means it will take you longer to get to your destination. Sometimes street parking of local vehicles blocks sightlines making it impossible to turn around when you miss a turn.

As well as squeezing through road junctions, cars and trucks have to squeeze under arches. In dire situations a special “truck route” is created, often on a less congested roadway, in order to move truck and bus traffic off car routes and direct them to archways at least 14 feet high. These routes require more maintenance, of course, and are unpopular with neighborhoods sometimes. No matter what this is a costly solution, but can be the only way out of trouble for some older cities.

Not Only Narrow Roads:

It is not only narrow roads that might be a problem in an urban idyll, but also crooked roads. When roads are meant for pedestrians there’s no impetus for them to be straight at all, hence why many historic towns have roads which curve all over the place. It gives a pleasant view when driving, but also makes it more stressful.

A recent trend to give bikes the right of way, so as to make them a popular option to cars has narrowed many roads through the implementation of bike lanes. Portland Oregon, for example, has turned entire roads over to bike only in an effort to embrace and encourage the use of pedal power. They have officially decided that there state road budget will consider the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians over cars.

The move is controversial for three big reasons:

  • Motorists pay road taxes, license fees, where cyclists do not.
  • Motorists must be trained and licensed to use the roads where cyclists do not.
  • Motorists are frequently stopped by police or caught on traffic cams when there is a problem and cyclists in Portland seem to drive with flagrant impunity.

The combination of these three factors has caused Portlanders to label bike riders as “the Spandex Mafia.”

Narrow bridges can also cause serious problems, even if it is a relatively new bridge. Many were just not created for traffic. But this is the way that cities were created, it’s a headache to put right, but it gives the planners something to occupy their day.