|Closing the Gap|
In my last article about Driving in the Nation's Capital, I poked fun at the various things that we Washingtonians have come to love, hate, or just accept. After having the opportunity to drive in major cities worldwide, I have come to conclusion that our traffic problem is not due to congestion, road construction, or even the full moon. We are a victim of our own habits and “it’s all about me” attitude. The one maneuver that is responsible for the majority of the traffic problems is a maneuver I call “closing the gap.”
Growing up in the West, there were wide-open spaces and roads that go on forever. As a kid, we never thought about the hours spent in a car. You see, in the West, the roads go on forever and pretty much in a straight line. You could go faster, but the increase in speed didn’t really gain that much for you. A moderate increase in speed gained you some time savings, but anything more than that increased risk and reduce fuel economy. Give this fact, most drivers were contempt to put on the cruise control and just enjoy the radio as they rolled out the miles.
Herein lies the problem with driving in D.C. Most drivers have no experience with driving along as a constant speed – they have become a victim of closing the gap. In simple terms, we drive by relative distance and not by speed. As long as we are 10 feet from the car in front of us, speed doesn’t really matter. If the car in front of us goes slower, we slow down; if the car speeds up, we simply catch up, or close the gap.
Read more...Now why does this introduce a problem? Well, this constant slowing down and catching up creates this Slinky Effect. But instead of going with the flow, we constantly slam on the brakes or the gas pedal to maintain a constant distance from the car in front of us. This psychologically causes a traffic jam in our mind, and consequently, on the road. When the space opens up in front of us, we race to close the gap. When we see brake lights, we slam on the brakes. This Slinky Effect invariably leads to a traffic jam.
Now, let’s throw in drivers that are trying to enter the flow of traffic. They can’t! While each driver is trying to maintain their spot in the queue, they simply resist the common courtesy to allow other drivers into the flow. While the new driver is eyeing an opening and trying to account for speed and distance, the existing drivers are closing the gap and thereby preventing a safe and efficient flow for merging traffic. If somebody wants to change lanes and they eye a particular opening in traffic, their successful lane change attempt is thwarted by the surrounding cars closing the gap.
Now throw in the “it’s all about me” attitude, the constant road construction, the lack of time, and possibly the time of day, see can see that we are victims of our own bad habit – it’s all about closing the gap.