One sign yields irritation galoreIs yielding to another...

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

December 07, 1992

One sign yields irritation galore

Is yielding to another driver a sign of weakness?

It must seem that way to some of our fellow motorists who would rather rear-end a car than allow someone to merge in front of them, even in stop-and-go traffic.

Conversely, we are frequently angered by those who would take advantage of the kindness of strangers by using a merge area to pass other cars.

The business of yielding and merging with others is a frequent source of irritation to readers of this column. Intrepid Commuter recently received a letter from reader Curt Dobbs who outlines the problem.

He cites the example of a construction zone on a highway where two lanes merge into one. Usually, he writes, the trouble begins with a warning sign that reads something like "Left Lane Closed 1 Mile Ahead."

"What happens next never seems to vary," writes Mr. Dobbs. "About 60 percent of the cars will immediately maneuver into the right lane, followed over the next one-half mile or so by another 30 percent or 35 percent that will gradually move to the right lane."

"The remaining 5 percent or 10 percent will the take advantage of the almost empty left lane and move rapidly to the front where they then butt back into the right lane."

"A substantial percentage of the drivers who moved over early will try to prevent the advantage-takers from getting back in by riding closely on the bumper of the car in front, making accidents more probable. Blood pressures rise in all lanes."

Mr. Dobbs suggests an alternative, a sign that says something like this: "Lanes converge, Please Merge Alternately." The sign shows the outline of cars merging alternately from two lanes into one.

We passed along these concerns to Tom Hicks, traffic director for the State Highway Administration, who agrees that Mr. Dobbs' idea has merit.

In fact, Mr. Hicks says, he has been contemplating trying out such a strategy next year at a permanent merge area like the Route 100 exit onto northbound Route 3 in northern Anne Arundel County.

"It's more an annoyance than a safety problem, but I understand what he's talking about," Mr. Hicks says. "It's sort of rude, but not against the law."

Frankly, this issue reminds the Intrepid One of an automotive accessory we've been waiting to find on the market: a programable electronic rolling message sign that could be attached to the rear of our car. With a few taps on a --board-mounted keyboard, we could flash clever communications to the etiquette-impaired.

We suspect that such a device could give an ill-behaved commuter a more exhaustive and no less heart-felt instruction than the standard -- and somewhat intemperate -- hand signal that so many of us employ.

Parking de-railed

We shift abruptly, and without the benefit of a clever writing transition, to the topic of parking around the Mount Washington light rail station.

A SunDial caller asks us why the parking meters in Mount Washington extend until 10 p.m. when most of the stores are closed. The late-running meters mean that he can't park in the business district and catch a light rail train downtown for an evening event such as a concert or a play.

Here's the real catch: The light rail stop has its own free parking spaces, 75 of them, but he often can't use them. The lot is frequently filled with Mount Washington restaurant and bar patrons who are saving their quarters.

So what we have here is a kind of Catch-22. The meters are kept in action so that light rail users don't take up spots for bar and restaurant patrons. Yet, because the meters are working, light rail patrons are squeezed out of the lot by people going to the bars and restaurants.

We first passed along this question to the city's public works department, which is responsible for the meters. They declined to make any changes.

"We're the first to acknowledge there's a shortage of parking in the area, but we think shortening the hours would have a negative effect on the merchants," said Vanessa Pyatt, the department's spokeswoman. "We have to ensure proper turnover in these parking spaces for the Mount Washington businesses."

We next went to the Mass Transit Administration which runs the light rail lot since the other potential answers would be to either meter the lot, or enforce the ban on parking by anyone other

than a light rail customer. But like the city, they declined to make any changes in the situation.

"There are signs that say that parking is exclusively for light rail patrons, but I could see that unless we watched the people park and walk away, it's difficult to enforce," says Dianna Rosborough, the MTA's spokeswoman.

On the other hand, metering the lot might discourage commuters from taking light rail to work, she says.

So there you have it. Yet another reason why so many Baltimore area residents complain about how inconvenient the Central Light Rail Line can be.

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