Entering the danger zone of left-hand exits

TRAFFIC TALK

July 24, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jon Merryman wondered what to do when left-hand exits crop up, in particular the pesky stretch on U.S. 29 southbound between U.S. 40 and Route 100. This is Howard County's brand of "mixing bowl," in which drivers coming off of westbound and eastbound U.S. 40 exit onto the same ramp as they enter the left lanes of U.S. 29.

While those drivers are trying to merge into traffic, drivers on U.S. 29 start moving left near the U.S. 40 exit ramp in anticipation of Route 100's left-hand exit a mile away.

Mr. Merryman's question relates to a slower driver exiting from U.S. 40 who wants to get onto Route 100.

"Do I work my way all the way right, and then back to the left again to get on 100 [annoying most everyone in the process], or do I hang in the left lane with vehicles swarming and swearing all around me?" he wondered.

My answer is that unless you are one of the faster drivers, hang out in the middle lane of U.S. 29 until just before the Route 100 exit, keeping an eye on cars bunching up that might prevent you from moving over into the exit lanes in time.

But Mr. Merryman's questions keep coming: "And of the two lanes that exit left onto 100, do I choose the leftmost lane [which stays out of the 29 southbound traffic continuing toward Columbia] or the rightmost exit lane [lane 2] which allows people to pass on the left at breakneck speed but then interferes with the banshees headed south toward Silver Spring?"

That is a dilemma because Route 100's "slower" exit lane doubles as the fast lane on U.S. 29. There are too many variables - traffic, the prevailing speed - to offer a hard-and-fast rule for this stretch.

Perhaps the word to live and drive by on this stretch is patience. Going a few miles an hour faster isn't going to get you there much sooner, so allow the drivers to sort themselves out into the proper lanes safely.

There are other roads that defy the "slower traffic move to the right" rule. I don't treat certain stretches of U.S. 40 in Howard and Baltimore counties like "regular" highways because of the signal lights and the multiple turn possibilities.

On longer stretches, I would tend to get over to the right, but because it's not a limited-access road and you're likely to need to make a left turn at various points, I think it's unrealistic to expect slower drivers to stay in the right lane. That said, if someone was breathing down my tailpipe, I'd move over.

Other roads I would treat the same? Route 2 in Anne Arundel County, U.S. 1 through Howard and Prince Georges' counties, and Broken Land Parkway and Snowden River Parkway in Howard County.

Lip about left lane

Readers are still responding to Ralph Pratt's provocative comments, which ran two weeks ago. He described preferring to drive in the left lane, often at speeds well above the posted limit. He said that if he is approached by a faster driver who tailgates him, he'll slow down to well below the speed limit.

Bruce Whitney was one expressing disbelief. "People like that are a major reason why driving is so screwed up nowadays. Mr. Pratt apparently has come up with his own rules [hey, I can cruise in the fast lane and if someone wants to pass me, tough, they have to pass me on the right], adding to road rage and people having to jerk in and out of lanes to pass Mr. Pratt. Mr. Pratt needs some remedial driver's ed and fast, or at least to be pulled over and ticketed."

Bay Bridge information

If you plan to go to Ocean City this summer, go to http://www. baybridgeinfo.com/lane closure.html for updated information about lane closures and construction work. For up-to-the-minute traffic information on the bridge spans and at the tolls, call the Bayspan Hotline at 877-229-7726.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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