Chokepoint Challenge: Stay in the right lane to get through traffic faster

Oct 5, 2021, 6:29 AM
traffic, right lane...
Seattle traffic on I-5. (Photo courtesy of SDOT/Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of SDOT/Flickr)

This is my first ever “Chokepoint Challenge.”

Rain is coming; Sully’s wet weather driving 101

As some of you might know, I have been traveling every weekend to watch our son, Tommy, play football at Montana State University. We are driving to Bozeman a lot, sometimes on back-to-back weekends, which most people think is crazy.

They might be right. We might be crazy, but all of that driving has given me a chance to test a traffic theory in which my wife, Holly, firmly believes. It’s not a new theory, but I hadn’t really thought about until we started all this extra driving.

Here is the theory: When traffic is backed up, you will move faster in the slow lane (or the right lane) than you will in the fast lane (the left lane).

I want you to envision your drives on southbound I-5 through Mountlake Terrace or through Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I want you to think southbound I-5 from Federal Way through Tacoma. How about northbound I-5 through Lacey on a Sunday? Maybe your drive on eastbound I-90 through North Bend, or even rush hour in Spokane?

What should you do?

I have found that staying in the right lane will get you through congestion faster, even though you have to deal with a lot of merging. Think what you see out of those merging drivers: Most of them keep trying to get left, jamming into lanes with little room, all to get to the “fast lane.” Then, when the fast lane comes to a stop, you see those drivers jam back in to the right, into the middle lane.

It becomes a frustrating, and somewhat dangerous, game of Frogger, and for what? Hooray! You’re now one car-length ahead in a five-mile backup. That was certainly worth nearly causing an accident.

With each of those moves, both the left lane and the middle lane slow down. All the while, I’m hanging in the right lane moving along. I might not be moving fast, but I’m not jamming on my brakes every two seconds and feeling my blood pressure rising.

So here’s my challenge to you: The next time you encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic, realize you’re going to be losing time, and hang in the right lane. It’s better for your blood pressure, and it’s faster than you think.

This theory also works very well for people who understand the zipper merge. In many of these congestion cases, the right lane that I am using might eventually go away, and I usually know it. Just be confident in using the lane that you are given, until it’s time to merge over or turns into an “exit only” lane. Resist the urge to merge early.

In our recent trips to Bozeman, we have been driving home on Sunday afternoons on I-90. It’s not exactly the best time to drive, considering the congestion into and through Cle Elum and Easton. I am appalled by the driving I have seen. The sheer selfishness of some drivers trying to get one car ahead just baffles me. But that’s for another discussion.

Here is where you can take my challenge: When I-90 westbound opens up to three lanes near Easton, about mile post 65, as you head up the hill, I want you to stay in the right lane. I know it goes away after the top of the hill, but there’s about a half mile of lane after the “lane ends” sign to use. Even if there’s a truck in that right lane, just try it. I was behind a double-trailer semi on Sunday, and we flew pass the cars stopped in the middle and left lanes.

Just remember that the fast lane isn’t always fast. Think “Tortoise and the Hare” — who won that race?

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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Chokepoint Challenge: Stay in the right lane to get through traffic faster