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RG13.2 southbound on Willamette Street

March 22nd, 2008 by dk

Drive south on Willamette Street, stop at the red light at 18th Avenue, and learn why Eugene is so slow to get anything done. Drivers will dutifully line up in the right lane, ten deep, leaving the middle lane almost empty most of the time. Why? Because Willamette Street narrows to a single lane in each direction at 20th Avenue. The left lane is then forced to a left turn toward the Civic Stadium parking lot, so anyone going farther south will need to merge right before proceeding. Traffic engineers and physicists who study flow will explain to you that traffic flow is optimized in this case with both lanes filled at the stoplight, allowing drivers to fold together as they accelerate. (This is especially true at this intersection because those two blocks are one-way. There is no risk of being caught behind a car waiting to turn left.) But you don’t need a theorist to tell you. You can experiment on your own. If you can merge without causing any brake lights to become lit, you’ve added to the road’s capacity. But people don’t do this. They wait in a line of a dozen cars, congratulating themselves that they don’t “cut in line,” never questioning whether that particular lesson from First Grade is applicable here. I don’t suppose it matters in this case, except that same incuriosity and smugness show up at lots of intersections, real and metaphorical.

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  • 1 Bish Mar 25, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Even worse than south on Willamette is north on the Ferry Street Bridge. Folks will merge left to avoid being in the right lane that merges toward the EWEB building. The right lane will be clear all the way from the on-ramp to the right lane exit. Yet when I take the right lane, in an effort to keep traffic moving, I get ugly looks from those jamming up traffic on the left. Thia has confused me for years.