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Readers cheer Beaty's theory about traffic flow
Times staff reporter
You can read about Beaty's traffic-calming technique on his Web site at amasci.com/amateur/traffic/traffic1.html.
Meanwhile, here's some of what folks had to say about it:
From Ron Hadford, Tukwila: I have long maintained that following too close causes what I call the Slinky effect, like the toy that walks down stairs. Not only would a sufficient distance between yourself and the car ahead help traffic flow, it would drastically cut down on accidents. I do not understand why the State Patrol does not ticket drivers on a regular basis for following too close.
From Josh Cooley, Seattle: I've also used the Beaty method: Leave plenty of space between your car and the cars in front of you. It works. However, I believe most drivers are too thick-headed, impatient and angry for it to ever work.
From Warren Stiles, Bellevue: I am amused about your story on Mr. Beaty's experience. I myself was using this same strategy several years ago when making regular daily trips around Seattle. I too got tired of the stopping and starting and began to do the exact same thing to avoid the constant gear shifting needed to get up speed and then suddenly have to stop.
I would gauge the speed at which traffic was pulsing and then get up only enough speed necessary to stay in constant motion. I found that after a bit of time the other drivers around me would notice what was happening and match my pace. Of course, that was after all the impatient ones had passed and caught up with the end of the "inchworm."
This strategy works! Each time I encountered a slowdown I would watch traffic behind me as I found the proper pace and noticed over time that the mass of vehicles behind me would settle into the same flow and that the pace would slowly work its way back through the pack.
If we could make more people in the area aware of this strategy it could very well alleviate some of the more persistent congestion that plagues our freeways.
From Kelly Kersteiner, Redmond: I agree 100 percent with Bill Beaty's analysis of our traffic problems. When I first moved to Seattle from the East Coast eight years ago, I was impressed with how polite commuters were around here, allowing others to merge easily.
However, it seems that as traffic has gotten worse, people can more frequently be found riding on other people's bumpers and making it difficult for other cars to merge from onramps.
I have another suggestion. I was in Germany last summer, driving on the autobahn. In Germany, cars drive in the right lane when there are two or more lanes on the road. Only when they are passing do they enter a middle lane or outside lane. This keeps the faster traffic moving and does not block the road for long distances.
From Mark Siems, Seattle: Bill Beaty's theory is sound. I witness the wave effect every time while going eastbound on 520 from the last Arboretum onramp, to the top of the high-rise. I would theorize that the final onramp induces the wave, in that it incites drivers to tailgate ("I'm not letting you in, I was here first").
I would suggest to the state that it extend the length of the onramp merge and that making that stretch a "No Lane Change" area would also go a long way to reducing the pulsing, stop-and-go effect.
From Ed Wietecha, Sammamish: Mr. Beaty has deluded himself into believing that smooth flow also means increased flow. I too am an engineer (chemical) and have used the technique Mr. Beaty described, just to avoid braking. Traffic congestion is like draining a tank. It dissipates (or empties) at a rate controlled by the greatest resistance. The tank won't empty any faster if you run a big pipe to a small hole. The concept of steady movement (the "apparent" bigger pipe) doesn't produce more cars per hour past a given point on the highway, once the highway is already at capacity, although it may seem so.
However, his observations on merging do have some merit, as it can prevent traffic from backing up on to adjacent arterial streets, creating additional congestion.
From Randall Kehrer, Seattle: I've driven commercially for five years, and I know it works. I carry loads in excess of 96,000 pounds and my truck doesn't stop on a dime. I have to slow down ahead of time, and what (Beaty) suggests works. I maintain a minimum following distance of one truck length, and as cars fill it up I continue slowing down until I've slowed enough to stop without incident.
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