John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Traffic will jam if zippers brake

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Impatient drivers defeat purpose of onramp merging lanes.

Light-controlled onramp merging lanes are designed to feed cars easily into motorway traffic. Photo / Dean Purcell
Light-controlled onramp merging lanes are designed to feed cars easily into motorway traffic. Photo / Dean Purcell

This really doesn't matter, but since we're talking about banning trucks from fast lanes, I thought I'd bring it up: why is that so many car drivers haven't figured out how to use a merging lane?

You see them every morning now that onramps are light controlled. Some drivers, in fact so many that it might be most drivers, have not worked out that they should drive right to the end of lane where it will put them effortlessly into the traffic.

Instead, they take off from the light with a roar of resentment at being held up, then promptly pull up half way along the ramp, indicators flashing, trying to break into the line as soon as they can. They succeed of course. A nice person lets them in too soon.

Meanwhile, they have held up following cars on the ramp, the nice person letting them in is slowing all the motorway traffic behind, those drivers on the ramp who understand what "merge like a zip" means have slipped past on their inside, driven to end of the lane and merged ahead of them.

Why can't they work it out?

Any pleasure in getting ahead of them is ruined by the realisation that the traffic you are joining is travelling much slower than it might be if early mergers were not occurring on the onramps ahead. Little things like this, multiplied by about half the number of cars entering Auckland motorways in the morning rush hour, amount to a serious contribution to congestion.

Traffic engineers must despair at the state of human intelligence sometimes. The light controls on motorway ramps are a great idea but about half the driving population don't get it. You see these people cribbing forward on the red, often way past the line before the light turns, and you can bet they will try to merge too early. Sure enough.

The last time I saw Campbell Live it was doing a mindless item on the annoyance of traffic lights on motorway ramps. An intrepid reporter went to a ramp and held up a sign inviting drivers to sound their horn if they hated the lights. He got plenty of honks.

It was an item that could have explained how the restraint serves everyone's interest in the long run - right up John Campbell's alley, I would have thought - but it was content to exploit ignorance for a stunt.

Road annoyances are a little thing and I shouldn't go on about it. Everyone will have their pet rage. Somebody in the Labour Party obviously feels deeply about trucks passing each other. I can't say I've noticed this to be a problem.

Truck drivers in my observation are quite considerate, choosing their moment to pass, limiting the time they block two lanes and letting cars get ahead of them. As for trucks in the outside lane of three or more, what is the problem? We are allowed to pass on inside lanes.

We don't have designated fast lanes in New Zealand unfortunately. I think we should, and if we have an electronic means of tolling one lane these days, we should do that. There would be no surer way to cure motorway congestion than to let drivers in the greatest hurry pay for a clearway. All lanes would flow a bit quicker.

What chance the Labour Party, having introduced the concept of fast lanes for the purpose of banning trucks, would be open to the possibility of tolling them? No chance probably. It prefers restrictions to price signals.

Unkind commentators have suggested the truck restriction policy, coming completely out of left field this week, was simply to catch attention on a holiday weekend when so many are out on the highways. If so, it has worked.

I wish I was in Matt McCarten's war room, the former Labour Party caucus room at Parliament that reportedly has been turned into the nerve centre of Labour's election campaign by David Cunliffe's chief of staff. There will be a table in there where they meet and rack their brains for ways to lift the poll ratings.

Roads are good material. Everyone uses them and basically resents others using them. So let's pick on trucks. Nobody likes those behemoths, their freight should all be on the poor, run-down railway anyway. Suggest trucks passing is a problem and people will agree that it must be.

If I was in that room, they might pick up my beef with the blockers of merging lanes. They are our people, many of them women dare I say, so we can't be punitive about this. I'm suggesting we make it legal for a following car to nudge them gently all the way to the end of the lane, just until everyone learns to merge like a zip. Just kidding, I think.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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