Here is a little video I shot of 5:00 traffic in Tulsa today:

I actually sat and watched this for a while and its really interesting to see that patterns that develop. So, the left lane is an exit only lane onto a surface street, the exit is perhaps 2/3 of a mile from where the two streams of traffic merge. The next two lanes go through and marge with the intrance ramp to the right. The most interesting pattern is up in the top left of the frame Most interesting is the top left of the video where the two streams of traffic merge.  It is sort of hard to see, but as soon as the two lanes come together people pull out of the exit only lane and into the through lanes, or into the exit lane from the through lanes. People seem to feel the need to pull in right away within the first 100 feet. I actually saw several people stop for 10 or 15 seconds to get into the other lane even though they had over a half a mile of empty lane in front of them to use to merge. I really think traffic would flow faster if people would just spread there merging out over the entire length of the exit only lane. I wonder why they don’t? A couple possibilities:

  • my observation might be wrong. There could be something im not seeing. Most of the people driving in this video drive this every day. They may know something I don’t.
  • Bad drivers, It could just be that all these people are bad drivers. They are on their cell phones and not paying attention. I don’t really think this is it. None of these drivers are dong anything wrong. They are just trying to get into the lane they need to be in.
  • Bad design. I think this is part of it. There might be something that could be done to help people not feel like they need to switch lanes immediately. Something to indicate that there is plenty of room to merge.
  • But, I think it has more to do with something people are really good at: getting tunnel vision and not seeing the big pictures. Or another way to think of it is that we focus so much on the detail right in front of us (i need to get into the other lane) that we never step back to see what is really going on (i have plenty for room, I don’t need to stop here until i can get over).

I do this kind of stuff all the time. I focus so much on the project I’m doing right now that I don’t make progress on the big picture of what I want to do and make progress on the big picture. And you can see this everywhere, politics, business, churches, non-profits, environmental debates, water wells, aid, development, money, economics, everywhere. I hope we can learn to think about the big picture, to think more then one step ahead.

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