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Life Happens: Traffic braiding gets merging done

HAMBURG — I recently accepted a new job that I love. Unfortunately, it is not very close to my home. Since I worked from home in my previous employ, my work travel distance increased from zero miles to a round-trip commute of 60 miles, per day.

That’s a lot of driving. The majority of my trip is on the Thruway and its various extensions. I have noticed many things, while I’ve been spending so much time on the road.

I never realized how short our merging lanes are, until now. A few of them are so short that drivers literally have to fling themselves into traffic, or risk slamming into guardrails. The most dramatic of these is the entrance ramp onto the Skyway, from Route 190 south. Others include the entrance ramps onto the 190 from various streets and, of course, the Scajaguada Expressway.

Add a little ice and snow and you have the makings of an interesting merging experience.

Then there’s the Thruway itself. Morning traffic slows to a stop, around all the major entrances, as everyone pours onto the highway during rush hour. It can take a really long time to make it to my downtown exit, from Route 219.

There is also one other phenomena that I’ve observed, during my commute.

The majority of drivers are courteous and even amicable, as hundreds of people come down those on-ramps, needing a place to fit into the traffic pattern. I call this “traffic braiding,” because that is exactly what it looks like.

As each car enters the merging lane, the cars already in the main stream adjust their speeds, so that the vehicle ahead can merge in seamlessly and keep everything moving. Car by car, everyone merges, in an orderly, alternating fashion.

That is one of the reasons I love this area. What could be a high-stress, vindictive, anger-inducing ride to work, is actually not that bad.

I have picked up the rhythm of the braiding technique. If I’m in the main lane, I watch for those merging cars and let one or two in ahead of me, like everyone else does. When I’m on one of those incredibly short merging lanes, I am always grateful for those gracious enough to allow me to merge.

Traffic braiding is another unique and totally unexpected way that Western New Yorkers look out for each other. If I have to drive 60 miles per day, I am glad I get to do it here.

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