I live in a medium-sized town just on the edge of the DFW congestion zone. I don’t go to the big city much, so I don’t have a lot of experience on the urban freeways. I was in Fort Worth today, crossing the south side both ways along I-20, which has 4 through lanes. The speed limit here is 60. I almost never speed, but I do there at times to prevent a constant stream of passing traffic, which is dangerous. Today traffic wasn’t too bad and moved fairly freely, so I went 60 in the right lane.
I noticed everyone seemed to be short on time and had somewhere to get really quickly. But as I watched other cars, I started to wonder if the drivers weren’t just looking to go as fast as they can, but if they were trying to fill in the space ahead of them.
In heavy traffic I try to keep a steady speed and accomplish this by leaving a buffer ahead of me. People constantly fill in that buffer, so I’m constantly falling back further. This doesn’t bother me at all. Unless traffic is really thick, I can avoid most of the stopping and starting that way. Many people seem to be bothered by gaps and want to fill them in, even if it leads to less efficient operation. I often see people change lanes when a light ahead turns red, in order to get out from behind other cars and be the first car in that lane. Often this is because they want to accelerate and get to the next red light as quickly as possible, but with some frequency these drivers don’t even accelerate rapidly when the light turns green. It’s as if they just want to fill in that empty space.
On urban freeways, I see drivers going fast until they get close to the car ahead. Then, instead of passing in order to maintain speed, sometimes they slow to the speed of the car ahead and follow. This makes me wonder if some people are less interested in maintaining speed, or going as fast as they can, and more interested in filling in empty spaces. There are certainly people who simply want to go fast, and these are the ones constantly passing, but many people accelerate into a gap and then maintain position behind another car.
Seeing this today reminded me of the game of Tetris. The cars represent falling blocks. These blocks don’t stop and float, but fall until getting to the bottom or falling onto another block. They are also moved in order to fill in gaps that are further down. It’s similar to what some drivers seem to do.
I know people who simply want all the speed they can get. I had the misfortune of riding along at 95 in a 30 because it was night and no one was around. But I wonder if there’s another class of driver that goes fast in some situations, motivated not by speed itself, but by a need to fill in the space ahead and catch up with someone. I’ve long noticed that some drivers approach rapidly from behind on a quiet freeway, slow down to my speed and follow for a while, and then apparently realize they don’t like my speed and pass in the left lane. They do this even though the left lane was empty the whole time. Maybe for a while they were content just knowing that the gap was filled.
These observations are based on infrequent experiences. I prefer rural areas over big cities, so I don’t have a lot of city driving experience in spite of my geographical proximity. And I really only thought about this today, so the asserted possible phenomenon described has only minimal support. Perhaps more frequent users of urban freeways have more insight.