To Go Faster, Traffic Slows Down

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How to ease traffic on I-70 in the mountains has dogged planners for a long time. Late last week, state transportation officials proposed adding a lane to eastbound I-70 from Idaho Springs to the base of Floyd Hill. If the feds approve, construction could start as early as 2013. But finding a driver who wants relief sooner doesn’t take much.

Anna Panoka: Literally we were stuck between Silverthorne and the top - where the tunnel is - for about 4 hours.

My colleague Anna Panoka was talking about this the other day.

Panoka: And at one point the guy in the car with me literally rolled down the window and just stuck his head out and screamed for two minutes straight.

In all, a trip that could have taken an hour and a half, took Ann seven. So to make traffic less nightmarish, the Colorado Department of Transportation is experimenting with police cars as pace vehicles when traffic is actually flowing.

CDOT Spokeswoman Stacey Stegman: One would just pull into traffic, turn on their lights, jump in front of the cue, and slow everyone down to a more reasonable speed.

Stacey Stegman is a spokeswoman for C-DOT. She says every 10 minutes, another police car pulls into traffic, driving below the speed limit.

Stegman: So you try to get people to go all about the same speed. It's just safer; you don’t have the conflict. Everyone can move at a much more smooth rate without causing additional problems and stop and go and the additional delays that result.

CDOT says its experiment has already had some good results, and the department will continue testing later this month. Tom Vanderbilt has studied this pacing technique on highways, and in the animal kingdom. Vanderbilt is the author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)." He tells CPR’s Zachary Barr that pacing brings down your speed so everyone can go a little faster.

[Photo: smcgee]