Traffic Jammin’ With Janis Mara – Merge Lane On Concord Blvd., Fastrak Transponder, Carpool Lane Passing + MORE

December 3, 2018 14:00 pm · 57 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every first and third Monday at 2 p.m. on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every first and third Monday of the month at 2 pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions. Email your questions to

COMMUTER: Friendly reminder to those who commute on Concord Boulevard in Concord. Sometimes there are TWO LANES, and they do MERGE at a point. Some drivers think people are “cutting” by using the merge lane and won’t give them an inch. This happened to me – the man in the Audi was soooooo rude!

I put my hand out the window to signal that I was merging, I also had my blinker on for quite a while. He rolled down his window and cursed me! Said I was racing down the shoulder to cut in. I said no, it’s a merge lane and people are supposed to take turns. He kept moving his car towards mine.

I finally said, “Go ahead #!@%!” and backed off so he could have his precious place in line! He then proceeded to go super-slow, about 28 mph holding up the line of cars behind him. Stop using 3,000 pounds of steel to bully people on the roads. It’s not worth it!


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Anonymous, I’m so sorry you had this awful experience. Readers, Anonymous also indicated that this happens to her all the time, which is even more concerning. As you can tell by the photo Anonymous sent along, this is indeed a legal merge lane marked with an arrow.

COMMUTER: Oh, Jammer!! Re: the smell of stank on someone’s clothes – YES! it is very possible for the smell to be enough to trigger a reaction, just as it is enough for people to look askance at the smoker. You are lucky if you’ve never been subjected to this!

–Mimi (original)

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Awhile back, a reader asked whether it was disrespectful and offensive if someone smoked marijuana in front of a home or came over smelling like it. The Jammer mildly replied that smoking outside someone’s house seemed offensive, just as drinking outside would be, but coming over smelling like it was relatively benign.

Beloved Claycordians disagreed. Almost all the commenters agreed with Mimi (original). And it looks like you are right and I was wrong. “ Although the active ingredients of the cannabis plant differ from those of the tobacco plant, each produces about 4000 chemicals when smoked and these are largely identical,” according to this study cited by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

COMMUTER:  I read about a motorist who received a warning because her Fastrak device was not affixed to her front window. It seems to me that this contradicts motorists being cautioned not to leave valuables visible in their cars. Your thoughts?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Janet, I see your point, since a person who steals a Fastrak transponder could use it for free tolls. However, it’s not like stealing a credit card, which a thief could rack up hundreds of dollars in purchases before the card gets canceled. And it’s not like stealing an iPhone or a laptop; the transponder itself has no intrinsic value.

It’s fine to keep the transponder elsewhere in the car and hold it up to be read. Not only that, Janet, readers have actually chastised the Jammer on more than one occasion for urging folks to use the transponder. They point out, correctly, that the system can read the license plate number and charge the car if you’re registered, and they conclude that the transponder isn’t needed.

COMMUTER: What about the carpool lane? Is it a passing lane?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer is reprinting this post in abbreviated form because in a recent column she neglected to address the first two sentences. Beloved Claycordian JohnS addressed it in the comments: “During ‘commute hours’, the HOV lanes are not ‘the passing lane.’” True, and thanks, JohnS!

That’s it for this week. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm on the first and third Mondays of the month for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART, County Connection or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

Turn n Burn December 3, 2018 at 2:25 PM

Anonymous, we live close by. We can hear the horns honking, and sometimes the screaming of one motorist to another on a daily basis. Plus all the accidents that happen there. I’m sure everyone is tired from a long day and everyone just wants to go home. but I agree with you. If we could all just do the zipper effect, it will all go smoothly. Plus a little curtesy goes a long way.

Fed Up December 3, 2018 at 2:32 PM

As long as you didn’t pull from behind me race up the right to”get ahead” I agree with you, but I’m tired of all these people who race up to the merging lane because they don’t want to wait…your anger when he goes slow when you are behind him is really the same as his…just different reasons. If everyone splits both lanes I find merging is orderly, it’s when people move over and then others behind move ahead so they can get ahead…I think that’s what you are doing Commuter and I agree with him if that’s the case.

Jessica December 4, 2018 at 9:27 AM

I’m not sure why people should “wait” in line? There is an entire empty lane in there that people should be using. Please explain why taking advantage of a free lane (which anyone can do) is rude.

Patient December 3, 2018 at 2:36 PM

Yes, the right lane on Concord Blvd is a merge lane. It’s a merge lane for drivers making a right turn from Farm Bureau road onto Concord Blvd., not a lane for the multitude of impatient jerks that use it to pass all of the drivers that stayed in the left lane. I see it every day. If you’re merging in after turning onto Concord Blvd from Farm Bureau, then come on over, but if you used the right lane just to get 3 cars ahead of where you were in line, then screw you. You can wait for someone other sap to let you in. Hopefully you end up further back in line then when you cut out. It’s not illegal to use the right lane to cut out and cut back in ahead of where you were, it’s just a d**k move.

Bishop Estates December 3, 2018 at 2:55 PM

Yes, this response!!!

Turn n Burn December 3, 2018 at 2:55 PM

Janis, can we please also remind people that when turning right on a red light, you need to stop first, then proceed when safe to do so. Way to many people just roll on through.

Kentucky Derby December 3, 2018 at 3:28 PM

Patient is CORRECT! It is a merge lane for drivers making a right turn from Farm Bureau. If you’re using the right light to get 3 cars ahead of me, I won’t let you in EITHER. Screw you! If you’re using that lane to cut in, you’re looking to cause an accident.

Anyone who has ever driven Concord Blvd. should know this.

Frank Faragasso December 3, 2018 at 4:11 PM


RunnerDope December 3, 2018 at 4:11 PM

I’m calling BS on the merge lane being for right turns only. Why would they put a merge lane there for right turns only? There’s very little right turn traffic there. There are much busier intersections where a right turn merge lane would make sense but they don’t have them.

Scoob December 3, 2018 at 5:22 PM

While I dislike drivers who use this type of lane to get ahead, it appears that this is a valid merge lane for Concord Blvd traffic that has not turned from Farm Bureau. Google maps shows the arrows in the right lane on Concord Blvd approaching Farm Bureau allow for both right turns and going straight through the intersection. Perhaps Officer LEO can comment. When traveling westbound it can be difficult to merge over a lane before the intersection. What many of us object to is the driver who leaves the line of cars we are all in, and goes down another lane to get 10 or 20 cars ahead, while the drivers of those cars wait their turn. I think its a jerk move, but have learned to ignore this type of driving. If you get upset by every jerk, you will be upset every day.

Rollo Tomasi December 3, 2018 at 5:53 PM

If that were the case, there would be markings or signage to indicate. Also, the right lane on Concord Blvd at that intersection would be a right turn only lane for those turning right on Farm Bureau, thereby restricting cars in the right lane from proceeding straight through the intersection. Your theory is also flawed in the sense that the small volume of traffic turning right from Farm Bureau doesn’t justify a dedicated merge lane.

Kentucky Derby December 3, 2018 at 6:51 PM

Whether or not it’s legal (and it probably is) it’s unsafe to cut in front of people at the last minute on a busy street like Concord Blvd. Do you want to wait 30 seconds or tick people off like Anonymous did, which could easily cause an accident?

All the years I lived in Concord, I saw this daily. Quit racing down the shoulder to cut in (at the last minute). You’re not going to get there any faster. If you get hit, oh well.

Rollo Tomasi December 3, 2018 at 7:58 PM

It’s not the shoulder, it’s a legal driving lane that ends in a merge, and said merge is not complicated. If you’re in the left lane, you let one vehicle in between you and the vehicle ahead of you.

Concord Mom December 4, 2018 at 5:36 AM

This! Don’t fly around me to get 3 cars ahead of me!

ManBearPig December 4, 2018 at 12:42 PM

Satellite photos from September 2018 show that both east bound lanes approaching Farm Bureau have straight arrows painted on the asphalt in two different locations. The #2 lane also has a right turn arrow in the same two spots.

If there are no posted traffic signs along the sidewalk outlawing the right turn, you’re 100% legal to go straight through the intersection in the #2 lane and then merge east of Farm Bureau. If there are traffic signs posted which say differently than the street markings, the city’s traffic folks at Public Works would need to correct one or the other.

ManBearPig December 4, 2018 at 12:43 PM

And the west bound lanes of Concord BL approaching Farm Bureau have the same markings. You can pass through in the #2 and merge on the other side.

Same December 3, 2018 at 2:46 PM

A little more detail on the transponder. They do have intrinsic value, according to Fastrak. They ding you $20 if you don’t return them. Secondly, if you are a carpooler, the only way to get Fastrak to acknowledge and give you the reduced price is to use the Flex tag device where you can tell them you have 3 people in your car. Your plate number doesn’t get it done.

94521 December 3, 2018 at 2:57 PM

Anonymous – I 100% do not feel sorry for you! If this happens to you “all the time”, then you’re the one with the problem. I drive that road all the time and regularly see jerks like you race up the right lane to cut over.

La Grinch December 3, 2018 at 3:04 PM

I agree with Patient. Clearly, Anonymous is WELL AWARE that the lanes will merge into one – and yet, makes the choice to stay in the right lane. Why do that if you know you will need to be in the left lane? I suspect this is done to bypass a many cars as possible before being forced to merge. You know that you will be asking someone to make the decision to allow you in front of them. I would bet that a police officer would say that the defensive driving approach in this situation is to get into the lane you know you need to be in long before it becomes a challenge situation.

MrDioji December 3, 2018 at 10:08 PM

This is completely incorrect. It’s actually a perfectly useful lane. The optimal use of the available pavement is for the zipper merge to occur at the merge point. Not a huge single file line and a wasted lane. You are not asking someone to make a decision to let you over. If both lanes were fully utilized, then the each car in the left lane would let one car from the right lane ahead of them – at the point which the right lanes ends. This is the most efficient traffic operation.

Freeman December 5, 2018 at 7:04 AM

This argument is incorrect and makes no sense.

In your mind, since I know that when I get off 24 and onto Ygnacio Valley Road, should I never be in lane #3 since I am WELL AWARE it’s going to merge after Oak Grove Road?

Feel free to use the merge lane yourself! You’ll actually be helping the flow of traffic.

Cowellian December 3, 2018 at 3:13 PM

Does nobody understand how to make a merge work? That is perfectly good pavement in the right lane, and there is no need to let it go to waste. Traffic would move much smoother if everyone just stayed in their own lane until the merge point. Then merge! You know, give one, take one. Then you would avoid all the frantic lane changes leading up to the merge, and everyone gets home sooner.

AnonZ December 4, 2018 at 6:35 AM


Fred December 3, 2018 at 3:30 PM

A very long time ago I drove a VW Bus, a very slow car. People would line up 6 deep to and use the merge lanes to get around me. Fun to “race” them. With all the stops and all they probably made it down town about 30 seconds before.

RunnerDope December 3, 2018 at 3:51 PM

“During ‘commute hours’, the HOV lanes are not ‘the passing lane.’”

True. So during commute hours, the lane to the right of the HOV lane becomes the “fast lane”. Don’t drive 60 MPH there!

MrDioji December 3, 2018 at 10:11 PM

Passing Lane, not Fast Lane! Some people feel 60 is fast. You should be passing someone if you’re in the leftmost lane (lane to the right of HOV during commute). If not, move over.

Tsa December 3, 2018 at 4:18 PM

The California mantra at work, “it’s all about ME”.

BoboHead December 3, 2018 at 4:35 PM

I do this ALL THE TIME!!! So funny how mad some of you are. I’m not “racing down the merge lane”, but its an open lane and its free/available to drive in. There are usually less cars there, so i use it and sometime i end up a few cars ahead, sometimes i end up in my same place. If there’s a day where the lanes are equal and i stay in the left lane and someone uses the right lane, i do the courteous thing and let them in. You are doing what you think it right, i’m doing what i think is right. The important thing is that neither of us are doing anything wrong. So calm down, be polite and give the right lane a shot every now and then. 🙂

MrDioji December 3, 2018 at 10:15 PM

Actually the people refusing to use the available roadway, not letting people merge, and spreading anger are objectively wrong. The zipper merge at the point which the lane ends is the most efficient use of the roadway.

BoboHead December 3, 2018 at 4:40 PM

And yet another point about using the merge lane. It helps traffic move along. Someone with way too much time on their hands did a study on it. So all you angry people, read this and start merging the right way with the rest of us!

ConcordMike December 3, 2018 at 4:44 PM

Just curious, if the right lane prior to the intersection is meant for people turning right, why isn’t it marked “Vehicles in Right Lane Must Turn Right”?
Like I said, I’m just curious. Personally I think it’s okay to continue straight as long as you are courteous to merge. Road rage never solved anything.

Joe December 3, 2018 at 5:31 PM

I wish they would make the lane a right turn only prior to Farm Bureau.
It’s been an unnecessary cluster for too long.


ClayDen December 3, 2018 at 6:08 PM

We have 4 cars and two Fastrak Flex transponders and move them between cars when we need to use one (all of the cars are registered on both transponders). They are not affixed to the windshield for the reason noted (potential theft), as well as it being awkward to switch between the number of passengers in the car when they are used if mounted where allowed by law.

Rollo Tomasi December 3, 2018 at 6:10 PM

The same type lane of design exists at the intersection of San Miguel Drive/Mesa Street and Cowell Road (almost under the BART tracks). Is that merge lane dedicated only to those turning right from San Miguel Drive onto Cowell Road? Don’t think so.

RunnerDope December 3, 2018 at 10:43 PM

Especially since there is no right turn on red there.

FBR December 3, 2018 at 6:16 PM

Don’t be angry because you are the jerk who uses the merge lane to get ahead but then has to wait because the ones who were patiently in line won’t “let you in.” Suck it up buttercup.

Cowellian December 3, 2018 at 6:58 PM

That is a legal lane of traffic that was put there for a reason. If you refuse to let someone merge, that makes you the jerk!

FBR December 5, 2018 at 2:48 AM

ahhh…so you’re one of the line cutters…good to know.

Rollo Tomasi December 5, 2018 at 10:01 AM

“ahhh…so you’re one of the line cutters…good to know.”

Except there’s two lines.

CalOldBlue December 3, 2018 at 6:50 PM

This appears to be pretty much the same situation as Cowell (downhill) at Treat. The right lane on Cowell at Treat can be used to either turn right, or continue straight on Cowell, at which point there is a VERY SHORT merge down to one lane. Here’s why it makes sense for ALL OF US to use BOTH lanes through the light in these cases. Traffic through the intersection is gated by the traffic light. Things actually move better if BOTH lanes through the light are used, and merges happen after traffic gets up to speed past the lights. We’re all better off to get as much through traffic past the light, and the best way to do that is pack both lanes to the merge point.

Jimbo December 3, 2018 at 7:23 PM

I’ve got a radical idea. Make the damn road 4 lanes like the rest of Concord Blvd. Use some of that Prop 6 money we’re paying.

BagsFlyFree December 3, 2018 at 7:33 PM

Agree with @Cal, never have issues with the Treat Cowell merge unless people hesitate to commit to merge after the light. Con Blvd is always the same, people flying on the right (hint CPD, easy pickins), then meet you at the merge trying to avoid being squished into the LDS parking lot.

BFF Out!

frenchdawg December 4, 2018 at 5:46 AM

It is really time to widen concord blvd to two lanes both directions all the way ,time to upgrade. City Council get it together, traffic in concord is horrendous !

Turn n Burn December 4, 2018 at 11:10 AM

I say no to widening it. it’s already hard enough trying to cross Concord Blvd. or even just merge. People block intersections, and God forbid you just want to be able to go down a side street to your home.

AnonZ December 4, 2018 at 6:46 AM

I’m amazed people are so diverse on this issue. First, because the lane continues OVER Farm Bureau (and no sign indicating right lane must turn right) it is legal to drive in the right lane up to the point of merge. Everyone using both lanes makes the process simple and efficient (check studies done!). I don’t understand why people can’t just go one after another from each lane. And sorry folks, I always drive in the right lane and WILL pass slower vehicles whether I’m merging or not. You people are taking offense at nothing – people just want to get where they are going, they don’t have to be “racing” and you don’t have to play policeman.

Blink December 4, 2018 at 10:05 AM

It may be the speed at which the lane is used, rather than its use.
Concord Blvd crazy busy between 4:30-6:30,accidents too frequent.

Mimi (original) December 4, 2018 at 10:22 AM

I recently had an occasion to drive 680 S from Walnut Creek to Pleasanton, something I only do about once a year, and encountered the FasTrak Express Lane. I got a little confused because the lane is also the HOV lane, but the overhead sign said “Open to All” rather than identifying a rate from point A to point B or HOV only. I remained outside the lane because I was a single occupant but wondered if the lane truly WAS open to all even though it’s an HOV lane. Can you clear this up for me?? Thank you!!

ClayDen December 4, 2018 at 8:09 PM

The HOV lane is open to all outside of the commute hours during the week and all of the time on weekends. If you see “open to all” on the illuminated signs, you don’t need a transponder or more than one in the car to use it.

Mimi (original) December 5, 2018 at 9:32 AM

Thank you ClayDen!

Kitty Kiss December 4, 2018 at 1:50 PM

Regarding the merge, I agree it makes sense to use both lanes until the merge point, then do a zipper merge. Works in theory, but in practice if lanes are not at the same speed, I think people object to someone passing on the right and cutting in front of them. Probably because the driver in the non ending lane has the right of way, and the driver in the ending lane should yield, or it would be an unsafe lane change. I have noticed signs in other towns that say Merge Ahead, Do Not Pass (something like that). If your lane is ending, play nice and most will be nice in return.

Old-school guy December 4, 2018 at 2:30 PM

Reminds me of the merge sign I saw in New Zealand. It shows two doted lines becoming one, like a zipper. Works fine there. But then, drivers are more respectful there.

Rollo Tomasi December 4, 2018 at 4:53 PM

Vehicles traveling in the right lane exceeding the speed limit up to the merge point is a separate issue, and I would agree that those people are asshats.

Note – the speed limit is not determined by the speed of the vehicles in the left lane.

ASG December 5, 2018 at 5:40 AM

Ah, but, the through traffic lane has the legal right-of-way. Allowing someone to merge is their decision.

Rollo Tomasi December 5, 2018 at 10:03 AM

“Allowing someone to merge is their decision”

Correct, and not allowing someone to merge is a d**k move.

Kitty Kiss December 5, 2018 at 9:28 AM

Probably what they need is a sign that says Use Both Lanes Until Merge. Otherwise the left lane drivers have the right of way and are not obligated to let someone cut in from the right. It would be helpful if law enforcement weighed in, because my experience is limited to anecdote about a former co-worker: this guy took out the right quarter panel of another vehicle because he thought they were “required” to let him in because his lane ended at a merge. He was cited for failure to yield and unsafe lane change and had to pay the damage. The guy was a noisy jerk (a lawyer) and he sputtered over this for months.

Turn n Burn December 5, 2018 at 9:40 AM

Kitty Kiss. My understanding is that you own the lane. You are not required to let someone cut in. The person who wants to move in front of you has to do so with caution. Just because they put a blinker on ( and that’s a rarity ) it doesn’t give them an automatic right to cut into your lane.

woody December 6, 2018 at 10:41 AM

The merge lanes in Concord COULD be one of the major causes of slow traffic… the others being poorly timed and over abundance of stop lights.

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