The Zipper Merge: Is Waiting More Efficient?
It’s been a long day and all you want to do is get home and relax. After about two miles on the highway, you see a sign that instantly makes you sad: “Right Lane Closed Ahead.” So much for getting home quickly.
Traffic begins to slow and you immediately turn on your blinker to move over. Someone lets you in and you’re now stuck in a mile-long line waiting to get to the bottleneck. As you sit there, you begin counting the cars that are passing you in the soon-to-be-ending right lane.
What are they doing? Don’t they know the lane ends? Can’t they see the line? Do they think their time is more valuable than yours?
You fume over these questions for another 30 minutes, until you reach the bottleneck. As you approach the point where the right lane ends, several cars (numbers 38 thru 45 if your count was correct) are attempting to merge in front of you. You let 38 in out of the goodness of your heart, but as 39 tries to push in as well, you pull up to block him. He barely avoids ramming you as he slams on his brakes. You can hear him yelling at you as you pass through the bottleneck and finally make your way home—angry, tired, and completely confused about how people think merging late is more efficient.
If traffic would just move over early, the through lane wouldn’t have to stop to let late mergers in, right? So why do some people believe that “zipper merging” is more efficient?
Zipper Merge Efficiency
Merging correctly, efficiently, and safely can be a test to anyone’s resolve. Since there are no traffic laws that specifically state when or at what point a driver needs to merge into through traffic, deciding when to get over is generally a crapshoot. Unfortunately, this crapshoot results in thousands of merging accidents every year.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 40 percent of all congestion nationwide can be attributed to recurring bottlenecks. These bottlenecks cause nearly 250,000 accidents per year as a result of inefficient, unorganized, and selfish merging. However, the Department of Transportation believes that these accidents can be reduced through the implementation of the “zipper merge.”
Zipper merging during lane closures encourages drivers to utilize both lanes up until the point of conversion, whereupon they take turns passing through the bottleneck area. The DOT suggests that keeping traffic flowing up until the last moment will benefit the overall merging process.
These benefits may include:
- Reduction of the overall length of traffic backups by as much as 40 percent. Since traffic will utilize both lanes for the longest period of time, long lines will be cut in half, allowing traffic to get closer to the bottleneck point faster.
- Reduction of congestion on freeway interchanges. Since oncoming traffic will not have to wait for an opening to immediately move over, interchanges will continue to flow, limiting interchange congestion.
- A perceived sense of fairness and equality. Since all lanes will be moving at the same rate, no one needs to bypass others. At the bottleneck, drivers must take turns to pass through, instead of pushing ahead of one another.
- Unifying the merging process to reduce confusion. The zipper merge is easy to understand, and all drivers will know exactly when and where to merge.
Split Opinions: Which Side of the Zipper Are You On?
Although the zipper method seems like a good idea in theory, the actual practice of this method depends on every motorist knowing and following the proper procedure. If there was a way to make sure drivers would adequately and courteously follow the rules of taking turns, the zipper merge could prevent many rage, confusion, and selfish merging accidents. However, many believe that late merging is more frustrating than beneficial. What do you think?
Do you have an opinion about zipper merging? Do you think it is more efficient or does the thought of it raise your blood pressure? Let us know your thoughts by leaving your opinions, concerns, and questions in the comment section. Your insights can not only help us understand societal opinion, but they can also provide valuable viewpoints to fellow drivers such as yourself and our future clients.