Zippering In Traffic



Picture this: you’re driving along the highway, listening to the radio, on your way to something important to you. Work, a party, dinner, meeting friends – you’re not driving just to drive, you have a destination. You’re in the center lane (because you’re not late! That’s not like you, and the left lane is for passing – and you’re not exiting, because you’ve got a bit to go! The right lane is for that, right?)

You see a sign that the left lane is ending in two hundred feet. Some of those left laners immediately turn their blinker on and move over the moment the sign is visible. Others wait until the lane is ending, zoom on over (still with a blinker, thank goodness!) and essentially cut in front of you and the other polite people.

Is this rude? Is this a useful use of the road that is there for you? Take a moment to think about how you feel about the idea of “zippering” or the “zipper merge” – essentially the idea of drivers staying in the closing or ending land until the end and taking turns to merge right at the end of the lane.

There have been plenty of think pieces on this idea, and several states are even undertaking projects to teach drivers how to do this. Colorado even posted zipper instructions on their highway Facebook page while experimenting with signage along the way. Kansas created an animated video explaining the idea, and studies show these zippering experiments led to a 15% increase in traffic flow through the tested work zone and a 50% shorter merge line!

Cringing yet? Me, too, because I think this “wait until the last minute” idea of merging is rude – and it’s probably due to what we’re taught about taking our turn.

Think about it – you see a sign that tells you that something will happen, or you get a notification that something is due. Maybe it’s an expiration on food or a library book or replacing your debit card. Do you wait until the very last minute to do it? (No judgment if you do, just a question!) We’re conditioned to believe that procrastination is bad – waiting until 11:59 pm on the day something expires or on the day a bill is due doesn’t always yield positive results! You might forget the expiration date (totally did that recently on dog treats!) or miss the bill deadline (hello autopay!). So why do this when you’re merging with a hunk of metal that weighs 1000s of pounds?

Are you the zipper merger or the person that gets angry at the seemingly selfish person waiting until the last minute to merge, possibly getting a few hundred feet ahead in traffic? Do you see the merge as using resources made available, in this case, the road, or as someone who feels their time is better spent not losing a few seconds merging early and getting to that job/meeting/dinner 5 minutes early instead of 5 minutes late?

While I’m not sure if we can recondition ourselves to think waiting until the last minute is a good idea – especially if we’re Type A Overachievers, like myself – I do think we can be a bit kinder to those just using the resources and road given to them. At least don’t do what one person did during the zipper study in Colorado – a traffic coordinator was testing the idea during construction and ended up getting a burrito thrown at his car by another motorist. Aside from a waste of a burrito, approach the situation as a positive – folks just want to use all of the road given to them!


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