The Zipper Merge—Coming to a Construction Zone near You Part 2, Readers Comments: NMA E-Newsletter #501

The National Motorists Association received some thoughtful comments from readers like you and thought we should share them.  If you missed reading Part 1, click HERE

I’m glad one more place seems to have figured this out. Many other places have not. People get the idea that others who are using an open lane to a merge point are somehow “cutting” the line. The one mile distance mentioned is often a lot longer. I have seen four and five mile backups in the lane that will remain open, while there are that many miles of open lane, unused, or blocked by idiots who feel the need to control traffic flow.

Down here in Arkansas, the people who set up the cones and signs have taken the approach to put the “merge here” signs about 3/4 mile in advance of the lane drop, which doesn’t help. In Oklahoma, the signs are not as far out, but apparently the legislature there felt it necessary (while stalling on teacher raises and cutting the budget on just about everything useful) to put into state law the distance prior to lane drop that one will merge. Their signs say “state law, merge here.” Not helpful!!

Missouri, to their credit, has taken up the flag on this, and promotes the zipper merge. Whatever their other ills, they seem to be taking a progressive approach toward traffic management, though I still can’t get used to their opposite side left turn lanes in Springfield and Joplin.

When I learned to drive in New York 40 odd years ago, we always used every open lane to the merge point, then alternate feed. There was no official policy that I was aware of, though New Yorkers will take every open inch they can claim-and the term “zipper merge” had not been dreamed of yet, but everyone knew how to play the game, and it mostly worked.

Tom Beckett, NMA Arkansas Member

Out here in California there is no zipper merge.  There may be a sign saying the left lane is closed ahead, merge to the right with traffic cones slowly cutting off the left lane.  And as mentioned in this article so many do merge to the right.  But then there are those who do not want to merge gracefully — they race to the front of the line on the left and push their way in.  This causes a lot of hard feelings.  At least I am not happy about it.  

It appears that the Montana zipper merge will do away with those trying to cut into the line and be fair to all.  Hope this strategy turns out to be a winner.  

Anonymous, NMA California Member

Couldn’t agree more!!!

First saw zipper merging in PA years ago (“use both lanes to merge point”, “take your turn!”), but I’ve seen many work zones there without it that needed it. Needless to say, I’m a huge proponent of the zipper merge — and wish FHWA would get behind it (my impression — which might be erroneous — is that they’ve been neutral on the topic).

Guy Olsen, NMA New Jersey Member

When I was stationed in Germany some 38 years ago, part of our in-country briefing was about German traffic laws. Three major points were: don’t hog the left lane, learn how to negotiate a traffic circle and herring bone merging.  Same same the zipper merge.  

Why has it taken so long for us to learn some basic traffic common sense?  As a matter of fact, we still have a long way to go.

Bill Ward, NMA Arizona/Washington State Member

Please get back in reality how this worked (after). Drivers are all different in politeness (when they merge). Some will merge at the instant they see a sign. Others will take advantage of the vacated space in front of them and pass the car(s) that have already merged. I personally sometimes drive in both lanes when this occurs to keep cars from taking advantage, but then people pass on the shoulders either side.

It appears that on many interstate construction sites, a state trooper is usually present with flashing lights. In ALL cases, I have seen the patrolman NOT observing the traffic, usually reading or even with two patrol cars present with both troopers talking to each other.

SOMEWAY you have to be able to get them to merge at highway speeds, not at a near stop. The description below or in the Detroit Free Press does NOT indicate how this will be done.

My background?  Amateur sports car driver.  Drove 100K miles a year for/to work in 49 states, Canada and Mexico (too many other countries to mention).  Mostly 80 MPH during the 55 limit with CA plates “BAN 55”. Now 84 and much slower but wiser.

Dave Westerlund, NMA Life Member from Washington State

Europeans instinctively do this.  Of course, they also instinctively observe lane discipline.  We just don’t train drivers very well.  The Virginia DMV still tells everyone to use a 10:00/3:00 steering wheel grip.  And then, of course, there is the matter of infrastructure specifications and highway (especially entry/exit) design.  No one has ever successfully explained to me why we have so many left –lane exits and entries, nine inch curbs, and silly, useless concrete bolsters at the front of parking spaces.

Randolph Bell, NMA Virginia Member

Editor’s Note:
Most state departments of transportation recommend when traffic is heavy and slow, it is safer and a more efficient use of lane space for motorists to remain in their current lane until the point where vehicles can take orderly turns merging, aka the ‘zipper merge.’ When traffic is moving at higher highway speeds with no backups, it makes sense to move to the “stay open” lane at the earliest opportunity to do so safely.

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