Merging Traffic: Are We Doing It the Wrong Way?

Everyone’s frustrated with merging traffic and the way motorists handle the loss of a lane…but the frustration is for different reasons.

Okay, I’ll admit it: when I’m driving along in the right lane and I see a sign directing traffic in the left lane to merge right, my blood pressure slowly begins to rise.

That’s because I already know what’s going to happen. Traffic will start slowing down because of the backup the merge will invariably cause, and when you offer someone the chance to merge, they ignore you and go whizzing by all the way to the end of the lane and try to “jump ahead” of everyone who’s already in the right lane.

It’s their waiting to the last minute that makes the situation worse, most of us are convinced, and then they try to “break in line” despite their “mistake.”

Anyone else feel that way? I’m surely not the only one, am I?

Well, the fact is, there are fellow motorists out there with the same aggravation.

If you’re one of them, get ready to be surprised: we’re wrong.

Yes. I said it. File this under the “You Learn Something New Every Day” category.

It turns out the “annoying” way just so happens to be the “correct” way. Colorado’s Department of Transportation has been promoting the “zipper method” — which is what this daily catastrophe is called — for a decade around construction sites and times when traffic is “particularly congested,” USA Today reports.

Officials recommend this late-merge strategy in which drivers use the entire roadway and take turns merging from the closed lane into the open one at the point when the road narrows.

At the point when the road narrows, it says.

Why would you want to wait till the last minute to merge when you could just move over that much sooner?

The answer, Colorado transportation officials explain, is that when motorists drive all the way to the end of the lane, both lanes end up fully in use, thereby reducing congestion and wait time. When motorists in the ending lane try to hold up everyone to merge 1,000 feet or more from the merge point, that’s 1,000 feet of roadway that isn’t being used and 1,000 feet of backup, they reason.

When you think about it, it does make sense, despite the fact that it still seems motorists are trying to take advantage of the situation to “cut” in line.

Does knowing the way merge lanes are supposed to work change your view of merge lanes and how others handle them?

1 Comment

  1. I have always used this method and it does work.
    The other day at a construction site  where the lanes want from two to one, everyone was using the “zipper” but when it came time for me this guy in a big white pickup truck pulled right up to the bumper of the car in front him so that I couldn’t get inline. When I looked up at him he was grinning from ear to ear.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.