Zip it Up

Traffic experts in many cities and now mine, claim that the so-called zipper method of merging traffic from two lanes into one is the best way to keep traffic flowing in construction zones. People like me who can admit we don’t know everything say, wow, that’s cool. Next time I’m merging I won’t get over at my first opportunity, but wait at the end and zipper, where every other car lets a car in. However, I can expect to spend the better part of the day waiting for someone to acknowledge my turn signal and let me in. Why? Because of the people who think they know better. Most people think merging at the first opportunity is best. My latest column for Our London explores this issue; Zipper Plan Adds Zip to Clogged Traffic.

Alex is driving north in the right lane on Adelaide St. toward Oxford St. Up ahead he sees the familiar orange signs that warn him the lane he’s in is going to close. Alex waits until he’s near the barriers to make his move, and has to come to a full stop because no one to his left will let him in. Drivers either refuse to make eye contact or glare at him as they leave him stranded in the closed lane. He might even see the business end of a middle finger. They think he’s a selfish jerk for waiting so long to get over and they’re teaching him a lesson by blocking his way.

Lindsay is behind Alex. When she sees the merge signs she activates her signal immediately and stops until someone lets her in.

So who’s right? Sorry Lindsay. You’ve made everyone behind you come to a halt and left a swath of open pavement ahead. The person who let you in made a gap in their lane, too.

I used to be one of those drivers who refused to let the Alexes of the world in and thought the Lindsays were right, but I changed my ways after several traffic studies showed zipper merging will minimize delays. It closes wasteful gaps and keeps cars moving. It requires those in the closing lane to wait until near the end to move over, and drivers in the open lane to alternate letting a merging driver in. From above, the cars are the teeth of a zipper, filling both lanes when the zipper is open, and zipping up as they come together. And until we can fly over snarled traffic with my dream vehicle — a jet pack — zippering is our best option.

Our city has launched a campaign to educate drivers about the benefits of zipper merging. A CAA study shows this method can reduce congestion by up to 40 percent. But the learning  process might take a while. London, after all, is a city where people tailgate like they’re drafting in NASCAR at Talladega. We’re as famous for the London left as we are for being The Forest City. The haters are out on social media decrying the evidence behind this campaign simply because it goes against the way they’ve always done it. To them I say, we also thought we were opening our bananas at the right end until we saw a monkey do it. Sometimes you have to yield to an expert opinion.

The main complaint about the zipper merge seems to be that not everyone will know about it and therefore it will fail. Drivers overwhelmingly believe that it’s proper to get over early and are reluctant to admit they are wrong. London isn’t the first North American city to educate its drivers about zippering and they’ve all heard similar concerns. Inevitably there will be oblivious drivers who do whatever they want. But just because it might not be successful all of the time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a go. Like the monkey watching a human open a banana, smile knowingly and hope they get it next time.


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