Giving up on the zipper merge

Now that the election is over and most of the world’s problems have been solved, perhaps we can take some time to consider the zipper merge.

Listen to me, MnDOT, I get how the zipper merge is supposed to work, the problem is the people who don’t.

Last evening, for example, I was driving on I-694 in the Oakdale area where, because of construction, the highway narrows to one lane. Perhaps a mile from the merge point, an SUV — sporting a Marine sticker, an NRA sticker, and a Florida Gators decal, just in case that was someone you know — played the role that decent, civilized people dread — the merge cop.

He drove down the middle of the lane stripe, so nobody could pass him on the left or the right, though several people tried. And, thus, a bigger backup was born.

According to some traffic engineers, traffic moves 15 percent faster by using the zipper merge, not that Mr. Florida Gator guy would know.

But is it worth the road rage?

Consider this comment from a Minnesotan at Tom Vanderbilt’s website promoting his book, “How We Drive.”


The problems arise when everybody but a few merge early, and then people play lane cop trying to not let the “late” mergers in. Every lane closure here in MN these days has signs saying “Use both lanes until merge point.” in an effort to break people of the habit of early merging, but it’s an uphill battle because everybody thinks they know better then the traffic engineers who study this sort of thing for a living.

Personally I merge early, but solely to avoid the irrational anger and potential violent outbursts of the lane vigilantes.

The answer here seems obvious, as indicated in this video. Paint “stay in your lane” stripes until the very last minute…

Unless something changes soon, the zipper merge is going to be this century’s conversion to the metric system in the ’70s. Great idea, made perfect sense, and was dead on arrival.

  • Eric Chandler

    You can’t fix stupid.

  • andy

    I’m a huge zipper proponent, I’ve had heated arguments with friends who love acting as “lane police”. Many of whom understand the concept of the zipper, however don’t care and refuse to let people merge. Ugh!

  • jon

    This is Minnesota and you want people to zipper merge when it’s clear that a just regular merge is to much for them to handle.

    p.s. any one who has driven on the highways (interchanges in particular) in the cities doesn’t need to think they know better then traffic engineers…

  • Jim G

    It works just fine in states like California. Is this another example of disregarding science when it clashes with one’s prejudice?

  • Mike

    In Colorado, police set up traps to catch and ticket “late mergers”. They want everybody to merge early.

  • David

    “Form two lanes when metered”, a pretty simple instruction to form two lines at a traffic meter, but almost every single day I see people on the ramp that mergies traffic from Southbound 35w to Eastbound 36 absolutely refuse to form two lanes and instead hog the center of the lane assuring that traffic backs up down Cleveland and often past the point where cars merge onto Cleveland from Northbound 35w.

    At least once a week I see someone aggressively defend that center lane and swerve, swear, and/or honk at cars that attempt to form two lanes. I’ve even seen people point at the sign that says “Form two lanes…” to no avail.

    My theory, there are a lot of people that hate their jobs and use their cars as a means of regaining some semblance of control. Also, idiots abound.

  • shleigh

    The solid, double, “Stay in your lane” lines don’t seem to work here either. At lease not in Minneapolis where 35W North and vehicles coming out of downtown merge into 94 West right before the Hennepin/Lyndale exit (and vehicles on 94 W move over to exit on Hennepin/Lyndale). Even with the multiple signs instructing “Do Not Cross Double White Lines”, people slow way down and try to move over. If they’d just keep going for another 1/4 mile, they’d be able to easily merge, probably without even touching the breaks! Annoys me every time…

  • Kassie

    Shleigh- I was just going to mention that exact place. People in Minnesota seem to have an irrational fear of late merging, even when the signs and the double white lines clearly state they are legally required to.

    I admit that it took me a while to get used to zipper merging. I wasn’t taught that when I learned to drive. I do it now and took all of a couple weeks of be conscious about it to feel comfortable.

  • Mark Gisleson

    They have zipper merge signs? Sure didn’t see any during light rail construction on University Avenue these last two years. In fact, if you saw a sign telling you a lane was closed, half the time that would be wrong. Signs went up and never went down, when they went up at all. Half the time when you wanted frontage road access to a business you had to move the signs to get in because indifferent Walsh construction workers kept blocking the access routes.

    I wish I had some outrage left for zipper merges, but living in light rail construction hell has used all mine up.

  • Mort

    The gist of the whole problem is that people don’t leave a proper and adequate amount of space between themselves and the vehicle in front of them – especially when traffic gets congested. If this were the case, the ‘zipper merge’ would work all the time, every time…