A Snag In The Zipper

April 15, 2013

Everywhere I turn these days, I’m seeing the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s campaign encouraging drivers to “Do the Zipper Merge.” It’s on buses, billboards, banner ads and more. Given the level of saturation, I suspect the awareness level surrounding the effort is quite strong. Trouble is, I’m not sure the same can be said about its level of effectiveness.

Do you know exactly what the zipper merge is? I didn’t until I looked it up online. I’ve also asked the question to several people over the last few days to ensure I wasn’t alone. And if the results of my informal and highly unscientific poll are accurate, MNDOT has some work to do, even though the campaign is in its third year.

The majority of the people I asked thought it had to do with merging into traffic while entering or exiting freeway ramps. I also heard mentions of double lines, solid lines and dotted lines. In reality, none of that is accurate.

The zipper merge is meant to be used when a lane is closed in a construction zone. Instead of moving over early when you see a sign indicating a closure ahead, MNDOT wants people to use all available lanes until reaching the end of the line — then take turns merging into the open lane. Research shows that it’s faster and safer.

But it’s not an easily digestible concept for many Minnesotans who do the “early merge” and then resent anyone who zooms by them in the open lane. That’s only compounded when vigilante drivers (usually in a giant pickup truck) attempt to straddle both lanes and block people from getting past them.

I’ll admit that I’ve contemplated taking the open lane on many occasions and felt too guilty to drive all the way to the front. And I’ve gotten frustrated when others have done it — believing they were causing an even bigger slowdown by trying to get ahead. It just seems unnatural and certainly not “Minnesota Nice.”

For many, the “zipper merge” is still the “A-hole merge.” Will it ever catch on in this state? Probably not, but consider me a convert. And if you’re sitting at a dead stop as I fly by, please don’t hate me, join me.