Moore: Is merging early in a construction zone courteous but foolish? (column)
This may be old news to some, but it’s all news to me.
Everyone who drives a vehicle is most likely very familiar with the scenario of an upcoming lane closure on a multi-lane highway.
Wherever there is a work zone, heavy traffic creates congestion and traffic naturally backs up. “Just relax. Be polite. Eventually, we’ll all get through this” is the mantra of many.
As drivers courteously move over into the continuing lane/lanes, this usually leaves the lane that will soon be closed wide open ahead. Naturally, some drivers take advantage of this, and courteous drivers watch as others zoom past them to the “official” merge point, where they then merge and slow down the lane of drivers who have already politely merged into that lane.
Being in one of those courteously, already merged lanes one day during rush hour, and seeing some “rude” motorists pass by in the open lane, I pulled my vehicle into that lane, blocking it, while maintaining my position in line behind the driver who had been in front of me. Immediately, there was a big black pickup truck behind me, nearly on my bumper, whose driver was clearly annoyed by my not allowing them to use the open lane and, to my mind at the time, get ahead of the rest of us who were waiting for our turn to enter the work zone.
Eventually, as traffic slowed to a crawl, the pickup truck roared onto the shoulder and squealed past me, disappearing in a cloud of dust into the distance. The next driver behind me then began honking for me to get out of the way.
After about five more minutes of this, low and behold, and to my amazement, in my mirror I saw the flashing lights of a local county sheriff’s cruiser.
As I handed the deputy my license and registration, the officer, in a very polite and respectful manner said, “The reason that I contacted you today is because you were restricting the flow of traffic through the work zone ahead.”
As I began to explain that, having lived here in Colorado for a considerable length of time, I know that it is customary to be polite, whenever possible, to other drivers and not crowd in front of them, the officer interrupted, saying, “You need to understand. The merge point acts like a zipper,” as she wove her fingers together, up-to-down, in front of her, “and traffic flows better when drivers merge at the merge point and not before.”
I pleaded my case differently twice more, each time meeting the same patient explanation. Finally, I just replied, “OK” and waited for her to go back to her cruiser and run my license.
Long story short, the sheriff’s deputy gave me a warning and let me go, at which point I pulled back into traffic and then into the open left lane. In a highly conflicted state of mind, I drove down to the merge point and merged into the right lane in front of numerous drivers who had been politely waiting their turn, buoyed by those all-important words, “It’s like a zipper,” all the while hating myself and feeling so embarrassed that I could not bear to look at the driver who allowed me to merge in front of them.
While digesting things during the evening and the next morning, it finally dawned on me that our sheriff’s deputy was absolutely correct in her actions and in her explanation of how traffic should best behave in this circumstance.
After then doing some online research of my own, it turns out that the “zipper merge” is now recognized to be the best method for traffic to merge while interfering the least with other traffic that is behind the congested area; i.e. cross traffic, off- and on-ramps, etc.
For more on this, just do an online search for “zipper merge.” You will find a plethora of information about it dating back a number of years. The Department of Transportation for the good-hearted people of the lovely land of Minnesota has an online webpage listing for the “zipper merge.” It has the best-written explanation and videos of this that I have been able to find.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado Highway Patrol and our local law enforcement are fully behind the adoption of the “zipper merge” and are trying to get the word out to the rest of us through social media, but apparently, these things take time.
Old habits die hard, and the day that I had my “learning experience,” a lot of people ahead of me who could have read those signs were either not paying attention to them or did not understand what they meant. If they had, I would not have had an open lane to either block off or drive down.
Here’s to happier motoring for all of us and, just remember, “It’s like a zipper.”
Arlan Moore is a resident of McCoy.
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