Why The Zipper Method In Driving Works In Washington State

As I was coming home Friday, I had to flip a U-turn as I saw traffic backed up on the Blue Bridge from the Lewis Street exit. There was no way I was going to get into that mess but there are a few tips I can give you for driving the Blue Bridge this year.

attachment-attachment-Blue Bridge Gun Brandishing

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I saw a posting on Facebook about a driver explaining why using the Zipper merge works the best for backup so I thought I'd share how the Zipper merge works:

Understanding the Zipper Merge

The zipper merge—an intersection courtesy for the highway—is the act of delaying a lane merge until the last possible moment. This is done to utilize both lanes fully and alternate vehicles from each lane, akin to the teeth of a zipper coming together. Contrary to popular belief, the zipper merge isn’t about slicing through traffic rudely but about a systematic approach that helps traffic keep moving and eases congestion.

The principle is simple—dual lanes of traffic become one, but instead of one lane stopping or severely slowing down to allow for the merge, both lanes continue forward, with vehicles from the closed lane entering the open lane in an orderly fashion. In essence, it’s a sharing of road space and a harmonized entry into the new, reduced lane capacity.

The Common Misconceptions on the Zipper Merge

While theoretically sound, the zipper merge faces a few hurdles in reality, majorly due to misconceptions and a general lack of awareness. Many drivers are accustomed to merging immediately into the clear lane, seeing the other as 'cutters'. Unfortunately, such behavior leads to premature congestion and negates the benefits of the zipper merge.

Another misconception is that the zipper merge is only effective under certain conditions. However, studies have shown that it's most useful in heavier traffic when a lane is ending or closed, as it allows the maximum usage of the lane and maintains overall highway speed.


When to Deploy the Zipper Merge

Recognizing the right time to use the zipper merge is critical. Its application is most advantageous in the following scenarios:

Heavy Traffic or Lane Closures:

When traffic slows due to heavy volume or lane closures, the zipper merge can prevent the early formation of traffic backups and keep traffic flowing at a consistent pace.
Construction Zones:

When traveling through construction zones where lanes may shift abruptly, the zipper merge can help regulate the flow and reduce instances of aggressive driving.

 Accidents & Merging Traffic:

After accidents when lanes are reduced or when new traffic merges in, the zipper technique helps integrate the additional cars without causing further congestion.

Execution and Implementation:

Implementing the zipper merge requires cooperation among all drivers. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to execute it effectively:

Pay Attention:

Always stay alert and keep an eye out for signs indicating lane closures or reduced speeds ahead. Use your mirrors and check blind spots frequently.

Signal Your Intentions:

Before reaching the merge point, use your indicators to signal your intention to move to the open lane. This alerts other drivers and helps to establish the necessary symmetry between the lanes.

Maintain Speed:

The aim is to merge at the end of the closing lane at a consistent speed alongside traffic in the open lane. Adjusting your speed to match the flow will help the zipper process smoothly.

Blue Bridge
Blue Bridge

Allow One Car In:

After your initial signal, allow one car to merge in front of you from the closing lane. By doing this, you are facilitating the flow and reducing any potential for road rage.

Be Patient and Polite:

Maintain a cool head. Some drivers may not understand the concept or be aware of your turn-taking. Use politeness and patience as your allies.

The Benefits of the Zipper Merge

By integrating the zipper merge into your highway driving, you stand to gain various benefits, such as:

Blue Bridge
credit: goggle street view maps

Improves Traffic Flow:

Traffic congestion tends to decrease when the zipper merge is utilized, as it optimizes the use of all available lanes and prevents back-ups.

Reduces Accidents:

With a managed and even flow of traffic, there are fewer instances of sudden braking and aggressive maneuvering, thus leading to a reduction in rear-end collisions.

Minimizes Road Rage:

Zipper merging fosters a more tolerant driving environment. Drivers who are aware and participating in the technique are less likely to be upset by late mergers.

Sustainability and Efficiency:

By using all lanes until they end and merging at the last moment, the zipper merge can lead to less wasteful use of road space, contributing to a more efficient and sustainable traffic infrastructure.

So there you go, it's easy to get frustrated as the Blue Bridge gets painted so have a little patience and follow this method, it might save you from pulling out your hair in road rage.

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