VDOT testing signage to support 'zipper' merging
NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- It is a question Virginia motorists have grappled with, debated and even argued over for decades: are drivers who blast past stopped traffic up to the point a lane closes obnoxious and rude, or simply doing what they're supposed to?
In traffic circles it's called the "zipper merge." When a lane is closed in a construction zone, a zipper merge occurs when motorists use both lanes of traffic until reaching the defined merge area, and then alternate in "zipper" fashion into the open lane."
The Virginia Department of Transportation has a recommendation that has drivers split: it's siding with those motorists who wait until the very end to take turns in merging, saying early mergers actually slow down traffic.
"By using the zipper merge, the benefits are that you reduce that backup by close to half because you are using both lanes as opposed to one lane; it's half the distance," said engineer and traffic expert Ken Johnson. "In addition, we are also able to get the traffic flow to be even between both lanes."
It isn't a new concept and in fact, it's a simple one. A study conducted in Minnesota shows zipper merging can shrink traffic backups by as much as 50 percent, while in Kansas, the Department of Transportation is using cartoon traffic cones to explain why zipper merging is effective.
"The zipper merge concept has been put into the drivers manual so our kids learning how to drive 15, 16 year- olds are learning about the zipper merge and it's just going to be part of their culture," said Johnson.
VDOT, meanwhile, tells our partners at The Virginian-Pilot that they are testing a digital signage system in merge zones that encourages staying in your lane until the last minute.
It could one day help ease the negative stigma of zipper merging and help fix problem spots in Hampton Roads.
KARE 11 in Minneapolis contributed to this report.