It’s time for us to embrace zipper merging

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Leta Lohrmeyer
OPINION EDITOR

A photo of construction cones and a sign telling drivers to move to the left near the University of Nebraska Omaha campus.
Road work on Dodge Street requires drivers to switch lanes, which can cause congestion. Photo by Leta Lohrmeyer/the Gateway

On the first day of school, I was driving to campus when Dodge Street became incredibly congested due to a car wreck. It was difficult to even switch lanes to get into the correct turning lane. Why does the cut-off of one lane have to lead to total disarray?

According to QuoteWizard.com, Omaha was rated No. 1 for the worst drivers in the country in 2018. This was decided due to the sizeable increases in accidents, speeding and driving violations in the city.

Construction zones, crashes, interstate on-ramps and city streets where lanes merge from two to one require caution to avoid any accidents. For someone who hasn’t driven in Omaha for a long time, avoiding accidents has kept me on constant alert.

The quickest and most efficient way to merge in those situations is the ‘zipper merge.’ In traffic engineering, the zipper method is a convention for merging traffic into a reduced number of lanes. Drivers in merging lanes are expected to use both lanes to advance to the lane reduction point and merge at that location, alternating turns.

The purpose of this method is to speed up traffic movement, instead of slowing it down as drivers merge early. Zipper merging reduces congestion by 40%, according to a Colorado Department of Transportation report. It also reduces the chances of long lines of vehicles blocking intersections.

When traffic is heavy and slow, it is much safer for motorists to remain in their current lane until the point where traffic can orderly take turns merging.

Recently there has been a push of people requesting the Nebraska Legislature to draft a bill to enforce the use of zipper merging. Senator Megan Hunt has been a vocal advocate for zipper merging on Twitter:

“Yes, construction and traffic delays in Omaha are unbelievable. Yes, you should all be zipper merging. Intentionally going slow, blocking drivers from passing, or impeding traffic is against the law. And no, lol, I will not bring a law about zipper merging. So many emails!”

While zipper merging is not the law, the practice is encouraged. This technique has been picked up by several other states, like Kentucky and Minnesota. There are even road signs instructing how and where to merge.

One of the main reasons I get anxious about zipper merging is that I’m concerned about the possibility that other drivers will get upset with me and honk their horns or flip me off.

The concern of being polite is a common worry of Nebraskans, including me. However, if we create an encouraged effort to spread awareness of what zipper merging is and then practice it on the road, it will become a more accepted habit. These small incremental changes will bring about safer driving in the city, making drivers like me more comfortable.

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