Governments conduct public education campaigns on many important issues, but I especially have zeal for a righteous cause being promoted by our Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) – the Zipper Merge movement.
During Minnesota’s construction season, drivers are frequently required to merge due to a closed lane. And merge they do. In fact, they overmerge. Seemingly in a silent competition to showcase how doggone polite and law-abiding each of them is, Minnesota Nice drivers tend to merge the nano-second they learn of the lane closure.
The problem is, this early merging leaves vast expanses of unused road capacity in the merging lane. And as we all know, unused road capacity is a priceless commodity in a construction zone. Unused road capacity aggravates traffic congestion. It costs millions per mile to construct urban freeways, and yet we leave them vacant?
In this particular scenario, Minnesota Nice effectively becomes Minnesota Moronic.
But thank goodness, MnDOT has come to the rescue with it’s Zipper Merge campaign. Instead of the “early merge” the Minnesota Nicers use, drivers are urged by MnDOT to “zipper merge,” or drive to the very end of the merging lane before taking turns merging. When the zipper merge is done correctly, an aerial view of the lane looks like a closing zipper, with little-to-no unused road space.
This utilitarian MnDOT video won’t win any cinematic or soundtrack awards, but it explains the concept well enough.
So, my oh-so-nice Minnesota neighbors, please repeat after me: Zipper Merging is our friend. Zipper Merging is not rude. Zipper Merging makes maximum use of the merging lane, and consequently reduces construction-related congestion. Therefore, Zipper Merging is what good neighbors do for each other.
But despite MnDOT’s best efforts, the Zipper Merge remains a VERY challenging concept for most Minnesotans. It still feels naughty to them, like budging in the school cafeteria line on Tater Tot hotdish day.
The situation isn’t helped by vigilante drivers, who are apparently so convinced that the Zipper Merge represents highway robbery that they straddle the two lanes so as to clog the zipper, and force inefficient, self-defeating early merging. Needless to say, sometimes the communications between the Zippers and the Minnesota Nice vigilantes gets Minnesota Nasty.
So anyway, you go, MnDOT. I’ll happily march with you to right this wrong.