MnDOT Battles Minnesota Nice

Zip it.
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.

– Loveland

10 thoughts on “MnDOT Battles Minnesota Nice

  1. Momkat of Apple Valley says:

    It sure keeps the collective blood pressure lower for those in the ‘nice’ lane not having to watch those naughty laners zoom by.

  2. PM. says:

    Confession time–I’m not really a Minnesotan–I moved here in 1986. One of my earliest memories of Mn, was exactly this phenomena. Coming back to the Cities from up north on I35, driving in the left lane, with no warning I suddenly found myself all alone–everyone had moved into the right lane. No signs at all. Literally 3 miles later i came on the first sign–“Left Lane Closed 1 Mile Ahead”.

    Sort of endearing, in an odd way.

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    A field report from this morning’s trip to a meeting in Wyoming, MN: A mile and a half of unused merge lane, and two vigilantes, including a guy towing a boat snaking in and out of the lane to block zippering.

  4. jpreite says:

    I came north from Iowa Sunday night to find a stop and go backup on I-35. For the first time, I observed both lanes moving equally all the way to the lane closure. I still had a delay of close to an hour in travel. Zipper or MN nice, getting two lanes of heavy traffic into one lane causes serious congestion.

  5. Ellen says:

    1. I always thought people who flew forward in the left lane were jerks. Now I get the logic. Thanks.
    2. Minnesota TV stations need to run a 30-second PSA about this or Minnesotan’s will never believe it’s a good thing.
    3. I always knew one of you Rowdy guys was going to use the phrase “clog the zipper” someday. I just never expected it would be you, Joe. I’m shocked and, frankly, disappointed.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      After I typed the words “clog the zipper,” I drafted a couple of colorful “like a…” metaphors. But I somehow dug deep and found a bit of self-restraint.

  6. Stephen says:

    I love it! The DOT is promoting the maximum use of unused road capacity, “…And as we all know, unused road capacity is a priceless commodity… Unused road capacity aggravates traffic congestion…costs millions per mile to construct urban freeways, and yet we leave them vacant?”
    So is there enough common sense left over at the DOT to eliminate the HOV (in)sane lanes?

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      I’m certain you were wrong for all the right reasons and she was right for all the wrong reasons.

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