On January 11, 2017, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) released its Canadian National Bottleneck Study. Its finding about the extent of Canada’s ‘bottleneck’ problem will come as no surprise to commuters: “bottlenecks are the single biggest contributor to road delays, far outpacing traffic collisions, weather and construction. They affect Canadians in every major urban market, increasing commute times by as much as 50 per cent.”
Thankfully this study also offered a solution that, again, will come as no surprise, especially to regular readers of Road Rules. Turns out, says this study, the best way to mitigate bottlenecked traffic is the ‘zipper merge.’ Furthermore, it says that provided everyone participates, the zipper merge can decrease congestion by as much as 40%.
The concept is simple. At the warning of an oncoming merge, instead of attempting to enter immediately into the lane remaining open, drivers should continue using both (or all) the open lanes until they reach the merge point. Here, at the merge point is where they should then take turns entering the lane (or lanes) that will remain open.
No need to elect early to be a good ‘liner-upper’. No need to face the problem of electing to be a ‘cheater’—the ‘bad’ guy who sails on down the increasingly empty merging lane even though you may know that doing so is partially ameliorative—only ‘partially’ because to work best every other driver in the merging lane should just stay put.
Reactions to this study varied across the country. Ontario-based road safety journalists were skeptical. No matter its proven efficacy, wrote one, “Zipper merging will never happen until we have autonomous cars. People just hate total strangers too much for common sense to ever get in the way.” Alberta reports focused on their local statistics—the 18 minutes-a-day average added by congestion to workers' commute times in Calgary, and the 14 minutes-a-day average added in Edmonton—and quoted the following AMA recommendations for reducing congestion:
Remain patient and recognize that everyone is trying to get to their destination safely, and rightly has an expectation to do so
Drive per the official unspoken rules of the road. This means using signals properly, changing lanes when safe to do so, avoiding distractions and other impairments, and acknowledging other drivers when they let you into traffic
Try to drive at an appropriate rate of speed, per conditions – including traffic and environmental – and obey the posted limits. Rushing ahead, only to slam on your brakes later, creates additional congestion
Be courteous and responsible, recognizing that it’s possible to work together and drive in a manner that ensures the flow of traffic.
One solution for encouraging drivers to zipper merge focused on a Colorado initiative involving signage that makes zipper merging “simple, …clear, and …lets those doing it right not have to explain, and gives those dying to try it, permission”: “The first signs read, “Use both lanes during congestion.” The next signs said, “Use both lanes to the merge point.” When the lane was ending, the last signs read: “Take turns. Merge here.”