73ºF

Is your merging etiquette making traffic worse?

'Zoomer' is doing it right, traffic engineer says


HOUSTONHouston’s freeways are no stranger to road rage incidents. They often begin with attempts at merging, when two vehicles blend into a single lane of traffic.

One place where merging becomes particularly tricky is near a construction zone where one lane is about to end.

There are three distinctly different driving strategies to navigate the closure.

You have the "early merger," who wants to be polite and abandons that lane a mile or two away from the closure.

You have the "zoomer," who stays in that lane, which is emptying fast. He drives all the way to the closure and then tries to merge.

And you have the "oh no you won't" driver, who attempts to block the zoomer.

Traffic engineers said the driver who stays in that closing lane until near the end is the person doing it right.

Engineer Chris Brookes said in moderate to heavy traffic, the drivers who stay in that lane until near the end will actually help ease congestion.

“In a high-volume situation, when the queue is building up, you want to use the capacity of that roadway, so you do want everyone in both lanes, and you want everyone to take turns,” Brookes said.

It's known as "zipper merging." Brookes said drivers should fill both lanes and then take turns merging; then some delays could be completely eliminated.

"If you're traveling 30, 45 mph, when you get to that closure point, you start taking turns slowing down and then everyone comes together just like a zipper, and it works,” Brookes said.

The key to success in zipper merging is that everyone has to work from the same playbook. Think of it like a ballroom dance: the traffic tango.

“If everyone was doing it, and everyone was taking turns, then it functions properly," Brookes said. "Everyone on the roadway wants to get where they’re going. If we all cooperate and respect each other and drive safely, we would all get there faster."

The Texas Department of Transportation is a big supporter of the zipper merge. The agency wrote a blog about it, citing a study revealing that it can cut backups in half.

Click here to read the blog.

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you're on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.