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Bill to require zipper merge education in Washington reemerges

(Oran Viriyincy, Flickr)

State Rep. Jesse Young is back with another attempt to get the zipper merge put into the state’s driving education program. His first attempt died in its early stages, after passing the House Transportation Committee last session.

The bill is simple: It adds the proper way to merge when two lanes are becoming one to the drivers’ education curriculum, and it creates a poster or pamphlet for drivers getting their renewals.

“It puts a couple questions on the test, and then when people go to renew, it gives them a pamphlet, ideally, or some form of medium to remind people about how you’re supposed to merge together when you do the zippering,” Young testified before the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

This is long overdue, as one of the biggest congestion problems in our region comes from people failing to understand the proper way to merge, and merging is barely covered in the state driver’s manual.

WSDOT joins zipper merge crusade in new video

Let’s go over it. Say you’re driving up to a construction zone on the freeway, and you’re in the far right lane. That lane is ending in about a half of a mile. The lane you need to merge into is bumper to bumper. Do you: (a) get over as fast as you can; (b) stop in your lane and wait for someone to let you in; or (c) drive to the end of lane and then get over?

The answer is C. You use the available space in your lane, and when you get to the end, you merge in.

“Usually what we see — and everyone of us probably has some practical experience having done this — is that typically the people in the lane that’s being merged into feel as though they are aggrieved, that someone’s potentially cutting them,” Rep. Young said.

And he explained what we all know happens next.

“You get people starting to try and block people from actually merging in that way, and then you cause greater congestion, and potentially road rage and everything else,” he said. “If everybody understands that in some of these times, you alternate the way you merge, I think we’d get down the road a little quicker.”

Early merging causes unnecessary backups. How many times have you seen this: You’re entering the freeway in congested traffic, and someone just makes a 45-degree angle across the lines to squeeze into the next lane? Not only is that dangerous, it backs up the lane being merged into, and it backs up the entry lane.

You want a concrete example? Look at the daily chokepoint in Tacoma where Highway 16 joins northbound I-5. The right lanes slowly go away, one lane at a time the further north you go. People fill the far left merge lane in the C/D lanes way too early, causing a backup on the freeway and in the C/D lanes. Stay to the right, and merge when your lane ends. Use the pavement the engineers gave you.

Drivers already on the freeway need to stop veering over to block you or refusing to let you in — they are the ones doing it wrong.

Rep. Young says it’s time to come together as a state and pick up the zipper merge mantle.

“If we’re ever going to unify, this is the way that we do it,” he said. “Let’s make traffic easier for folks.”

I have been preaching the zipper merge for almost seven years, and I will continue to do so.

And again, this only really applies in congested traffic. If the road is flowing, you just merge like normal. This does not apply to “exit only” lanes. Once you get that double-dotted line, you had better be getting over.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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