Merge Well, Assholes
When you are driving down the road and you see your lane in front is closing, what do you do? If you change lanes early, believing that you are doing the right thing and the right thing, and that anyone who drives right up to the confluence point is cheating – you , my friend, are an asshole.
Think of it as hoarding. Remember how we hated these assholes who supposedly bought up all the toilet paper in March 2020? If they had just bought a fair share of toilet paper, no one would need to save up. But once they did, other people felt compelled to buy additional TPs when they could find them, which made the problem worse.
The same thing happens when people don’t respect merging points. If you change lanes early and don’t let anyone in front of you, you transform what should have been a two-lane road, where there is room for everyone, into a single-lane road that is already jammed even though you are not far from the confluence point . If road safety professionals wanted the confluence point a mile back, they would place it there.
Why merging too early is a problem
Here’s a great example from the intersection next to me. A two-lane commercial road was built that closed the lane to traffic. The confluence point was far enough from the traffic lights that anyone who turned left onto that road when their light was green could fit in two lanes and wait for their turn.
But nobody did that. Before the turn, the drivers saw that the lane was closed, so everyone tried to get onto it even before the turn. The result was the value of two lanes of cars on the same lane, at the intersection. The lights turned red when only half of them passed, often leaving several cars stuck in the middle of the road with nowhere to go. Passenger traffic was then blocked, causing traffic jams up and down the main road in both directions.
The zone took weeks, maybe months – I don’t remember exactly – and it got worse before it got better. People who passed through the area started trying to get into their lane very early, so proper zippers became rare. The construction crew responded by putting up signs that read “USE BOTH STRIP TO JOIN THE POINT” and sometimes drivers did. Traffic improved and the main road was not blocked as often, but some people who changed lanes too early continued to yell at people who were simply following the sign.
How to become part of the solution
This is a spiraling problem: if you know that other drivers will accumulate space in the free lane and not let you in, you may not dare to merge properly, fearing that you will be blocked or shouted by the gatherers. And people are definitely angry about this; Once (another road, the same part of the city) I saw someone in an open lane driving through a line between the lanes so that no one could get around it, and the lightning merged properly. I was stuck behind this man, in an alley that was closed in front, just puzzled as to how someone’s misplaced sense of decency could have caused him to ruin the situation so much. I tried to convey my thoughts to the driver: you can use this lane too . See there is no movement for the next quarter mile? Drive with me!
Traffic authorities agree that taking turns at a confluence is safer and more efficient. The Minnesota DOT, for example, says combining zippers reduces back-up traffic by 40% and equalizes speed between lanes so people who change lanes can do it more safely. Illinois, citing similar reasons, introduced the Zipper Fusion Act .
So don’t be an asshole, okay? If there is little traffic, you can merge whenever you want. But if there are many cars in both lanes, stay in your lane until the point of actual confluence. And if you find yourself in an open lane when you get to the confluence point, allow one person in front of you. Take turns. Just like in kindergarten.