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Mobility Proper merging etiquette will help get us all where we’re going

Motorists merge from four lanes into one as they enter the Lions Gate Bridge to drive into Vancouver on July 15, 2011.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Canada doesn’t have summer. It’s called road-construction season, and that means we are constantly being squeezed into confined spaces while the pavers patch the potholes.

While you plod along in the line that already formed in one lane, you glare at people like me who zip to the front of the empty one and slip in at the last second. Go ahead and hate me. Or better yet – join me. There is proof that if we keep those two lanes going until the very end, we all get to the beach sooner.

Do the slow zip for road construction

The sign at the side of the road is warning you about construction ahead. It is effectively saying: “Merge left 500 metres.” Studies show that using a “zipper merge” system moves traffic through congestion easier, though it does take co-operation. Here’s how it works:

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  • As you approach the congestion in either lane, try to maintain the posted speed while keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you. That means leaving space for others to merge.
  • If you are in the lane that is terminating, don’t merge until you have reached the merge point. Then, signal and slowly merge and maybe wave courteously to the driver who left a space for you.
  • If you merge early then tailgate the vehicle in front of you to punish the late mergers, that interrupts the flow, because when you tap your brake, so does the car behind you and behind them, etc. Each driver’s stop-and-start response time is a major contributor to the bottleneck.
  • If you merge to the left lane early, and it’s me that was behind you in the right lane, I’ll advance sooner than you because I kept the zipper pattern moving correctly. The guy behind you in the left lane is now pushed further back and you both hate me.
  • If everyone weaves together slowly like a zipper, it works. A plus: There is no anger management needed.

Fast zip for entering 'at-speed’ conditions

Merging into normal conditions is a different story. An “at-speed” merge is the best way to keep the traffic flowing, but it can be unnerving, especially if on a highway. There are lots of moving parts – including you. Here’s how to merge smoothly.

The first thing to remember is to not stop moving. Entering fast-moving traffic from a standstill at the end of a merge lane is treacherous for you and the traffic you are entering.

  • Watch your surroundings, including the vehicles in front of you, where you want to move to and especially the end of your merge lane.
  • Accelerate to match the flow of the traffic you are entering.
  • Signal that you are planning on entering the lane of traffic. The driver in that lane does not have to let you in, but it sure would be nice.
  • If you are already on the highway and see a vehicle trying to enter, maybe move over to make it easier to keep the traffic flowing. If you can’t move over, adjust your speed slightly to create a space.

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