Many drivers still reluctant to zipper merge, AMA says

A year and a half after the Alberta Motor Association urged drivers to use the "zipper merge" technique many are still not be getting the message.

Study finds zipper merge technique decreases traffic congestion

A City of Edmonton sign warns drivers of an upcoming "zipper merge" along Groat Road. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Nearly a year and a half after the Alberta Motor Association campaigned for drivers to travel to the front of an obstructed lane and "zipper merge," many in Edmonton are not getting the message.

Gary Roufosse used to commute to work from his Edmonton home north on 156th Street toward Anthony Henday Drive, but he decided to find another route after construction obstructed one of the lanes and forced drivers to merge. He was frustrated by drivers who don't let others merge into the lane.

"I avoid that road completely because it's very, very bad there," Roufosse said. "People are basically on your bumper and they don't know how to zipper. They don't understand that approach."

A 2017 Canadian Automobile Association report found that the zipper merge — when motorists use both lanes of traffic until the defined merge area, then alternate in zipper fashion into the open lane — is the best way to deal with congestion. The study found the zipper technique could decrease traffic congestion by as much as 40 per cent.

AMA has been recommending Alberta drivers use the zipper merge technique. 

Flaviu Ilovan, chief driving instructor with AMA driver education, teaches new drivers to use this technique, but he admits it won't work with drivers who see the merging drivers as taking advantage of using the closed lane to get ahead.

"In my personal experience, Edmonton drivers are in general courteous and I believe they're starting to get the message, but definitely it will take more time until every single driver on the road will use zipper merging the way it's intended," Ilovan said.

"In a way, it can feel like I'm being cheated and I'm being courteous but the reality is if everybody uses it the way it's intended, use both lanes, the traffic will flow smoothly and everybody will feel good about it. More importantly, everybody gets to their destination sooner."

Flaviu Ilovan, chief driving instructor with AMA driver education, recommends drivers to use the "zipper merge" technique to decrease traffic congestion. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Despite this message, Edmonton commuter Gunter Alt isn't convinced he should let in drivers who travel to the front of an empty obstructed lane when they had opportunities to merge in earlier.

"I hate this when people drive right up to the end and they let them in," Alt said. "You wait in line for two minutes or so, and they just let them in. I wouldn't let them in."

The City of Edmonton has been using signs encouraging drivers to use the zipper merge, including one along Groat Road southbound toward the bridge where two lanes merge into one.