Zipper merge tests in Winnipeg show 'minimal benefit,' city says

A “zipper merge” pilot test by the City of Winnipeg’s public works department found a marginal number of drivers used the extra lane to merge, resulting in a minimal benefit to traffic flow.

Any benefit is worth small investment to improve traffic flow, Coun. Matt Allard says

What happens when drivers don't zipper merge?

5 years ago
Duration 0:59
Footage from Winnipeg streets shows delays when people don't zipper merge, and Winnipeggers weigh in on why they avoid merging lanes at construction sites. 0:59

Taking turns merging near construction sites didn't do much to improve traffic flow in Winnipeg.

A "zipper merge" pilot test by the City of Winnipeg's public works department found a marginal number of drivers used the extra lane to merge, resulting in a minimal benefit to traffic flow.

The pilot, which was the brainchild of City Coun. Matt Allard, was conducted near two construction sites last summer – one at Lagimodiere Boulevard near Fermor Avenue and the other on Bishop Grandin Boulevard near Waverley Street.

Signs were put up telling drivers to "wait to merge," and "merge here," encouraging drivers to take turns letting in those who needed to merge, and in theory, preventing long lineups in the left-hand lane.

Allard says even though the benefit was small, it's still a cheap solution to help ease traffic woes.

"Really, it seems to be a driver culture issue. If you talk to people who come from different jurisdictions they don't quite understand why we do what we do," said Allard. "[It's] a more even flow of traffic where you don't have people feeling like somebody's trying to cut the line, it's just everybody taking their turn."

Several Winnipeg drivers said they don't use merge lanes near construction sites because other motorists don't let them in.

"Just from driving, I've learned people don't usually let you in when you just cut everyone," said Jesse Konchuk.

Darcie Gault said drivers get fed up with long lines — especially in unexpected places — and drivers don't view it as their responsibility to let in people waiting in a merge lane.

"If there's a construction zone and you need to merge in, people aren't as kind as they are when it's just a regular merging situation," said Gault. 

Allard thinks over time, driver behaviour could change. He points to Saskatoon, which has alternated between encouraging and not encouraging drivers to zipper merge.

"[It] would likely be a bigger marginal benefit as culture changed, and that's what other municipalities found and that's what I'm hoping to see in Winnipeg," said Allard.

Long-awaited results still not delivered

When he originally called for the pilot, he hoped it would be a success and become City of Winnipeg policy for all traffic zones.

Allard has been waiting for results of the pilot since last summer, but his emails and in-person requests to the public works department went unanswered.

Last month, he made a formal motion for the department to submit a report to the community committee he sits on.

City officials say so far there's no formal report, but after going through the zipper merge setups at the two locations, "no further zipper merge trials are planned, however, should a suitable situation arise where the zipper merge could be of benefit, Public Works may employ this type of setup."

Allard said he will wait for the formal report from public works, which he expects in September, but he does plan to keep talking about the benefits of zipper merging and file more motions to "keep the ball rolling."


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