Don’t be a roadblock: MDOT explains ‘zipper merge’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- With new construction projects popping up in West Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation continues to promote the right way to "zipper merge."

While MDOT says it's straight forward maneuver, many drivers don't follow it which can create some dangerous situations.

"The whole point of the zipper merge is so the backups don’t extend so far back to affect adjacent interchanges. We want cars to use all available lanes so the backups don’t extend so far," MDOT Grand Region Communications Representative John Richard said.

The purpose of a zipper merge is to limit backups during heavy traffic, drivers are supposed to use both lanes  until the merge point and take turns filing in. Though many still get in one lane early and stay there.

"When people think they are doing the correct thing and they get over they see the person flying by them in the left lane and they think they are cutting in line, its just that cutting in line mentality that gets people upset," Richard said.

According to  MDOT it’s not cutting in line, it's the correct thing to do. Some apparently take offense.

"Regardless if it’s a zipper or not a zipper you get those folks that want to block the open lane, and that does nothing except induce road rage and create a dangerous situation so we ask motorists not to do that," Richard, added.

FOX 17 caught a driver doing just that near Grand Rapids.

A pickup truck was driving in the middle of both lanes, preventing cars from traveling down the left.

"There’s two open lanes everyone thinks they have to go to the right, you get the one outlier that comes along and looks like the odd duck compared to everyone that got over, and then somebody takes it upon themselves to get out and block them and really it does nothing," Richard, described.

Later on, the same truck veers into the left lane again, cutting a car off just before the merge point.

"If you see people following the rules and using both lanes until the merge point, the people that got over early get all upset about it and they try to block them and we don’t want that situation to occur," Richard added.

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  • Iamct01

    I closed the gap on a blocker so he could not get back right making him the last min guy. He was so mad I boosted and took his spot, I cut him an opening after so he would not drive crazier.

  • Matt McCartney

    It IS a very simple concept, but in this world of “me-first” and other assorted “important” people; it’s asking a lot.

  • Mike

    Hey mdot, I drive a commercial vehicle with phone numbers and websites 12″ tall on the back and both sides. When I attempt the zipper merge and utilize the left lane, I get other drivers that dart out in front of me agressively at the last second. I get driving complains to my company, and some angry drivers that will stalk and retaliate for the next 20 miles. I also have cameras in my truck and have offered video evidence to 911, and I have never had an officer take my videos. So, I’ll just keep blocking, cause a single file line moves MUCH faster than a bunch of idiots that don’t know how to merge jamming things up in front of you. You can just practice your zipper thing behind me.


      Hey d–b a-s mike (commercial driver) Keep doing your BS and you will get yours one day when someone beats your butt for it. Your the problem!!!! – blocking traffic? When is that ever a good idea? Do it to me and ill just go onto the grass and side of road to pass you. Probably hammer on the gas and throw rocks at your truck too. Keep thinking your there to control other people there will be retaliation! Maybe a single file line seems to go faster for you but some people do not have all day to sit on there lazy ass in a truck!!!!

      • Jen

        Wow, a very on necessary angery response. Yes, I also get irritated when commercial drivers do this as well, but after reading his comment on why he does it, unfortunately all the other drivers on the road have ruined it for you. It is not his fault. And is much is I do not like it as well because yes I am a type A driver too, we all need to share the road responsibly. I had a woman block me from merging. This kind to merge was actually blocked by a tree and it was a route I traveled quickly, but unbeknownst to me, construction showed up and I was left to zipper merge. That check won’t let me in, blocked me and then proceeded to slow down and let the length of 6 to 7 cars get in front of her once in the construction zone…now that is being an ahole😂

    • John D

      The “Zipper” method does not and will never work, think of more of an hourglass….the backup is going to happen if everybody or just 1 person waits til the last minute and that causes just 1 person to hit their brakes…I don’t encourage “blocking” though and that is all the article was was advicating against it didn’t really advocate for the zipper methid just against the blocking as it incites road rage…..juat get over early and keep an even speed…..and don’t be a prick……..

  • Linda

    The zipper merge wouldn’t have so many problems if people would make their move into the preferred lane BEFORE they get to that point. They get the same warning as I do. I get over as soon as it is safe to do so. Not the last minute because then you slow me down. Baloney on the zipper merge. It will NEVER work. Just like in elementary school, teacher says get in line….. do you think he/she will let someone go to the front of the line? Nope. To the back they go.

  • Kevin Rahe

    Two things are required for the zipper merge to work. One is to avoid announcing which lane will be closing until perhaps a quarter mile at the most before the merge (prior to that point, have signs that merely announce “Lane Closure Ahead” so that people are prepared for a possible slowdown). The other is that folks have to avoid tailgating and leave a 2-second delay between themselves and the vehicle in front of them. If these two things are done, I think the zipper merge could work.

    • Katie

      Yes! The in 9miles or 6 or 2, is not helpful & people start riding the middle already at these markers. Other states we travel through don’t seem to have these issues in their construction zones. Your suggestion is great.

  • g

    Zipper merge would work if people didnt wait til the lane ends Arrow and stops traffic in both lane. Also the jerkoffs that use the shoulder to go around. I will continue to block them as well. In this day and age, Nothing will work and everyone complains…

    • Elizabeth W

      You should never block anyone. You never know where someone is headed and for them it could be an emergency. Life or death even. It’s not our job to judge others, if someone is flying past and gets over at the last second I let them, bc they probably need to get to their destination faster than me. Or if they just like to be in the front of the line and don’t have patience to sit in traffic and that’s the reason, well, that’s ok with me too. Bc I know if I was in a hurry, I would want people to do the same for me.

    • MDOT

      “I will continue to block them” – In response to his/her state’s DOT’s attempts to inform him/her of what he/she’s doing wrong and why. “In one ear and out the other”. It couldn’t be any more clear or direct. YOU are the problem – MDOT

  • Roadwerker

    The Zipper merge is designed for when traffic volumes are high enough that there is no chance of maintaining speed through the merge, and both lanes are going to stop. It will be posted, and is not used often in W. Mi. In low volume traffic, get out of the closed lane immediately. Assuming a zipper merge and waiting till last minute is dangerous, and causing the chain reaction breaking that slow traffic and causes complete stops(accident potential). Get over at speed as soon as posted! If everyone does it, no coming to a stop in low volume traffic to let left lane lollygaggers in, and way more efficient.

  • Rebecca

    Zipper merges work perfectly in high volume cities all over the world. I live near DC (born and raised in west MI tho) and you can always tell the tourists by who gets over earlier than they are supposed to. But the locals appreciate you letting them in front of you. ;-) If you get on board with the concept, it’s a very quick merge, utilizes all the available roadway, and is backed by *repeated* traffic studies (links in the article):

    This terribly animated YouTube video illustrates it well:

  • 5tar5

    Inviting road rage. Only way the merge works is, with authority standing directing the traffic. Unfair to merge then have others zoom up passing those that already merged. Everyone thinks their time is more important than the next.

  • DaveJ45

    Instead of simply posting officers to enforce construction zone speed limits, those resources would be MUCH better utilized by positioning officers so that they can be writing tickets to the j*ck*sses that are straddling merge lanes and making the traffic situation massively more troublesome!!!

    • Steve

      The zipper may work on the simulator but not even close in real life. If everyone was a good driver it might work but I see people texting, reading books, and others that should have never gotten a license. In an “all about me” society there’s not enough common courtesy for this method.

  • Roger Groot

    The question is,when the MDOT wants drivers to use both lanes “up to the merge point” there are those aggressive drivers who will keep going in the wrong lane and at the very last second wedge their vehicle in between a vehicle only to gain a few car lengths ahead.Michigan should do what the state of Wyoming does when two lanes are reduced to one lane,they want everyone to use both lanes,BUT they have a sign that reads,MERGE NOW and any vehicle that is still in the lane that is closed ahead are given tickets by Troopers who are parked ahead.Also those who “fly by you” in the other lane,are not complying with the reduced speed.

  • Viam Pontificis

    Zipper merge is a concept that works on paper, but in a me first world doesn’t work 14 years as an over the road trucker and thousands of miles in constructions zones, its a pipe dream.

  • tcee

    Michigan has always had rude selfish drivers. You can signal you need to lane change and they have that pathetic attitude, “you’re not getting in front of me”. And the winter pileups on the freeway are completely understandable once you drive on a MI freeway. They tailgate so close it qualifies for drafting. No pity here for the pileup’s.

  • Lenox Bowman

    Then make it a law there is no passing in construction zones once you reach the “merge, lane ends” sign…and enforce it. Means nothing if there’s no enforcement. I agree with the zipper theory but …

  • DJ Hart

    Your rules dont make sense, why does the sign say Marge right a mile before the lane ends then? There are countless studies showing that you are doing it wrong, the “zipper merge” is supposed to occur at the sign that says to merge, dumb ass. The ignorance of our society is absolutely dumb founding

  • JW

    2 problems:
    When one goes from the backed up lane, to the not backed up lane, just to pass everyone, it IS cutting.
    People merge early, because A-holes refuse to let them merge ‘on time’. Many times I’ve had to wait an extra 1 or 2 cars because people try to prevent merging.

    Fix those, and maybe a zipper merge wouldn’t suck.

  • KsSmith

    Zipper merge would only work if it was a true zipper. Both sides coming together in the middle. Then shift traffic to the lane you want it in. Bonus – saves money on signs and removes the need to change the merge point when they switch lanes being fixed.

  • John Patterson

    Never work in MI. Because people won’t leave the openings for the zipper to work. Ohio posts a lane is legally closed past a point and you get ticketed if jamming in at last second. That forces the zipper to work upstream before the lane closure.

  • Jim Brown

    Visited Michigan this past weekend. I encountered a Michigan driver unnecessarily impeding the utilization of open road TWICE on my trip, in areas where a lane reduction would eventually occur. I immediately asked myself, “haven’t they ever heard of a ‘zipper merge'”? One dude even waved his finger at me like, “ah ah ah, no cutting in line”, as he impeded traffic and increased congestion on a major thoroughfare. It’s a small consolation to stumble across this recent article with a simple search of “MDOT zipper merge”, however, based on what I saw, MDOT has it’s educational work cut out for it.

  • jean

    Signs would help! The 12-mi & Novi Rd intersection has been under construction for the past 2 mos and there is no “zipper merge” sign. So I’m doing like eveyone else and merging as soon as I see the “lane ends ahead” sign, 1/3 mile from the merge point. And then I’m honking at the cars speeding up alongside as my lane is stopped. The “zipper merge” sign would help all of us who try to be nice guys waiting our turns. Studies show, it’s effective only when EVERYONE uses it–so USE THE SIGNS!!!!

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