The “Zipper Merge” Is Social Media Nonsense
Before anyone starts blowing up the comments section with "Well, actually..." posts about how highway engineers and the Department of Transportation and every other authority in the land says zipper merging is a great idea, I agree! But it will never work, and the fake outrage about it on social media is enough to drive a man insane.
You see, one of the more unfortunate side effects of the internet making everyone an expert on everything is that it makes everyone an expert on everything. One post goes viral on social media and you suddenly get thousands of people who know absolutely everything there is to know about whatever the Cause of the Moment™ is, and they'll stop at nothing to let you know how much more they know about it than everyone else on the planet.
In this case, it’s the Zipper Merge. If you don’t know what a zipper merge is, don’t worry. Someone is bound to start shouting at you about it on Facebook sooner or later. In the meantime, here’s an example: When a two-lane highway goes down to one lane, proponents of the zipper merge say drivers should use both lanes and wait to merge at the very end, where one of the lanes closes.
Here’s a visual aid:
The idea is that it will keep traffic steadily flowing and is the most efficient way to blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. Yes, the method works in theory, but so does putting a warm soda in the freezer to cool it down faster. Sure, it seems like a good idea at the time, but you’re probably just gonna forget about it until you go to get a bowl of ice cream later and find your Rocky Road covered in a slushy mess of Orange Fanta and regret.
The problem with the zipper merge is that it depends on the most undependable element in the known universe: human behavior.
In order for the zipper merge to be effective, everyone has to be on the same page and following the same rules. Take a look at that animation up above and notice how all of the cars are spaced nice and evenly with a good gap between them. You know, like how you’re supposed to drive.
Now, I don’t want to sound too judgmental or anything and I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but when was the last time you saw anyone on the road driving the way they were supposed to? If you don’t have people cruising in the left lane at fifteen miles under the speed limit, there's some dude in a jacked-up dually riding your bumper because you have the audacity to not speed in the right lane.
Heck, just pull up to any given intersection and watch all the people running through yellow and then red lights so they can make their turn and the rest of us be damned. The point is, you can’t rely on drivers to follow the rules, much less be courteous about the whole thing.
Which is why the zipper merge will never work. When you’re stuck in gridlock, every car is right on top of every other car. There are no convenient spaces for the other lane to merge into, and people aren’t about to allow another car to invade the sovereign space of Their Lane© even if there were.
The zipper merge could work, but can't without everyone participating equally. Good luck getting everyone to change their driving habits, though. Sure, the zipper merge is a better way of doing things, but so is using the metric system. And we all know how well the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 worked out.
People waiting in line will always resent people who appear to be cutting the line, even if they're technically doing the right thing. It’s human nature. We’re all just jerks who think it's everyone else that are the jerks.
The people sitting still in the left lane will always think the people zooming by them in the right lane are jerks, and the people using the zipper method in the right lane will always think all the schmucks sitting still in the left lane are jerks when they don’t let them merge.
If you need proof, just look at all the viral posts from newly-minted internet experts: the zipper merge is never shown working in the real world. All we ever see are computer models and animations, where the method only works because all the drivers are robots that have been programmed to behave exactly like humans don't. Go looking for real-world examples of zipper merges on YouTube and all you'll find are fail videos.
In a perfect world, we could rely on the zipper merge to keep traffic flowing, just like we could rely on government to spend our tax dollars wisely, just like we could rely on Facebook to not spy on us, just like we could rely on that couch we bought on Craigslist to not be infested with bed bugs, just like…just like…just like…
Should we use the zipper merge? YES. It's the best way to keep traffic moving.
Will the zipper merge ever catch on? NO. People ruin everything.