Zip It

Construction-zone driving can be as aggravating as getting your skin caught in your zipper — but we can get through it together

The old joke goes that, in Edmonton, there are only two seasons: winter, and construction. With each season comes sketchy driving conditions that, in many ways, make us more courteous than drivers in warmer cities where the roads don’t freeze, thaw and crack from winter weather — only to be overrun with pylons and construction trucks cutting lanes down in “summer.”

Winter driving sucks, and construction driving…also sucks. And you’re doing your best, Edmonton drivers. But there is one aspect of construction driving that way too many of you do wrong, and it’s making things suckier: the zipper merge.

In 1851, Elias Howe invented the first version of what became the pants zipper, which he called the “automatic continuous clothing closure” — an overly literal mess of a name, but it contains the word continuous, which is important for this discussion.

Picture this: You’re driving down the left lane of a two-lane road — let’s just say it’s, I don’t know…where 111 Street crosses 34 Avenue heading south, at 5:30 p.m. each weekday, just for fun. You look ahead at the suspiciously open lane in front of you, only to realize it’s actually closed by a construction truck with flashing lights, and everyone else has lined up on the right.

Because you’re a courteous driver, you don’t want to butt in line. So you stop at the start of the closed lane (backing up traffic behind you) and wait for the long line of open-lane cars to move ahead before dutifully queuing up behind them.

Stop it. Stop doing that.

We get it — you want to be kind, and it’s rightly hammered into us as kids that cutting in line is rude. But that only applies when people are lining up for the same thing, or trying to reach the same destination. No one’s trying to get to the same spot in a construction zone — everyone’s just trying to get through it efficiently. And there’s nothing more efficient than an automatic continuous clothing closure!

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to properly zipper merge so that I — sorry, we — can get home at a reasonable hour.

Step 1: When you’re in the closed lane, keep going with your blinker on, and just ignore the inner voice telling you that you’re doing something wrong. It may seem counterintuitive, but by using both lanes to their fullest, you’re actually speeding things up for everyone.

Step 2: The key is to go slow enough to shift seamlessly into the open lane once you approach the construction-truck end — think of it as the slider part of the zipper, only it’s stationary and the teeth (traffic) get pulled through it.

Step 3: If you’re stopped in the open lane, and things start moving, leave a gap for one of the slow-moving closed-laners, thus creating an unbroken chain of efficiency — like a zipper!

Step 4: Once you move into the open lane, give a little rear-view wave — it’s a kind act that will appease that pesky inner voice.

Step 5: If you merge before you reach the construction truck, keep an eye out for people in the other lane doing the same thing, and let one in ahead of you. But remember: You’re an open-laner now, which means you’ve accepted the sacred oath to not jump back into the closed lane to try to get ahead. That’s like when a real zipper tooth juts out and ruins a nice pair of pants — or in this case, a nice drive home.