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Winnipeg drivers aren't picking up on zipper merging: report

A new staff report recommends getting Manitoba Public Insurance on board to help with education to promote new merging maneuvers.

Drivers wait for one of the many trains to pass at Waverley Street and Taylor Avenue.

David Lipnowski/For Metro

Drivers wait for one of the many trains to pass at Waverley Street and Taylor Avenue.

A new report at city hall confirms what many Winnipeg drivers already know: Many of us seem wholly confused with—or dismissive of––zipper merging. 

The city's public works department launched a zipper merge pilot back in 2015 at two sites on Lagimodiere Boulevard and Bishop Grandin Boulevard. 

Simply put, a zipper merge is when drivers in multiple lanes approach a road closure, which is usually at a construction site, and take turns merging into a single lane. 

It’s a maneuver that’s already allowed on our roads, but a habit not many drivers practice.

Even with electronic signage installed at the two pilot sites, traffic manager Luis Escobar writes in a new report that it had a minimal effect on traffic congestion as drivers weren't too quick to pick up on zipper merging.  

"It appears that the ineffectiveness is related, in part, to the absence of specific education as to how drivers should merge at a construction lane closure," he writes. 

"The next step will be to approach Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) to gauge the level of interest in exploring specific education relative to merging in construction zones."

Escobar's analysis is based off video evidence from the test sites, which was collected to monitor the behaviour of drivers. 

The report also says it cost the city around $8,300 to install electronic signage at both locations for the 14-day and 36-day trial periods in 2015. 

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard is the one who pitched city hall on encouraging more drivers to zipper merge.

Allard says he supports seeing the city ask MPI for help to better educate drivers about the maneuver, adding he’d like to see it incorporated in the driver’s handbook.

Even despite the city’s less-than-glowing review of the pilot, he still believes it’s gaining traction with some behind the wheel, pointing to the response garnered by one of his Facebook posts about the subject and anecdotal feedback.

“The more zipper champions out there, the more it will catch on and the more efficient our traffic flow will be in construction,” Allard told reporters on Monday.

“I remain personally convinced that it’s a way of bettering our traffic flow during construction and at very little cost to the city.”

The infrastructure renewal and public works committee will discuss the report on Tuesday. 

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