Polite may not be the way to get you through a traffic jam - | WBTV Charlotte

Polite may not be the way to get you through a traffic jam

(Source: WBTV/File) (Source: WBTV/File)

It is the one thing that unites us. Our singular frustration with bumper to bumper Charlotte traffic.  It's a horrible way to start our day and a painful way to end it.

"Traffic around Charlotte is atrocious." said commuter Mason Hardin.

And while most of will do anything to avoid the snarl, Chris Vaughn kind of likes to get in the middle of it.

"Population is increasing and traffic is increasing," said Vaughn. 

It's what keeps him busy. Vaughn works for the North Carolina State Institute for Transportation Research and Education and whether it's two wheels or four, he's trying to figure out how to get you, where you're going, faster.

"We can't just build more and more roads and more and more lanes," said Vaughn.

So, he is among those studying how we can drive smarter and one way is through better merging onto highways and in construction zones.

"I don't like to wait until the last minute," said motorist Lisa Devinney.

Most of us feel that way and are not big fans of the guy who zips by a dozen or more cars in line and cuts in at the last moment.

"It upsets me," said Troy Darby.

Here's the thing, what if we told you those seemingly rude drivers have it right.

"It definitely goes against the grain," admits Vaughn.

The technique is called zipper merging. Simply put when facing an upcoming lane reduction, stay in that about to end as long as you can and when you get to the end of the road alternate with the cars on your left like the teeth of a zipper. The idea is to fill in all available highway miles. 

"Exactly, that's why that extra space is there to allow for more capacity," said Vaughn. 

Filling in the space means fewer lane changes, fewer accidents, fewer people hitting the breaks and more consistent speeds. We all move faster together. The technique is being pushed in several states already. Missouri, Minnesota and Michigan are among those doing public awareness campaigns to get people on board. 

"In Michigan they've seen a 50% reduction in queues on their highways," said Vaughn. "Traffic is flowing more smoothly, it's not as volatile as it has as it has been in the past." 

The trick though is getting everyone to understand what the zipper merge is all about. Some states like California are reluctant to try it over fear of road rage. 

"Ultimately if everyone is doing it, then there isn't anybody who is flying by to the front of the line because everybody is coming in together," said Vaughn.

 It does take everyone getting on board to avoid frustration and that takes a lot of public awareness campaigns. The zipper merge is being tested right now in an area near Raleigh. Sensors and cameras are watching how it's going. We should expect to see the data sometime in February. The North Carolina Department of Transportation will use the numbers to decide how to proceed. 

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