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'There's still two camps': Zipper merge divides Winnipeg drivers

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Spring is here, which means road work is once again ramping up in Winnipeg. But with the onset of construction season comes a renewed discussion about a controversial traffic management strategy.

Zipper merging is not a new thing in Winnipeg, having been first introduced as a pilot project in 2015. St. Boniface councillor Matt Allard has been championing the concept ever since, but he said it's been an uphill battle. 

“There’s still two camps of those who think we shouldn’t do and those who think we should do it," said Allard. "But when you look at it from a traffic flow perspective, it really is a no cost way of moving traffic.”

In a zipper merge, drivers should continue travelling in their lane until they approach a lane closure. At the barricade, drivers are expected to take turns, one-by-one, proceeding through the construction zone.

Allard said zipper merging reduces traffic congestion and wait times. “If Winnipeggers adopt it, culturally, if we all decide to zipper merge together, it’ll improve traffic flow."

It's a sentiment echoed by Bronwyn Smith, walking by the construction zone at the St. Vital Bridge, “I like zipper merges when they work, like when everyone takes turns and is cooperative. But if no one’s cooperative and it doesn’t work, it’s just a nightmare. It’s just a mess,” she said.

 “It’s way more efficient and it’s just the right thing to do,” said Ralph, who was walking through South Osborne on Friday afternoon. “And if everybody does it properly, it does work.”

Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) said in an email to CTV News that a common misconception about zipper merging is that all vehicles should be in the lane that isn’t closed. This is not the case, and just leads to traffic backing up at an even greater distance.

MPI added that drivers who are changing lanes must signal their intention, and once you merge, consider giving a wave to the driver behind you.

The City of Winnipeg said zipper merge signage is typically found in construction zones with higher posted speed limits, and where work is expected to take more than a few days.

However, the city does encourage motorists to zipper merge at any location where a lane is closed.

“It’s just a little bit of common sense,” Ralph said. “Be courteous to the next person and if everybody does that, it’s not a big deal.”

The St. Vital bridge rehabilitation project is currently the only construction zone in Winnipeg with zipper merge signage in place. The city said starting next week, a project on northbound Oak Point Highway will have them as well.

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