Lileks: Time to zipper merge

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2013 - 10:35 PM

It’s not often I admit I’m wrong, because that tarnishes the sense of infallibility newspaper columnists share with meteorologists and carnival fortunetellers.

But I was wrong about the proper way to merge on the highway. In this space I have argued for the Long Line of Shared Misery approach, where decent people see a MERGE sign and get into the queue like Soviet citizens shuffling for a loaf of bread. I thought this was good because:

1. The line would move at a steady pace if everyone got the budging and barging out of their system waaay back there, and

2. You can feel really righteous when someone zooms to the choke point and tries to get in, and you stare straight ahead listening to MPR report on cholera somewhere, and you’re the sort of person who cares about these things, unlike the guy who’s trying to get in and probably listens to some sports-talk channel where cholera never enters their mind. OK, he might give to United Way through work, but you’re still not letting him in.

Now MnDOT has a new campaign that puts the weight of the state squarely on the Zipper model: You should drive up to the merge point and take turns.

The problem with the zipper? The guy who’s blasting past the long line to get to the merge point is either thinking:

1. This is the officially sanctioned method for commingling two streams of independently operated vehicles into one smooth-moving lane, and has been scientifically proven to maximize the flow of traffic;

Or he is thinking

2. SUCK-ERS!

It’s not the law, just a suggestion. If you want to poke along in a line whose hindmost members are thinking, “I hope 35 clears up once we’re out of Iowa,” that’s your call. But MnDOT has some advice that will make your decision easier: The website says, “Don’t worry about being ‘Minnesota Nice.’ ”

This may be the first time a government body has told the citizens to cast aside habitual decency.

It’s all downhill from here. In 10 years, when everyone says “I don’t like that” instead of, “Well, that’s different,” we’ll know where it all began.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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