The U.S. 2 ‘zipper’ merge debate continues

Last week’s column regarding the tricky merge from Highway 204 onto the U.S. 2 trestle got plenty of reaction from readers.

Currently, drivers from Highway 204 are required to yield to those entering the trestle from 20th Street SE. The letter writer asked the state Department of Transportation if the merge at the interchange could be changed to an alternate or “zipper” merge.

The current situation is unusual because those coming from the highway must yield to traffic coming from a side street. The visibility is difficult for those coming up the onramp from Highway 204, while drivers coming off 20th are heading down a steep hill.

This week’s letters supported the “zipper” merge and blasted the state for continuing to require that drivers coming off Highway 204 be required to yield. Below is a representative letter and Street Smarts’ response.

Mark Brandsma of Snohomish writes: It’s disappointing to read Transportation Department spokesman Dave Chesson’s reaction to the zipper merge solution suggested for the tough Highway 204 and 20th Street SE merge onto U.S. 2. He calls the idea “so novel that informational campaigns must be used.”

Every morning this “novel” idea happens in hundreds of locations across the state. I merge from the Second Street onramp to southbound Highway 9 in Snohomish several times each week and drivers have been zip merging here seamlessly for many years. I’m sure this is the case in other locations as well.

Several countries in Europe have been doing this for 10 years, at least, officially with signs showing an actual zipper. Are European drivers somehow smarter than us? I doubt it.

Mr. Chesson and rest of the Transportation Department should give drivers a bit more credit and realize that the zipper is already here, whether they like it or not.

In regards to the Highway 204 and 20th Street SE merge onto U.S. 2, we all agree that zipping is not the ultimate solution, but it is one for now. What is the state’s suggested alternative? Doing nothing? That’s simply not acceptable.

Street Smarts responds: The belief here is that the state is taking absolutely the right approach to this situation: safety first.

Anyone who offers up a traffic solution should be willing to ask themselves the following question: Am I willing to trust my life to it?

Am I willing to bet the rest of my days that other drivers will “get” what a zipper or alternate merge means? Am I willing to stake my future on the intelligence, savvy and quick-thinking ability of other people on the road any more than I must already?

Even more to the point, do I expect the state of Washington to trust my life to a right-of-way change that might be perfectly clear to some people but not to others?

As Dave Chesson did his best to explain, this is why the state prefers to keep its rules as simple and clear as possible. Having one set of drivers yield to the others leaves no doubt as to the responsibilities and prevents a driver from claiming after an accident that the other guy didn’t “zip” correctly.

Even if requiring one set of drivers to yield still results in a weave or “zipper” pattern of merging, as often indeed occurs, then fine. In this way, though, it occurs naturally from a place of erring on the side of safety rather than from an imperative to alternate.

In the case of Highway 204 and U.S. 2, the drivers traveling more slowly (up the ramp) are required to yield to those traveling faster (down the hill). The poor visibility from Highway 204 makes the merge more difficult but does not change the fact that the potential for a serious crash is much greater from a car coming down the hill striking another than the other way around.

The low visibility for the Highway 204 drivers combined with the higher speeds of the others makes it even more important for the Highway 204 drivers to take the ramp slowly, which in turns makes it logical for those drivers to yield.

Otherwise, are you willing to bet that those people ripping down the hill on 20th will hit their brakes in time to avoid turning your car into an accordion?

What is not acceptable is a fatal accident.

E-mail us at stsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your city of residence.

Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog at www.heraldnet.com/streetsmarts.

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