N.B. man who used 'zipper merge' in heavy traffic says it sparked a road rage incident

·4 min read
New Brunswick resident Terry Sznober hopes the province will do more to raise awareness of the zipper merge manouevre, and to enforce it, after an irate driver punched his window in when he executed the move on a bridge in Saint John. (Submitted by Terry Sznober - image credit)
New Brunswick resident Terry Sznober hopes the province will do more to raise awareness of the zipper merge manouevre, and to enforce it, after an irate driver punched his window in when he executed the move on a bridge in Saint John. (Submitted by Terry Sznober - image credit)

Terry Sznober thought he was doing the right thing. He was in heavy traffic on Saint John's Harbour Bridge and saw signs saying that traffic would be reduced to one lane in about two kilometres.

So he did what he always does in such situations: he employed the "zipper merge."

The zipper merge, for those who aren't familiar with it, has drivers stay in their lane and delay merging until the moment their lane comes to an end. Then, when they reach the bottleneck, drivers from each lane take turns entering the reduced lane, merging like the teeth of a zipper.

But while it's widely adopted in some countries, such as Germany, it hasn't really caught on in Canada.

"The driving public sees those reduced-lane signs, and they assume that, 'Oh, I need to get in that left lane right now,'" Sznober said. "So the right lane is completely open for two kilometres, and no one's using it.… You start to see them straddling both lanes, you know, trying to defend their spot."

In short, many drivers misunderstand the zipper merge as a bully tactic. And on Tuesday night, Sznober found that out the hard way.

AMA
AMA

He passed a white, cube-shaped commercial truck that had just merged into the right lane, which was soon ending, and when he reached the point where the two lanes were reduced to one, traffic came to a standstill.

That's when Sznober said he saw the driver of the truck get out of his vehicle and walk up to the back of Sznober's car.

"I thought, OK, he's going to shout at me through my window or something," Sznober said.

"Then he disappeared in my blind spot, then a second of silence or so — and then all of a sudden, a big boom, and glass went flying everywhere inside my car. Then I saw him out my rear-view mirror again, stomping up the hill and then get back into his truck."

The man had shattered the rear passenger window of Sznober's car.

Submitted by Terry Sznober
Submitted by Terry Sznober

Sznober, who was alone in the vehicle, said he was uninjured but shocked. He was unable to get the truck driver's licence plate number and is hoping someone has dash-cam footage from the scene.

He did report the event to the Saint John police, who confirmed Wednesday that they'd had a report of an incident on the Harbour Bridge on Tuesday evening but said the driver "has not been identified."

"Construction season can certainly be a frustrating time, and the [Saint John Police Force] encourages drivers to be courteous when behind the wheel," communications manager Jim Hennessy said in an email.

Sznober is all for courtesy behind the wheel but said he thinks education about the rules of the road is what's really needed.

"They really should educate the public on how to use these traffic patterns and also enforce them," he said.

According to the province, that's about to happen.

Roger Cosman/CBC News
Roger Cosman/CBC News

Zipper merge campaign coming, province says

In an interview Wednesday evening, Mark Taylor, communications manager for the province's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the effectiveness of zipper merging has been "very clearly established," but he conceded it isn't widely enough known.

"Your timing is interesting, because we are in the process of introducing some new ways of communicating with the public about how to execute a zipper merge," Taylor said. "And in the weeks and months ahead, we'll be rolling out some public awareness around that."

With paving now underway on the Harbour Bridge, heavy construction during the summer months, and more projects planned for next year and the years ahead, this kind of campaign will be crucial, he said.

"I think it's very clear that the zipper merge concept has moved traffic through a lane-reduction situation effectively. So it always is the best method of merging in a situation [such as] the Harbour Bridge."

Sznober is already sold on the concept but said the damage to his car proves there are drivers who still need to be made aware.

In the meantime, his car is off the road awaiting repairs — which might take a while.

"I made an appointment to replace that window," he said. "I believe it's coming from Windsor (Ont.), and unfortunately, is the only one in Canada. So [the supplier] said he was going to make sure that they wrap it really, really well before they ship it."

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