Officials say ‘zip it’ when driving out of Aspen

Cars merge into one lane on Main St. in Aspen on Wednesday, November 13, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The next time you are sitting in traffic heading out of Aspen and don’t want to let a car in that has passed you in the left lane, you should know you are doing it wrong.

Both local and state officials are actively campaigning to educate motorists on how to “zipper,” also known as the late merge.

“Two lanes moving at the same time is actually faster,” said City Engineer Trish Aragon. “It makes traffic flow better when you use both lanes.”

The city has a banner hung over Main Street at Fourth Street, encouraging people to zipper up ahead when the road goes from two lanes to one around the S-curves.

Lisa Schwantes, regional communications manager at the Colorado Department of Transportation, said the state agency is actively educating people on the zippering concept.

“It’s a trend nationwide, promoted by the federal highway administration,” she said. “It’s something we really encourage because traffic flows faster and if traffic moves faster it’s safer than the moment we put traffic at a standstill the chance of an accident greatly goes up.”

CDOT focuses a lot of its late merge messaging around construction zones because the natural inclination for people is to move into the open lane when they see that the road is going to narrow.

“We are so used to, from a young age, to stay in line and we don’t cut but we also are used to taking turns,” Schwantes said. “It’s not rude behavior to zipper merge. They are not cutting in line, they are actually utilizing a lane available to them.”

Aragon said during last year’s construction of the Castle Creek Bridge, traffic backed up on Main Street more than it should have because people didn’t utilize the merge lane enough.

“People were being nice, or they were trying to be nice,” she said. “Anecdotally, people are starting to zipper more now.”