We’ve all experienced it – there is construction or an obstacle or just a reduction of lanes ahead, forcing a bottleneck where all the cars must slow down to merge. It sucks.

In fact, bottlenecks are the single biggest contributor to road delays, says a new study released Wednesday by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). Bottlenecks bring more people to a halt than crashes, bad weather and construction.

“Bottlenecks affect Canadians in every major urban market, increasing commute times by as much as 50 per cent,” said Jeff Walker, vice-president of Public Affairs for CAA, in a statement. “Reducing these bottlenecks will increase the quality of life for millions of Canadians, save millions in fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gasses, helping contribute to Canada’s climate change commitments.”

But how to get through the bottleneck in the fastest way is the topic of heated debate. Is it better to merge right away or try to sneak in at the last second? Those in the latter camp are often scolded as ‘cheaters’ for gaining a few spots in the traffic line as those who merge immediately (line-uppers) honk their horns while trying to keep others from merging late.

So what is the best approach? Merge late, be a cheater, according to another study released Wednesday, this one from the Alberta Motor Association (AMA).

“Merging methods are highly debated among Alberta motorists,” said Jeff Kasbrick, vice-president of government and stakeholder relations for AMA, in a statement. “But if you ask transportation specialists, they’ll tell you the best approach is the one that benefits everyone: a zipper merge.”

This means using both lanes for as long as possible and then alternating vehicle merges in “zipper” fashion into the continuing lane.

“Studies show that this method can decrease traffic congestion by as much as 40 per cent, reduce the speed differential between lanes, and foster a sense of fairness that all lanes are moving at the same rate,” reads the report. “In other words, ‘cheating’ with a late merge is a good thing – but only when everyone abides by the zipper.”

Kasbrick says when traffic isn’t backed up, merge early, but when traffic is heavy, use both lanes followed by an orderly zipper.

The 20 worst bottlenecks in Canada are in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Quebec City, with the worst one being Highway 401 between Highway 427 and Yonge Street in Toronto.

Article by: Jordan Chittley, The Globe and Mail