Identifying Optimum Taper Lengths for Zipper Merging Applications using Real Data and Microscopic Simulation
Motorists lack of understanding on the proper way to maneuver through lane closures during congested periods cause driver confusion. This confusion directly and indirectly creates inconsistent flow patterns, forced merges, travel time delays, and crashes. Engineers and developers have tried to improve the merge systems used in construction zones to reduce driver frustration, improve travel time, and increase safety. Encouraging drivers to use the zipper merge approach has been assumed by some to target these issues. When implemented, drivers jointly merge together in an alternating fashion at two-to-one lane closures/reductions. There is a difference in opinion between traffic officials concerning the taper length required to efficiently accommodate these types of merging patterns – particularly those that occur near construction sites. Current practice uses the taper design guideline presented in the MUTCD. However, some believe this unique approach to merging at lane reductions should be accompanied by a shorter/longer taper. This study simulated 192 scenarios consisting of eight different percent truck compositions, six different transition lengths, and four different traffic volumes in VISSIM. The simulation models were calibrated with field data taken while a zipper merge configuration was in operation on a freeway. The main objective was to identify the optimum transition length when placing a zipper merge configuration because it visually and physically promoted alternating merging maneuvers. The results indicated none of the six tested taper lengths had a clear advantage over the other under multiple traffic volumes and truck percentages. Although statistically equal, operational differences in response to taper lengths were present and became more pronounced as volumes and truck percentages increased.