Greenpoint, October, 2015

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Zipfer Merge

The "zipper merge" is a technique for easing traffic congestion, for instance, around construction sites. Drivers continue to use both lanes until they reach the merge point, at which they are encouraged by use of signs and cones to alternate turns in merging to one lane--like the teeth of a zipper coming together. It's not fast, but it works. That is, when you are merging from two lanes to one. Not much works, though, when you are merging from three lanes to one.

Courtesy Minnesota DOT
And yet that is exactly what happened at the George Washington Bridge in September. In Fort Lee, NJ. In emails released today, it became clear that, in August, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, asked Peter Zipf, the Authority's Chief Engineer, for scenarios to create congestion on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. When Zipf's more extreme scenario, three lanes merging to two lanes entering the toll booths, wasn't harsh enough for Wildstein, Zipf came back with another: three lanes to one. From the Business Insider timeline:

  • August 28: Port Authority Chief Engineer Peter Zipf emailed Wildstein: "As requested," he attached a plan for reducing the rush hour toll lane allotment for Fort Lee from three lanes to two. "One additional scenario could be a merge down to one lane, if needed," he added.
  • August 29: Zipf provided a modified plan for Wildstein, including an option taking Fort Lee down to a single toll lane, "as discussed."

  • Peter Zipf has worked at the Port Authority for 29 years, eventually becoming its Chief Engineer. As his alma mater, Manhattan College's profile of him puts it: "Anyone who has ever flown into New York City, driven from Manhattan to New Jersey or taken the PATH train has benefited from the work of Peter Zipf '79..." What about those trying to drive from New Jersey to New York City?

    David Wildstein, a high school crony of Christie, was appointed by Christie i n 2010 to a $150K/year "oversight" position at the Port Authority. To be Christie's "eyes and ears" there.

    What pressures was he under? What motivated him to comply? This part of the story has yet to be told.

    Hacks will be hacks. What happens when professionals stop being professionals?

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