Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Is LA's Metro ExpressLanes really a victim of its own success?

A victim of its own success? No. Because HOT lanes are generally managed lanes, solutions like barring non-carpools access for a short period can keep them moving whenever demands go up.


By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


Short answer to the question stated in the headline is no.

The truth is Los Angeles Metro has a solution already in place whenever its HOT lane facilities become too popular. Thus, the Metro ExpressLanes is no victim.

I've recently conducted a field study of the I-10 Metro ExpressLanes and have a late evening video clip of a trip leaving downtown Los Angeles to the I-605 via the HOT lanes and El Monte Busway infrastructure. HOT lane motorists at that time were able to bypass some post rush hour slowing in between the US-101 and USC Medical Center. East of the hospital, all lanes along the I-10 were at full speed. Certainly, the trip along the ExpressLanes was not a failure; so, enjoy the virtual ride:



The reason why I put this topic up for discussion is that the Los Angeles Times today ran a report implying that the I-110 Metro Express Lanes could be "on the cusp of becoming a victim of its own success." That is because the dual high occupancy toll lane infrastructure along the I-110 Harbor Transitway is nearing capacity during the morning rush hour according to the Times.

But LA Metro already has a very wise policy plan in place to address this. When the HOT lanes become congested and slow, then it's carpools only--with a small catch.

A Metro fact-sheet states:

If the average travel speed in the ExpressLanes falls below 45mph because of increased demand, the message displayed on the overhead sign at entry points will change to “HOV only.” This message tells toll-paying drivers that they cannot enter the ExpressLanes – only carpools with FasTrak can enter the ExpressLanes until speeds climb above 45 mph.

The catch of course is the toll-free HOV's must have a switchable FasTrak ETC.

But because high occupancy toll lanes are supposed to be "high occupancy" managed lanes, The Transit Coalition has also maintained that if HOT lanes are nearing capacity, then dynamic signs would designate such lanes as dedicated carpool lanes until space frees up. Only HOV's meeting the posted minimum occupancy requirement for carpool would be granted access to the lanes. No toll-paying solo drivers; the toll lanes are sold out!

Graphic: LA Metro
That would allow the lanes to continue to operate at full speeds, allow HOV's continued full and free access, keep any BRT and commuter express transit services moving, and transport the maximum number of people per vehicle, per hour. Here's how:

Typical maximum freeway-speed lane capacity:
1,500 to 2,000 vehicles per hour

2-Lane (each way) HOT Express Lane vehicle capacity based on the 1,500-2,000 lane capacity figure:
3,000 to 4,000 vehicles per hour

Maximum persons passing through per hour w/ two HOV 2+ lanes if each vehicle had at least 2-persons:
At least 6,000 to 8,000 people per hour

Maximum persons passing through per hour w/ two HOV 3+ lanes if each vehicle had at least 3-persons:
At least 9,000 to 12,000 people per hour

Coalition Concept: 3+ Carpool restriction for the 91 Express Lanes.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA or any public entity.
According to the Times report, Metro is now experimenting with the "carpools-only" rule restriction. That is the fair position and I have no objection to that. However, some say that peak-hour tolls should be raised too as a long term solution. That could help offset non-HOV demands during the peak periods with the higher rates. But under no circumstances should the toll-free HOV's be charged a toll. Slapping mandatory tolls on them would further de-incentivize and displace private carpooling as the left over space could then be sold to more toll-paying SOV's.

Except for motorcycles and registered buses, all HOV's already must have a switchable FasTrak to use the LA MetroExpress Lanes for free. Motorists with a standard transponder can only use the ExpressLanes as a toll-paying patron. The Transit Coalition is not a fan of this HOV usage policy especially because both the I-110 and I-10 Metro ExpressLanes were once dedicated carpool lanes.

Enforcement: A motorcycle officer patrols the I-15 Express Lanes.
Imposing mandatory transponders on HOV's displaces non-registered private carpools from the high occupancy lanes and opens up vehicle space that can be sold to toll-paying solo drivers. That is a fact. To be fair, the growing Metro Silver Line ridership and vanpool options have helped offset this after-effect, but far too many non-registered HOV's remain displaced. Even with the automated photo enforcement technology, the CHP is still needed to catch carpool lane cheaters, toll-dodgers who deliberately mask or remove their vehicle's license plate to avoid paying the tolls, and motorists who use the restricted HOV infrastructure as an illegal passing lane by crossing over the double white lines.

By the way, I managed to catch such a passing violation on camera during the field study in the video mentioned earlier (video time 11:50-12:00). That's why law enforcement is needed to stop these violations. Heavy fines and points need to be imposed to deter such bad behavior that unfairly clogs the system, not restricting toll-free HOV's.

Moving forward, Los Angeles Metro should continue to examine the "carpools-only" rule and certainly enforce it whenever the high occupancy toll lanes approach full capacity. Once the corridor starts seeing at least 3,000 to 4,000 2-person HOV's moving through per hour without any toll-paying solo drivers, other measures such as increasing the peak-hour carpool occupancy requirement to 3+ can be explored. That can be supported with expanded transit options, better and more secure park & ride infrastructure adjacent to Metro Rail and express bus services, corridor-based Metrolink service through LA Union Station, and more vanpool options for the corridor. A dual 3+ HOV/HOT lane system certainly will last for decades to come as that would carry at least 9,000 to 12,000 people per hour each way at maximum capacity.

Again, if too many non-HOV's buy their way into the ExpressLanes, then it should be sold out and carpools only until space opens up.

Those sound HOT Lane management measures will certainly prevent the HOT lane infrastructure from becoming a "victim of its own success".

1 comment:

  1. Fasttrack is elitist. Now the congestion in the non-Fasttrack lanes is horrendous, whereas the traffic in the fastTrack lanes is very light. This very uneven use of the available lanes does not make sense. These free-ways were built by our tax money, and now a new fee is collected to use the Diamond lane, favoring the wealthy. The rich can afford this, but not the common citizen. This extra fee certainly adds income to the State treasury, but is unfair. It separates the "haves" and the "have-nots."

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