Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Carpool Lanes: Should Riverside County "Open to All" outside of rush hour?


Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


The answer is no. However the debate has surfaced again.

The State Assembly voted overwhelmingly to advance a bill to relax the HOV 2+ restrictions during off-peak hours and weekends in Riverside County. Nearly four years ago, the state targeted the 134 and 210 Freeways in Los Angeles County; The Transit Coalition opined that 24/7 enforcement was necessary in LA County and Governor Brown agreed when he vetoed AB 405 in 2013.

AB 91 targets the freeway carpool lanes in Riverside County but excludes 91 Express Lanes. The Transit Coalition's position and Brown's 2013 veto statement does not support the opening of the carpool lanes to all road users in such a fashion but to be absolutely clear, off-peak traffic patterns on some freeways may correctly dispute this. The keyword is "some". Therefore, the workable means to address this problem is not by opening the HOV lane floodgates from Sacramento, but to allow local authorities statewide to manage the carpool occupancy requirements and enforcement periods on a corridor-by-corridor basis.

Traffic and civil engineers should be the ones tasked to write up the formulas and specifications based on the raw traffic data to aid local leaders in managing such lanes. The same holds true of determining whether such facilities should allow for continuous access or have dedicated access points. There are some Riverside County freeways like SR-60 through east Moreno Valley that experience very few vehicles in both the carpool and general purpose lanes outside of peak hours; thus, this corridor doesn't need 24/7 enforcement. But some sections like the I-215/60 segment east of Downtown Riverside or the I-215 in between Riverside and San Bernardino fare differently. That HOV section may need to be kept at 24/7 with improved public transit services; engineers should decide on that and advise the politicians, not the other way around.

Generally speaking, policies need to ensure the carpool lane remains moving at all times during regular traffic conditions. A firm valid objection to AB 91 or any other similar proposal is creating a circumstance where opening up the carpool lane to all would fill it beyond capacity during off-peak hours with solo drivers and slow it down. Because SoCal's freeway network is so vast, carpool lane usage policies need to be managed locally.

One caveat to this discussion: If there's a sigalert, traffic collision, construction, maintenance work, hazard, or any other acute road incident that is tying up traffic in the general purpose lanes outside of rush hour, allowing law enforcement and Caltrans to temporarily open up the high occupancy vehicle and toll lanes to allow all traffic to pass through would absolutely be justified. This includes relaxing access lane-change restrictions by allowing drivers to cross over the double white/yellow lines. Digital freeway signs would announce such permissions.

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