Monday, June 10, 2013

PRESS ENTERPRISE EDITORIAL: Open car pool lanes during non-peak hours

Published: June 09, 2013; 06:00 PM | California does not have so much freeway capacity that the state can afford to leave some lanes mostly empty for much of the day. The state Senate should back a bill that would open some car pool lanes in Los Angeles County to regular traffic during non-rush hours. And the Legislature should extend that approach to other Southern California counties, as well.

The Assembly last month passed AB 405, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, by a 72-0 vote. The bill would allow regular traffic to use car pool lanes on portions of Highway 134 and Interstate 210 during non-peak hours. Gatto structured the bill as a pilot project, but he clearly wants to extend the same approach to other freeways in Southern California.

The idea is attractive to a car-clogged region that routinely faces frustrating traffic congestion. California now has 1,428 miles of car pool lanes out of about 12,000 miles of freeway in the state, with plans for adding 777 more miles of the restricted-use lanes. But single-occupant vehicles dominate Southern California traffic, leaving the restricted lanes largely useless to most drivers. Adding new freeway lanes in heavily developed Southern California is both difficult and expensive, so the region needs to make the most efficient use of existing freeway capacity.

Inland residents, for example, welcome additional lanes for the crowded Highway 91/Interstate 215 route between Riverside and San Bernardino. But leaving those lanes off limits to most drivers 24 hours a day stands to annoy motorists more than ease traffic. All taxpayers are paying for stretches of roadway that only some drivers can use, because sharing rides is not a simple matter for many people in Southern California’s sprawling commuter culture.

California already has a precedent for opening the lanes to all traffic for part of the day: Northern California car pool lanes have restrictions only during peak traffic hours Monday through Friday. The rest of the time, all drivers can use the lanes.

Caltrans, however, says that traffic patterns make that approach infeasible for Southern California, because daily freeway congestion lasts longer. But that claim hardly justifies keeping the lanes off-limits to other traffic 24 hours a day. And the car pool lanes do have room for general use: A 2012 Caltrans report showed that some of the restricted-use lanes in Los Angeles County barely met Caltrans’ minimum standard for car pool lanes of 800 vehicles per hour, even at peak times. And those counts can see a substantial drop after rush hour periods.

Car pool lanes are supposed to decrease traffic congestion and improve air quality. But the lanes do nothing to serve those goals if they remain mostly empty while the rest of the freeway is jammed. Such instances only irritate motorists and undermine public support for the restricted-use lanes.

Opening the lanes to all during nonpeak times would promote more efficient use of freeway space while lowering drivers’ frustration level. Transportation policy needs to be practical, and leaving some freeway lanes largely empty for part of the day falls far short of that mark.

You can read this editorial and more at the Riverside Press Enterprise by clicking HERE

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly.  He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La CaƱada Flintridge, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.

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