Should Metro be building carpool lanes?

The El Monte Busway and carpool lane on the 10 freeway. The photo was taken in 1992. Credit: Metro Transportation Library and Archive, via its Flickr photostream. Click above to visit.

L.A. Streetsblog recently ran an interesting post that pointed out that the number of carpoolers in Los Angeles County has declined between the year 2000 and 2009, according to Census Bureau numbers.

The decline, Streetsblog suggested, should lead Metro to better evaluate whether it’s worth spending money on HOV lanes such as the lane being added to the northbound 405 through the Sepulveda Pass — a project with a pricetag more than $1 billion.

Dave Sotero, who is part of Metro’s communications team, left the following response on Streetsblog and I thought it was worth posting on The Source for the sake of public debate:

Census data goes up and down, but one thing remains constant: the number of vehicles and the number of vehicle miles traveled are both expected to increase to unsustainable levels in the future.

There are too many cars and not enough roadways to handle them all. The more immediate probable cause of the drop in carpooling is the stubborn recession. If people aren’t working, they’re not carpooling to a job.

The recession is not a permanent phenomenon. As critical gaps in the carpool lane network are filled (the I-405 project is one example of this), carpooling, vanpooling and public transit should grow as well, particularly with the continuing escalation of gasoline prices. The 405 freeway carpool lane project fills the last gap in the entire I-405 freeway HOV system. Completing it is essential to improve mobility not just for the I-405, but the entire region’s freeway network.

The extra lane of traffic will in fact improve mobility on the 10-mile portion of the northbound I-405 by making all of the lanes of traffic flow more efficiently, whether you use the carpool lane or not.

We’re expanding carpool lanes so that we can sustain growth in alternative commute modes. Ride sharers save an average of 22 minutes of time to work through access to carpool lanes. L.A. has the most utilized HOV lane network in the country for one simple reason: it’s a highly effective congestion mitigation strategy. It is not the only strategy Metro and other regional transportation agencies are pursuing.

L.A. County voters passed Measure R because they wanted traffic relief for freeways AND public transit. We’re making improvements to both at the same time. If carpool lanes weren’t a good use of public funds, why would L.A. county voters and the federal government continually choose to fund them?

Metro is working with employers to encourage carpooling, vanpooling and public transit. The agency offers a suite of online ride matching services, incentives and transit pass programs. Our annual pass program has almost 600 employers enrolled, and about 13,000 employees are now using the agency’s annual transit passes to get to work.

Metro’s Vanpool program now has 1,000 vanpools, making it the fastest growing vanpool program in the country. No one strategy is going to solve all of our transportation problems in L.A. County. We must take a multi-pronged approach to traffic relief.

17 replies

  1. Thanks for posting this response, Steve.

    While I am entirely in favor of Metro’s vanpool program (which has done quite well) and carpooling overall, the cost effectiveness of carpool lanes on 405 over the Sepulveda Pass leaves something to be desired.

    Based on current travel patterns along Los Angeles Area freeways, HOV-2 lanes are sufficient to keep traffic moving with minimal congestion at most times of day. The purpose of a carpool lane is to give motorists travel time reductions as an incentive to increase the number of occupants in their vehicle, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road. This goal is amicable, but during the times that HOV lanes are also congested, or where they are poorly designed (I-105 eastbound HOV lane at the 110 interchange always gets jammed up at PM peak), this incentive disappears. The same incentive exists for transit lines, like the Metro Silver Line, and LAX Flyaway. Without this incentive, HOV lanes are simply freeway widening projects in disguise.

    What worries me about the 405 carpool lane is its status as HOV-2. I don’t have specific numbers, but I’m fairly certain that the heavy congestion in the PM peak over this section of roadway will spill over to the HOV lane and eliminate its usefulness.

    Perhaps as part of the HOT lane experiment on the El Monte and Harbor Transitways, Metro could implement a system where the number of occupants in a vehicle for carpool lane use changes during periods of peak travel in order to ensure a smooth flow of traffic. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the HOV lanes on I-80 from the Bay Bridge to Pinole and beyond are HOV-3, and the El Monte Busway is HOV-3 in LA, so an increased carpool number is not unprecedented. If need be, an HOV-4 requirement could even be implemented.

    Point is – the 405 carpool lanes will be most effective at moving people from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley when buses use them – Commuter Express 573, 574 and Antelope Valley Transit 784. While it’s also nice to move carpoolers, an HOV-3 lane would be most effective in ensuring travel speeds for transit vehicles are better than for general single occupancy motorists.

    Anyway, isn’t a Westside-SFV high-capacity transit line a Measure R project? I have a nagging feeling that (sadly) this corridor will be served by BRT, so emphasizing the transit use of this lane is critical. Otherwise, Metro is throwing away a billion dollars on a greenwashed freeway expansion plan to temporarily reduce congestion, only for congestion to return a few years later because of the newly induced demand of the more-freely flowing 405.


  2. Asa person who depends on the public transit system for the whole life, I think there is still need for carpool lane. We can never get ride of cars. It makes no sense. Why I wonder why many measure (R and other public transportation bills) allocate so much money on the freeway.
    1) is that because they want more people to vote yes? If that is the reason, more people will not use the public transportation?
    2) we cannot get funds elsewhere to build the freeway, carpool lanes, or other freeway projects?
    3) or MTA must allocate x amount of money on the freeway?
    There are many suggestions. My only point do not make rail easier for people who have cars. That is the model MTA has been doing.


  3. Richard: There is already rail (commuter rail) in the center median of I-10 connecting LAUS to El Monte and beyond. There is not enough room to place additional tracks in the median as Metrolink and light rail can not occupy the same tracks. (Just look at the picture that accompanies this article.)


  4. HOV lanes do not change the problem of still having to use a car to get to your intended destination. It is contradictory to have a METRO agency (“metro” as in TRANSIT) be building freeway projects as those inherently contradict metros purpose which is mainly for public transportation as their own advertisements imply, like “gas or congestion: bad, M: good” etc. HOV lanes most often become just as congested as the regular lanes, especially on the 405 south, while drawing funding away from other modes of transport. Do we want to continue building upon an already fully built out (if not overbuilt) freeway system or actually improve transit by adding more modes like any large 1st world city ought to have. It is a fundamental issue of what we believe in doing with transportation in LA, not just a funding one. LA is going to become even more gridlocked no matter what due to population, so trying to solve traffic with car oriented projects in response just doesn’t make sense. And just adding street buses aren’t going to be much better because, as people have pointed out, they still compete on the same grid as traffic. Having separate transit ways (rail) and ROWs should be a top priority in transit for a city this size.


  5. Conner has put it absolutely right. Why would a public transport agency fund a road oriented transportation project? Funding a mass transit project will always get more
    benefits in terms of fuel consumption, less stress, environmentally friendly etc.


  6. @Connor:

    Please familiarize yourself with the creation of LA Metro out of the flaming embers of SCRTD and LACTC.