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. I would consider it a misappropriation of funds. The entire Gold Line Eastside Extension with 8 stations and 2 miles of tunnels was cheaper to build than this 1 northbound carpool lane.

    Why weren’t bus stations like on the Harbor Transitway not considered for the 405? Having no transit component on a 1 billion dollar freeway project from Metro seems baffling.

  2. I would say the only reason for Metro to stop building carpool lanes would be if they eliminated that space and re-purposed it for light rail. I’ve long held the belief that the number one thing Metro could do to encourage transit ridership is to simply build rail in the center of freeways. It’s self-marketing, doesn’t require the destruction of any additional landscape, and utilizes the rights-of-way that our city has grown and developed around for the past 60 years of our local car-dominant transportation philosophy.

    But alas that’s not likely to happen any time soon, so I’d rather see continued carpool lane development than nothing.

  3. I definitely favor the creation of many, many more carpool lanes.

    As for Devin’s suggestion about light rail, I think light rail on freeways is a bad idea — freeways often are not located within walking distance of destinations.

  4. “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?”

    Voters and officials are always right?

    But yeah, people voted for Measure R because it promised road improvements and public transit.

    I would be cool if they took all the Measure R money and redirected it into rail construction and bike lanes, but that’s not how democracy works.

  5. NO MORE ROADS should be built. Use all available transportation funds to convert all number One freeway lanes to light rail with stops at all the major cross streets and to buy more AMERICAN MADE clean air buses to complete a complete grid of the Southern California transportation system. Every major cross street should be part of a an 8 minute maximum bus grid. In order to attract the riders you need to provide adequate service.

  6. The carpool lane on 405 north thru the pass was absolutely needed. But it didn’t have to cost $1 billion to build it.

    Metro should have spent a few thousand bucks on paint and bollards, and re-painted the lanes to add a carpool lane and take away a non-carpool lane.

    This would have increased freeway capacity by almost as much (carpools are 2, 3 or more times as efficient as 1 person cars), while saving $1 billion dollars.

    The billion bucks could have paided for a two-track light rail tunnel under the pass, connecting to the Orange Line buses and the future Subway in Westwood, and providing a station at UCLA as well (Actually, it would cost about $2 billion for this, but there is already some money in the budget from Measure R)

    Metro needs to admit that it didn’t build carpool lanes on 405. It widened 405 to prevent taking away a “free” lane from 1 person occupancy cars.

  7. I like the idea of toll lanes, like the ones y’all are planning to roll out in that pilot project on the 10 and the 110.

    With toll lanes you have a guaranteed fast drive because the price is set so that traffic always moves at a minimum speed in the lane. In this way people with emergencies can pay for the ability to drive quickly. The lanes won’t bog down like some carpool lanes do now, and carpools can more easily split the cost than solo drivers.

    This also raises money. The money should go to 1) operating costs 2) road maintenance and 3) transit, but NOT road expansion.

  8. @Joseph E.

    Reducing capacity on anything (mixed-flow lanes, rail, streets, etc) is a very bad idea. In the 1970s on the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10), a mixed-flow lane was replaced with a carpool lane with disastrous results. It was quickly reversed after a short time of congestion and public hatred of the government authorities.

    It will be interesting to see if the flow on the HOT lanes on the 110 will be worsened, since technically they are not adding to the capacity of those 2 HOV/T lanes to account for the projected increase in volume. To clarify, the 1 HOV lane on the El Monte Busway will become 2 HOT lanes (capacity increase by 1 lane), whereas the 110 will only go from 2 HOV to 2 HOT (no capacity increase).

  9. To Devin:

    I LOVE THE IDEA OF A TRAIN DOWN THE 10 & 110 FREEWAYS!

    Sorry about that! I, personally, feel that a light rail line down the 10 freeway from Union Station to the El Monte Station would be perfect! The 10 already has the room for it, stations could be added near or at the current exits, and there are plenty of “destinations”.

    As for the 110, wasn’t the Expressway built with the possibility of having Light Rail? The dual carpool lanes seem excessive, and there is room to have a train AND a carpool lane from the 10 to at least the Artesia Transit Center!

    Does anyone see what I’m talking about?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.)

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. @Connor:

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