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.