Monday, May 12, 2014

Editorial: Is Making the I-10 and I-110 Express Lanes Permanent a Good Idea?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A while back, I had written an article about the introduction of new Express Lanes to the I-110 freeway in Los Angeles County. At first, converting the carpool lanes on the I-105/I-110 connector I-110, and I-10 seemed to be a good idea. The express lanes were created to supposedly help increase the flow of traffic across the general purpose lanes by allowing solo drivers access to the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for a price, or carpools for free. In order to gain access to the express lanes as a solo driver or carpool, you would need to purchase a FastTrak transponder. Upon entering the lanes, a solo driver would also be assessed a toll based about distance traveled and the amount of traffic at the time you are using the lanes. Carpool and vanpools just have to flip the switch on their transponder to "carpool" to access the lane for free. The express lanes were also designed to encourage more people to use public transit as all public transit vehicles are exempt from needing the transponder or paying tolls.

Image courtesy of The Source
After personally experiencing what the general purpose lanes have turned into after the express lanes made their debut, I am no longer sure the idea was so good. Sure, carpool, vanpool, and public transportation usage has increased. The biggest advantage to the addition of the express lanes though was the supposed relief the lanes would create for the general purpose lanes. While LA Metro claims average speed in the express lanes have stayed above the proposed 45 mph, the average speed in the general purpose lanes has actually decreased. The reasoning behind this slow down is actually quite simple: people do not want to pay to access the express lanes and are being forced into the general purpose lanes. If you look at page seven of LA Metro's February 2013 I-110 performance update, you will see that even their own study indicates that speeds have decreased since the introduction of the express lanes. While the speed decrease is not significant, the addition of the express lanes is having the opposite effect from what was desired.

Image courtesy of the LA County Supervisor 
LA Metro is currently proposing that the express lanes become a permanent fixture of the I-10, I-105/I-110 connector and I-110 freeways. In fact, LA Metro has even proposed adding express lanes to the already insanely busy I-405 freeway. From the standpoint of increased public transit usage, this idea could potentially work as the introduction of the express lanes to the I-10 and I-110 has increased public transit use along those two freeways. The express lanes have also vastly improved the on-time performance of public transit vehicles. Besides increasing public transit use though, I am not totally certain making the express lanes permanent or adding them to other freeways is a good idea. Based on LA Metro's own reports, it is fairly evident that people are refusing to use the express lanes because of the cost. For solo drivers who can afford the transmitter and the tolls assessed with usage of the lane, it is not a big deal. For solo drivers who cannot afford to use the express lanes, the travel times and congestion have only gone up. However, for carpools and vanpools, this introduces a bigger problem. Carpools and vanpools that were previously free to use the HOV lanes must now purchase the FastTrak transmitter just to enter the lanes. For those that can afford the extra cost, it is no problem. But for those that cannot afford it, or are unwilling to spend the extra money, those carpools and vanpools are being forced into the already crowded general purpose lanes. Many critics have called the express lanes class discrimination for road use

Image courtesy of Streets Blog LA
With the way the current toll lane system is set up, I feel that making the express lanes permanent is a bad idea. Adding them to the obscenely busy 405 freeway is an even worse idea. LA Metro's hope of relieving the pressure on general purpose lanes is not happening, and is instead creating a larger issue for those who have no choice but to travel in these lanes. On an extremely busy freeway like the 405 freeway, I would imagine the impact would be even worse than on the I-10 and I-110. My daily commute takes me on to the 405 freeway everyday. Traffic is generally so poor that what should be a 15 minute drive to my office without traffic easily turns into a 30 to 40 minute shuffle through traffic. Considering the additional traffic that would be generated by the express lanes, I would expect my commute to start hitting the 50 minute barrier. Taking 50 minutes to travel 10 miles is absolutely ridiculous!

Readers, what do you think? Have you used the new express lanes? Have you become a victim of the additional traffic generated by the express lanes? Should LA County approve making the express lanes a permanent fixture and add them to other freeways? Share your thoughts and comments below.  

tag: automotive, California, commuteExpress LaneFastTrak, Los Angeles