Los Angeles again tops the list of U.S. cities with the worst traffic congestion in the country. Congestion is both frustrating and expensive, costing Angelenos more than $10 billion annually in wasted time and fuel. When you add gridlock’s adverse impacts on economic development, the environment and quality of life, it’s clear that we must seek and implement innovative transportation solutions.
The overwhelming majority of economic activity in urban areas depends on roadways – a simple and undeniable statistical fact. With our population and reliance on automobiles, our city can no longer build its way out of congestion. First, we just don’t have the space to build more general traffic lanes. Even if we did, latent demand, especially during peak hours, would quickly overload them.
Fortunately, there are viable solutions to urban congestion in this city, the state and across the country. If Los Angeles is serious about overcoming obstacles to growth, our leaders must take bold action to lay the foundation for long-term relief.
California already leads the movement toward adoption of express lanes, also known as priced managed lanes or toll lanes, as a sustainable solution to urban congestion. In fact, of the country’s nearly 2,800 miles of high-occupancy vehicle lanes being converted to express lanes, more than half are located in our state. In Los Angeles alone, 500 miles of HOV lanes are being used as or are planned for conversion to express toll lanes.
Express lanes offer commuters “congestion insurance.” When time is at a premium, solo drivers have the freedom to either stay in general purpose lanes or pay to enter express lanes. The toll rate varies by zone and time of day to ensure reliable travel speeds and less congestion. Using pricing to control transportation demand to get the most out of existing lanes is an important first step toward better traffic management.
In Los Angeles, underutilized HOV lanes on the interstate 110 and 10 freeways were recently converted to express lanes. Preliminary statistics released by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on this pilot project show increased usage and better travel speeds during peak periods. Officials anticipate that as more vehicles take advantage of the extra capacity on express lanes, speeds on general lanes will also improve.
Not only do express lanes provide a new mobility option for automobiles, they provide a reliable transit corridor for buses. All trips on a roadway are not the same; therefore, all lanes on a roadway should not be the same. Motorists value their time differently – whether driving to work, the airport, or to dinner and a movie. Express lanes provide access to all types of customers – from business owners to commuting college students to parents attending school activities. When given the choice, people will use them as needed.