Between Prop. 1 and the presidential election, it’s been pretty easy to forget that there’s also another Eyman initiative on the ballot. I-985 would divert a significant chunk of the state general fund into a road-building account. More directly relevant to transit issues, it would stop directing 1% of spending into public art (threatening federal funding for our projects) and open up HOV lanes to general traffic in “off-peak” hours.
As pointed out in numerous places, the measure’s definition of “peak” — 6-9 am and 3-6 pm on weekdays — is not at all fully inclusive of the times there is congestion. There’s a certain disconnect in the logic here: that buses and carpools won’t be hurt by opening up the HOV lanes, but that somehow there’s congestion that single occupancy vehicles will be able to avoid by using them!* [Update Below]
There are more extended critiques in the P-I and Crosscut. It’s nice to see the segment of Prop. 1 opponents that is intellectually honest, people like Doug MacDonald and Ron Sims, come out in vocal opposition to this measure. I’m wondering, however, where the rest of the buses-and-vanpools-can-do-it-better crowd is.
Inadvertently, however, Tim Eyman has been very helpful to the Mass Transit Now campaign, by illustrating one of the big problems with Bus Rapid Transit. Although BRT is almost always inferior to rail in terms of passenger capacity, environmental cleanliness, and operating costs, it’s true that with sufficient political will (especially the will to convert existing lanes to bus-only), a large portion of rail’s benefits can be captured by a properly designed system for a fraction of the cost.
A BRT system that relies on HOV lanes is not that ultimate system, but even its modest objectives are perpetually under threat by activists that want to loosen restrictions on those lanes. No one’s going to try to open up light rail tracks to general-purpose traffic.
Lastly, I have trouble figuring out the coalition that’ll support I-985. After all, diverting money from the state general fund into a congestion account amounts to a massive transfer of wealth into the areas that experience congestion. I’m not sure who in Eastern Washington wants their programs cut to build roads in the Puget Sound that the locals don’t even necessarily want.
Bus Photo from dot.gov; Eyman photo from komonews.com.
* UPDATE: It’s been rightly pointed out to me that one paragraph above is brutally phrased. I’ll try again.
Outside peak hours, either there is congestion or there isn’t. If there isn’t congestion, opening up HOV lanes to SOVs doesn’t offer any benefit to anyone, and the measure is pointless. If there is congestion, then the claims that opening up HOV lanes won’t interfere with the efficient operation of buses and carpools is simply false. Either way, it simply can’t be the case that I-985 simultaneously helps single-occupancy vehicles and doesn’t harm HOVs.