A lot of commuters, irate at the ever-increasing bottlenecks due to higher and higher freeway usage, have found their scapegoat: non-general-purpose lanes of any flavor.
The problem clearly pre-dated the roll-out of HOT lanes on I-405 north of Bellevue last September.
One of my own state representatives, Steve Bergquist (D – 11th District), resisted toll and HOV lanes before the lanes went live, so his support for scuttling the HOT experiment in its infancy should not be unexpected. Indeed, he is the second signatory on HB 2312, the companion to SB 6152, which got a hearing Thursday, and which Erica wrote about on Friday. As Bergquist admits, he is skeptical of taking away general-purpose lanes:
I think we jumped out ahead of ourselves a little bit on this project. Citizens want to see a reason to have two HOT lanes instead of one or three person carpool lanes instead of two person. My original bill, HB 2289, that I dropped last year would have eased us into a transition and used data to back up moving to 3+ carpool, rather than making such an abrupt jump.
Since September, I have been experiencing firsthand the significant effect this is having on my constituents. I am a small business owner up in the Kirkland / Bellevue area. Trying to commute back to Renton now pretty much anytime between 3 & 7 via 405 from the 520 corridor has added about 15 to 20 minutes to my normal commute, or 10 to 15 if I take alternative side roads which I have been using instead. I don’t think that was the desired impact.
So I’m signed on to continue the conversation and hopefully come up with a few changes that can help everyone in the corridor have a better commute. The bill will probably not be passing in the form it currently sits. But hopefully it will help move the conversation forward and come up with some solutions to many of the constituent frustrations I am hearing about within this corridor.
It seems reasonable to expect that SOV drivers will take time getting used to paying tolls, finding people with whom to carpool, or taking the bus when the bus happens to be useful. It is also to be expected that as HOT lanes open up and become faster, general-purpose lanes will, at least temporarily, become slower. If they expect the general-purpose lanes to get faster instantly, they are unclear on the concept of priority lanes. SOV drivers will look over and see buses, carpools, and toll-payers flying by them, and get jealous, even if their trip is somehow faster than before.
Furthermore, if WSDOT widely advertises the success of HOT lanes in speeding up average trip time, it is reasonable to expect induced demand to counteract that success, at least in the general-purpose lanes.
When WSDOT presents statistics (Thanks, Josh at Publicola!) that average trip time is actually decreasing through the corridor, it becomes incumbent on the priority-lane critics to explain what is wrong with the data, and not resort anecdotally to citing more angry constituents on the side of SOVs than happy constituents (much less likely to contact them) on the side of free flow for buses and carpools. Remember: Those buses are full of lots of riders, and there will likely be more and more of them as commuters catch on to the time advantage.
Since I rarely travel to the Eastside, I don’t really have a dog in this fight, except for solidarity with my fellow riders, and their ability to bypass inevitable gridlock. But I do think taking away HOT lanes and loosening carpool ridership requirements should be the move that has to be justified by data, collected over a long enough period of time to have some statistical validity.