As some of you may remember, I took up a project, tilting at windmills, trying to get the HOV lane designation on a local road abolished, as it seemed to do nothing but increase pollution and congestion. I even did a survey of the traffic.
O.K. the survey is done, the numbers crunched, and the answer is conveniently hidden somewhere else. For 38 winter days and 49 summer days I have driven the Sante Fe corridor. North in the morning, and South in the evening, thus subject to the HOV rules both ways. In winter I drive a pickup, so I’m banished to the #2 or #3 lanes, but come summer, I become a paragon of greenie virtue on my motorcycle, and am allowed in with the privileged few who can carpool to work.
Some stats here: The complete corridor is 7.1 miles from Bowles to Alameda. I use 4.6 miles of this roughly out of the middle. I carried a stopwatch, and counted the cars in the adjacent lanes, when practical. I also kept track on the traffic in my own lane when that was practical.
When driving in the HOV lane, it was not at all uncommon to pass 200 vehicles in the other two lanes on the 4.6 mile section I used. Approaching an intersection north bound, I pass some 100 vehicles in the 2 and 3 lanes, and note that on average there are 4-5 vehicles in the HOV lane for a usage rate of 4-5%. Southbound there may be twice as many vehicles in the HOV lane, but 120 vehicles in the other two. Southbound usage appears to be in the 8-10% range. Average speeds northbound are 28.9mph in the 2 and 3 lanes, and 37.8 in the HOV lane, so the 95% of you who do not carpool are forced to burn some 30% more fuel over the same distance. Southbound the advantage of the carpool is reduced as traffic is heavier. HOV traffic makes 25 mph and the car poolers make 30.6, so the unfortunate 90% are burning 22% more gas.
Sante Fe is six lanes wide, 3 in each direction, for its entire length, except for a short stretch where its 10 lanes wide, intersecting the Interstate. At this point, it’s pretty obvious that the HOV lane is a major contributor to congestion and air pollution by bottle-necking a seriously busy street at peak demand hours, so why do it? The answer lies in Washington. Every year we, the citizenry of Colorado send oodles of bucks to Washington in the form of federal taxes. This money is then apportioned to the various departments of Whatever in proportion to the importance attached to them by the congress. The various departments then filter their swag through their own kidneys, then trickle the remainder back to the states, roughly in proportion to the amount they sent in the first place.
In order to justify their high-paying jobs however, the mandarins of the Departments demand a certain amount of butt-kissing from the peasants in the hinterlands. To this end, the Colorado Department of Transportation prepares a scripted report, describing all the wonderful things it does with the money to reduce pollution and congestion in the state, and humbly asks for our money back to continue doing these good deeds. The thinking in Washington is that the public would be best served if the peasants would simply quit driving and use public transportation so the bureaucrats could get from meeting to junket unimpeded, so approximately half of the funds have to be promised over to trolley cars, HOV lanes, buses and the like in order to get what’s left to use to fix up the roads.
CDOT has a survey, done right after the widening of Sante Fe from 4 lanes to 6 was completed, that showed high usage on the HOV lane mostly from the buses running along it. In fact, the bus usage was promised by RTD in order to justify the project to Washington since they got a cut to build their trolley system. Shortly after the project was completed, the Bus company, who also is the Trolley company, opened the trolley line along Sante Fe, built at approximately the same cost as building another 6-lane highway along the same route, and canceled all the bus routes on Sante Fe. This was done to improve the ridership on the trolley line, which would have been light due to the high fares charged. This left the HOV lane nearly empty, but the old report is repeated every year in order to keep the funding coming.
So there you have it. The HOV lane serves almost nobody on the road, but provides a convenient fiction to keep the pennies falling from Washington back here where they came from. Dropping the references from the report would allow us to abolish the HOV lane, but CDOT would then have to come up with another marginally plausible reason why the money would be at least 50% wasted on “green” projects. Meantime the congestion and pollution will be with us forever. Yet again, the windmills win.