Archive for April, 2009

All Aboard! – Blanket disapproval of high-speed rail is coming to an end.

For politicians, recanting what they say is part of the job description, but today’s article in the Huffington Post, Cantor Caught Celebrating High-Speed Rail After Ridiculing It, is likely to be part of larger trend when it comes to high-speed rail. That is because the Stimulus Bill has put HSR in the limelight, sparking interest in this form of transportation and in turn a better informed electorate, on the HSR issue. No longer can politicians site isolated examples of unrealistic projects, such as MagLev to train to Las Vegas, as sufficient to discredit all rail projects. President Obama said in his HSR speech on April 16th that, “getting people to imagine what’s possible, and putting resources behind it so that people can start seeing examples of this around the country, that’s going to spur all kinds of activity [in high-speed rail].” Obama was right – the first stimulus dollar for HSR won’t be dolled out until at least October and the other side of the isle has already changed their rhetoric on this issue.

Learning From the Veterans: Paris’ new project highlights the need to bring HSR to SFO

As reported in the Transport Politic, a new express train will finally link the TGV to Paris’ main airport. previously highlighted the need to this at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) with the build out of the HSR project in California. California should take a lesson from the veterans and do it right the first time.

The HOT Lane: San Francisco Bay Area MTC moves forward with congestion pricing

The MTC’s Plan
On Wednesday the MTC of the San Francisco Bay Area boldly added an 800 mile high-occupancy toll, or HOT lane, network to its 25-year regional plan. These new lanes act as High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) (a.k.a. carpool) lanes but when there is extra capacity it is sold using an electronic toll. Traffic always keeps moving in the HOT lane because the lane uses congestion pricing: as more users begin to use the lane the toll rate automatically rises to deter more cars from using the lane before the decelerating effects of congestion set in. The first phase of this $3.7 billion project will install FasTrak electronic toll collection sensors on the entire 400-mile HOV lane network already in place in the San Francisco Bay Area. This will effectively convert the HOV lanes to HOT lanes. Subsequent phases will widen freeways to makes space for new HOT lanes rather than convert mixed flow lanes to HOT lanes.

Good for Transit? – Yes.
Besides having a really a sleek acronym, HOT lanes are a rather attractive idea. The MTC claims that the funds raised from the tolls will help improve the HOV network (now be called the HOT lane network) and that this will reduce congestion and emissions, and provide “a reliable travel option for express bus and carpools.” While, the MTC is somewhat amiss to claim the plan will “reduce” emissions, these new lanes do help transit gain a strategic edge over the automobile: In a way these lanes act as a kind of transit-first guideway because even when there is congestion on the mixed-flow lanes, and people really want to use the HOT lanes, the prices of the HOT lane will rise deterring automobile drivers but never the buses that will be whisking by parked cars on the freeways.

This might sound great, but it’s not the primary way the HOT lane network will support transit. Why? Rail. Take a look at the MTC’s Regional Rail Plan released last September and compare it to the Regional Hot-Lane Network announced today – there are clear similarities: these rail corridors parallel and compliment the freeway system. This is no coincidence – these corridors were designed to work as a transportation system that breaks the funding divide between roads and transit: the MTC envisions the HOT lane networking partially funding their nearly $50 billion rail proposal (see page 25).

Building more freeways is not the right way forward, but it’s (somewhat) inevitable for the time being. At the very least HOT Lanes provide a way to recoup the costs of, and even earn a profit from, freeway expansions. Transportation projects can earn money – the bridges in the Bay area alone earn over $400 million per year. If the profits from HOV lanes are used to put transportation on the fast track then they’re an excellent idea.

What’s Next?

There are gaps in the MTC’s HOT lane network, mainly either in San Francisco or directly connected to it. This is due to the high cost and infeasibility of adding lanes to these roads and bridges. Thus, the only way to expedite any sort of HOT lane network on these sections of roadway is to convert existing mixed-use lanes to HOT lanes. This has been studied, but it isn’t being done because of the experience that Santa Monica had in ‘taking away’ mixed flow lanes for use as HOV lanes.

Although the conversion of lanes in Santa Monica initially failed to reduce congestion and lawsuits were filed, by the time the lanes were converted back to mixed flow lanes, the HOV lanes had begun to work – people had switched to carpooling and taking the bus, it just took time. While this website promotes transit, there’s nothing wrong with getting freeway traffic to flow again. Let’s hope the MTC’s project is a success because if it is it may open the door to converting mixed-flow lanes to HOT lanes. Not only could this create a huge windfall for transit it would help avoid the tragedy of the commons on our freeways – a situation where nobody can get anywhere at all.

© Brian A. Tyler and, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Brian A. Tyler and, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and/or concepts without express and written permission from this websites’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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April 2009
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