About the Express Lanes Coming to 101 | A New Shade of Green | Sherry Listgarten | Almanac Online |

Local Blogs

A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

E-mail Sherry Listgarten

About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

View all posts from Sherry Listgarten

About the Express Lanes Coming to 101

Uploaded: Mar 28, 2021
The Chair of the California Energy Commission, David Hochschild, recently observed that “electricity rates are climate policy”. I agree. We need to design our rates to encourage behavior that will reduce emissions (i.e., electrification). In that same vein, transportation rates are also climate policy. Transportation is the largest source of emissions in our area and in the state overall, so our pricing should encourage emissions-reducing behavior. That raises the question: Should it cost more to drive?

We have not been very successful at reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles. Both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have had 65%–75% single-occupancy commuters over the last forty years, with little change.


The percentage of people in Santa Clara County that commute to work in a single-occupancy vehicle (light orange) hasn’t changed much since 1980 (pre-pandemic). San Mateo County looks similar, but with slightly more transit. Data through 2018 only. Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

The pandemic has kept us off of the roads -- a plus! -- but also off of transit -- a minus! Telecommuting will stick around to some degree, but transit was on a downward trend even before the pandemic. Cars are more appealing now than ever.


SamTrans ridership has been decreasing for years. Source: SamTrans. VTA has seen similar.

With the pandemic beginning to fade and businesses opening up, our highways are getting busy once again. I would guess most will be at pre-pandemic levels by fall. So it’s time to think again about how to reduce the number of vehicles we have on our roads.

HOV lanes aren’t enough

We know that adding lanes leads to more people driving, an effect called “induced demand”. (1) So we rolled out HOV lanes (“High Occupancy Vehicle” lanes) to encourage carpooling and transit. When they move faster than other lanes they reward people in buses and carpools. Unfortunately, HOV lanes have been slowing down. According to the new SPUR report Freeways of the Future, based on pre-pandemic data, “Of the region’s roughly 450 miles of HOV lanes, more than 50% are ‘very degraded,’ meaning that the average speed is below 45 mph for more than half of the operating hours. In many cases, HOV lanes routinely slow to a near standstill during peak hours.”


HOV lanes (in blue) throughout the Bay Area, plus a few (tolled) express lanes (in green), as of 2017. Source: SPUR’s Freeways of the Future

Why is this? Part of the problem is that we have more EVs now, which are allowed in the HOV lanes. But a bigger problem is cheating. SPUR cites data from the area’s Metropolitan Transportation Committee (MTC) showing that there are many HOV lane violators, an average of 19% of HOV traffic in the morning peak and 25% in the afternoon peak, and up to 39% on some segments. Better HOV enforcement can help speed up the HOV lanes, offering better reliability for vehicles using those lanes.

But even if there were no cheating, the carpool lanes are not designed to move traffic efficiently. The 2-person or 3-person limit means they will often be too empty or too full. This is where the dynamic pricing used in express lanes comes in. By charging more when lanes are more crowded, lanes can be kept flowing at 45 mph. By charging less when lanes are less crowded, the lanes do not stand empty.

Express lanes are a step up on HOV lanes. They provide better value for transit and carpools, because the traffic keeps moving. They raise revenue that can be used to fund alternative transportation. They provide an express option for drivers that need it. And they reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from our highways.

Express lanes are coming to the Peninsula

Express lanes, sometimes called “High Occupancy Toll lanes” or “HOT lanes”, are coming soon to 101 on the Peninsula. Later this year you will see an 8-mile stretch from just south of Mathilda to the San Mateo County border. 85 will have another 2-3 miles, from the 237 intersection up to 101. See the green segments in the map below.


Later this year express lanes will stretch from south of 237 to the San Mateo County line, along with a short stretch on 85 near 101. Source: Valley Transportation Authority

Toward the end of 2022, express lanes will stretch another 22 miles on 101 through San Mateo County to I-380.


Express lanes along 101 in San Mateo County will go live in fall of 2022. Source: Caltrans

These lanes will charge drivers a fee from 5am to 8pm, with higher costs during more congested times. Fee details are being worked out. For example, while buses and 3-person carpools will travel free, it’s not decided what discount 2-person carpools and/or EVs will get, or what mitigations will be available for low-income drivers. You can get a sense of likely policies by looking at how existing Bay Area express lanes operate. (There is also a good overview of our express lanes here.)


Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

You can imagine such policies eventually being extended to all lanes of the highway, based on the principle that the best way to make sure our roads are used efficiently is to charge for them. I think this makes a lot of sense. We should be charging for road use. I grew up on the east coast where tolled highways were the norm. Our express lanes offer more targeted and policy-aligned tolling, and are more robust than the regressive and increasingly irrelevant gas tax. (2)

Is it fair to charge us to drive?

But as much as it seems really sensible to do this, it also seems unfair. Some people object to being charged for something that has always been free. “They’re taking away something that belongs to us.” was how one person put it in a Nextdoor thread started by Palo Alto Online blogger Max Greenberg. Even worse is it seems we are giving yet another advantage to the wealthy. “We risk creating two classes of drivers based on income.” said another person. Or, more pointedly, “As with 880, people without financial limitations zip by in the toll lane, while the remaining 3 lanes are gridlocked from Union City to Oakland. One more step in accommodating the accommodated.” Despite this, organizations like TransForm and SPUR strongly advocate for pricing these lanes and believe that we can (and should) price them equitably. How is that?

One point they make is that today’s policy of free driving is actually quite unfair. Drivers are not paying their fair share, and lower-income households suffer more of the consequences. To be clear, there are many things that drivers do pay extra for. We pay for the car and insurance. We pay (traditionally) for gas, including gas taxes that support our roads. (EVs in California now pay an additional $100-$200 in registration fees.) We pay bridge tolls. We pay (sometimes) for parking. But it’s not enough. The costs of driving go beyond the roads and parking lots that we use. Driving causes air pollution, which causes health problems for those living near traffic. Vehicles emit greenhouse gases, leading to many impacts from global warming. Driving causes noise pollution and tire pollution. It also causes us to reserve increasing amounts of public and private space for roads and parking that could be used for other things. These costs are borne by everyone, whether or not they drive, and are disproportionately borne by lower-income households living near freeways or distribution centers, and in congested areas.

You can think of tolled roads as fixing the way that we pay for driving, to better cover the costs and to do it more accurately (per-mile) and more flexibly (dynamic, targeted pricing). Discounts can be given to lower-income households to reduce the short-term increase in costs, similarly to how the Clipper START pilot is providing discounts for transit. Revenue from the lanes can be invested in improved transit and biking, rewards for carpooling, and more. (San Mateo County is soliciting feedback on this now.) Families with long commutes and/or inflexible work schedules, who are often lower income, may also see considerable benefit from these faster lanes if the prices are adjusted to be affordable.


Officials say it is hard to estimate how much revenue our lanes will bring in each year, but this table shows some examples from around the country. (Source: SPUR’s Freeways of the Future)

In general, tolled lanes can help ensure everyone pays their fair share, make better use of our highways, reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and over time help us transition some of our car-allocated space to other uses.

Better bus service must come next

One of the best features of express lanes is that they enable fast and reliable bus service. Most of the buses we see on 101 today are private commute shuttles. We need to develop a regional network of public express buses. Without this alternative, many people will stick to their cars even when the pandemic is past. TransForm designed a compelling system called ReX (Regional Express), which is sort of like light rail but implemented with buses on highways. They propose stations throughout the bay “near jobs, shopping, medical centers, colleges, and more”, with service every 5 minutes at peak times and every 10 minutes otherwise.


The ReX regional bus system proposed by TransForm. (Source: TransForm)

MTC’s evaluation found that the “costs exceeded the benefits” of this system, but they go on to say that well-run express lanes can help to change that equation. With transit being re-evaluated after the pandemic and substantial federal funding on its way, I hope that some progress can be made on a service like this. If so, we will truly be offering everyone more options, and better options, for getting around the Bay Area than we have today.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and experiences with express lanes in the Bay Area.

Notes and References
1. The Value Driven report by SPUR cites these two examples: “This (effect of induced demand) has been seen in the widening of the 405 in Los Angeles, which cost more than $1 billion and resulted in slightly slower speeds, and the widening of Houston’s Katy freeway to 23 lanes, which cost $2.8 billion and also resulted in slower travel times for many drivers.”

2. Charging for all the lanes could push traffic onto local streets. California is investigating other ways to implement a mileage tax. One such pilot is described here.

Current Climate Data (February 2021)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

I want to share an inspiring piece of news, which is that the United Kingdom is now about halfway towards its net-zero emissions target. We can do the same in the coming decade, and I hope we will.


The UK is now about halfway towards its net-zero target. Source: CarbonBrief

Comment Guidelines
I hope that your contributions will be an important part of this blog. To keep the discussion productive, please adhere to these guidelines or your comment may be moderated:
- Avoid disrespectful, disparaging, snide, angry, or ad hominem comments.
- Stay fact-based and refer to reputable sources.
- Stay on topic.
- In general, maintain this as a welcoming space for all readers.
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 28, 2021 at 8:28 am

Bystander is a registered user.

The problem here is that these lanes are seen as "pay to drive" instead of incentive to carpool.

I think it may well be worth it to have an option to pay to drive when roads are at gridlock to say get to the airport in time for a flight, or to not miss child's performance or game, perhaps to not be late for an interview or meeting, but I suspect that for many of us it will not be something to do each day.

The idea of carpooling always struck me as something that was a benefit to families, always having a child in the car was something that enabled many parents to get into the carpool lane. Now of course these families will be forced to get fastrak to enable them to drive free.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by chini, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 28, 2021 at 8:57 am

chini is a registered user.

Convoluted logic goes all over the place...
>> the carpool lanes are not designed to move traffic efficiently... too empty or too full. This is where the dynamic pricing used in express lanes ... the lanes do not stand empty. ... Express lanes ... provide better value for transit and carpools, because the traffic keeps moving

Do you want to keep traffic moving - is that the problem? Have you seen HOV lanes too full?
The fundamental problem that I see is people not driving sensibly, causing unnecessary congestion. The "merge-to-leftmost lane" syndrome and slow down everyone, leave plenty of space in front because cars far away have slowed down or there's a red signal way over there are some of the sources of the problems on the road.

One idea to explore is to introduce "congestion fines", penalizing drivers who have higher car density (in 3-sec distance for their speed) BEHIND them (tailing them) than in front of them. Using technology to dynamically calculate individual car's congestion causing behavior and penalizing them would, in my opinion, certainly make traffic flow smoothly or get these poor drivers off those roads.

Keeping traffic flowing on all lanes instead of leaving certain lanes unoccupied during peak hours would be a more sensible way to help climate while still allowing people to drive the cars they can afford to own.

This article has conflated many issues to make a plausible argument for express lanes.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Local Resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Mar 28, 2021 at 9:13 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

Express lanes are another tax. What's worse is the problem is gasoline consumption and I'd much rather see that taxed more. I'd also like to see two person electric cars allowed in the HOV lane and the $100 surcharge for electric vehicle registration removed and at least raise everyone's registration equally. The real solution is for companies (tech in particular) to only require their employees to come into the office 2 days a week.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Ronen, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 28, 2021 at 11:00 pm

Ronen is a registered user.

I'm sorry. This makes no sense.

I'm very much pro climate-action, and climate change is an emergency that requires a massive response, but driving is not the problem. Emissions are the problem. To reduce emissions, we need to incentivize zero emission vehicles. While I agree in principle that we also need to incentivize less driving, the Bay Area requires driving for daily life. It's not a luxury, it's a requirement.

The biggest driver for this need, and by far the greatest cause for traffic is housing prices which have forced millions to move ever farther in search for affordable housing. With people living farther and in less dense communities, public transportation becomes impractical to build and impossible to fund.

Want to reduce traffic and fight global warming? We need denser communities. Cities like Palo Alto and Menlo Park must allow for more housing, including dense housing along traffic corridors. This will reduce vehicle miles needed while simultaneously making it easier to build public transportation.

Charging people to drive is like giving patients Tylenol for a broken leg. You have not dealt with the real issue, and the underlying problem will only get worse.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 11:42 am

Online Name is a registered user.

It is yet another tax. And a BIG part of the problem is that they keep building more huge office complexes like the new Google one which has more than 1,000,000 sq ft of office space which means more commuters which means more gridlock...

Lather, rinse, repeat.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 2:14 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Thank you for these fantastic comments. I especially like Ronen’s, but they all add really good points. Here are a couple of thoughts.

@Ronen says that in the Bay Area, driving is a requirement, not a luxury. Indeed, in one set of feedback I saw from low-income households, they said exactly that, that they felt they were being charged for something they had no control over. In fact, 62% of workers in the Bay Area making less than $35,000 per year drive alone to work. Here is a chart (again, pre-pandemic).



The Bay Area is experimenting with different ways to address the equity impact from tolling. MTC is piloting a discount program for FasTrak on 880 (more here and here). There is good revenue from that lane to fund it and it would help to shorten and make more predictable the long drives of many low-income households

But imo that’s not enough. I think that the purpose of these lanes should be primarily to enable transit (and carpools), not just to provide an equitably-priced higher-speed option for those who choose it. I think a key question is whether transit can be done in this area at a reasonable cost. I hope that it can, because there are so many people and businesses here with distinct job centers and housing centers, even if the jobs and housing aren’t always co-located. But, boy, it presumably doesn’t help our driving problem to keep building housing like this, which I saw in Orinda yesterday by the Wilder soccer fields. Big single-family homes in the middle of nowhere.



@Chini is unhappy that the story around express lanes is muddled. I’m sure that’s partly my writing, but it’s also that the story is complex. At one level, the lanes just serve as a transfer of wealth from high-income to low-income, which makes no sense. (Some of you call it a “tax”.) They are not just that. Critically, they enable and incent transit and carpooling, and they can do that flexibly, while keeping the lanes busy. But it would be nice if we had effective public transit in those lanes, which are often dominated by the many private corporate shuttles.

@Local Resident would prefer to increase the gas tax and remove the EV registration fee. FWIW, I think everyone who uses the roads should pay for them, and that transit deserves more funding because it’s better for our society (notwithstanding pandemics). I also think the gas tax is regressive, so charging even more for it and less for EVs is not fair, at least until we have much better transit and/or an abundant supply of very inexpensive (probably used) EVs with adequate range. One question is, how long will that take?

These issues are not easy, so I appreciate all of these and hopefully more comments. I do think it’s clear that we need to consider the Bay Area as a single quasi-urban area, and work together across counties to provide regional transportation solutions. I am glad to see some progress in that area. As many of you point out, there are important questions around the degree to which we can make transit work, who pays for it, and how we will distribute jobs and housing in order to reduce our transportation emissions and increase quality of life via quicker commutes.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 3:26 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Single family homes spread out nicely in Orinda is probably one of the reasons Orinda was named by Forbes Magazine as "the second friendliest town in America" in 2012. Most well-educated professionals in Orinda commute by public transportation (BART) or they telecommute, which does keep them off the roads. Orinda isn't the "middle of nowhere." It's right off Hwy 24.


Thanks for sharing...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 5:12 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Jennifer, thanks for pointing out that "middle of nowhere" is a terrible description. I agree, and I'm sorry for using it. Consider instead what the "walkability" score for this new development would be. (The new homes are 2.5 miles from the nearest grocery store or BART station.) FWIW, I'm not sure there is any correlation between the presence of spaced out single family homes and friendliness. Do you think so?

I agree that when telecommuting is possible, it's a big emissions win, and I think some amount of it is here to stay.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Erman, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 29, 2021 at 6:37 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

Calling these "Express Lanes" is misleading. They are toll lanes, and the only thing that makes them "express lanes" is the expectation that most of the time, most people will not be willing to pay to use them, hence traffic will be lighter for the lucky few. The concept is inherently exclusionary and classist--if you can afford to pay, you get better traffic for yourself but not others.

In fact, if these lanes replace current carpool lanes, and provide "express" service for fewer people than currently use the carpool lanes--which seems to be the expectation, at least at "commute hours"--than the logical conclusion would be that traffic and congestion will increase for the majority of drivers, since more people will be stuck in the non-"express" lanes, including many or most of the current carpoolers with two people per car.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by AllenPod , a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:25 am

AllenPod is a registered user.

The cost of local housing has driven the folks with lower income to the suburbs. Now we are taxing, or penalizing them for living out there. There is no alternate public transit system.
The increased road and commute improvement costs could come from a guzzler tax of $2 per gallon added to present fuel price. This is not a tax for everyone, only for those who consume gas.

SUVs turn overnight to hatchbacks, and sipping will soon become the rage.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:26 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Transit agencies love this idea because it will generate lots of new revenues to support their bloated bureaucracies, but I view it as extremely regressive taxation. Low income people often have to live outside this area and travel in to work. Your housekeeper, gardener, contractor, the janitor at your office, the waiter in your restaurant, the good people who run grocery store cash registers and do other essential work that we all need that doesn't pay as well as it should. These folks will be slammed by this.

Rich people tend to drive for more trips much more often, even local trips under three miles. They can afford electric cars and to pay these fees, but they aren't the only ones to pay them.

Electric cars come with a lot of problems. They contribute just as much to safety, parking, and traffic congestion impacts as gas-powered cars. I don't think we should make it easy for rich people to drive cars everywhere, electric or otherwise. Driving, especially driving solo, is an extremely inefficient way to move people when you factor in the environmental and financial costs of building the massive infrastructure to support cars--highways, parking, wide asphalt streets, bridges, etc. I don't think poor people who can't afford to live near their work should be punished for driving when they have no other choice.

This is a much more complex societal problem than the writer suggests. It goes beyond emissions. Fairness needs to be a consideration. Rich people can afford more and better cars. Up to now, they have been exclusively enjoying the HOV lanes with their fancy new electric cars. I'm sure they are annoyed that their "fast" lane is slowing down. We ARE the traffic. Transit, where it is available is an option. Electric bikes now have awesome range and carrying capacity. We are working on replacing our second car with an electric cargo bike.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Carol Scott, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 11:40 am

Carol Scott is a registered user.

The issue of traffic and reduced emmisions is a complex one. But, we will never solve it efficiently or effectively until we take the needs of different types of drivers into account. Consider the lower-wage worker who often works two hourly-paid jobs. That worker cannot get on a bus that takes half an hour to get to each job -- and I challenge anyone to say that a half-hour bus ride would take someone to their jobs. Consider the resident who definitely will walk to do various errands or shop or dine if they are within walking distance. But, those residents also are not going to talk a half hour bus ride to do multiple errands that are not close to each other, e.g., a visit to a doctor when you are sick and the stop at the drug store to get your prescription on the way home. For these uses, electric vehicles are the best solution. The low hanging fruit is in the commuting behavior of workers who go to work at one place and return home at the end of their work day. For these people, having an efficient system of mass transit works really well. That is where we should focus our efforts. AFter that, then we can perhaps work on transit solutions that would help local traffic -- think convenient shuttles that could ferry kids and perhaps even parents to local sporting and school events, shopping trips to local shopping areas, etc. We do not have a subway system like New York, Boston, or D.C. -- unfortunately -- and we are not going to in the foreseable future because of the cost. Portland could be a city to look to for some solutions. It used primiarly business taxes to create a modern transit system that works. Market segmentation works for businesses in creating products that serve different kinds of consumers. We need to stop thinking about all traffic and start thinking about different kinds of traffic if we want to get anywhere.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by C.A.M., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:06 pm

C.A.M. is a registered user.

1.There are two problems with the new express lanes having nothing to do with who uses them:
a. THERE IS NO RELIABLE PUBLIC TRANSIT serving the areas to which people are driving.
b. THERE ARE NO MORE OPEN AREAS IN WHICH TO BUILD HOMES CLOSER TO WORK PLACES.
2. Building more ADUs and taller apartment buildings closer together to allow workers to live near their places of work does not address the looming problem of NOT ENOUGH WATER SUPPLY for an increasing population living and working on the peninsula.
3. A large part of the transportation solution must be to REQUIRE CORPORATIONS TO EXPAND OUTSIDE of the congested Bay Area instead of building megaplexes which bring in even more people (eg Google, Facebook).
4. If we in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties don't address # 2 and #3 we will never solve the transit problem or the housing problem but investing in a RELIABLE MASS TRANSIT SYSTEM (rail) would help in the longer term to get people out of their autos and relieve traffic congestion while reducing emissions.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 12:37 pm

Martin Engel is a registered user.

I usually respect and admire what is said in your blogs, Ms. Listgarten. But in this instance, I agree with the comments of "Consider Your Options." Toll roads are symptomatic of the relentless monetizing of all goods and services, both public and private. They are, like sales taxes, highly regressive and singularly unfair. The most equitable way to cover all government development and operating costs are through progressive taxation of income and wealth, individual and corporate. As many commenters here point out, there are numerous ways to improve urban and regional transit (and the closely related environment) in our "Circle-the-Bay" Cosmopolis, but fee-based selectivity isn't one of them.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 3:05 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

I can see there is lots of debate about these, and for good reason. The image of luxury cars and tech buses zipping past the rest of us commoners mired in slow traffic is not an appealing one.

A couple of comments on your comments…

@Jeremy writes that “the only thing that makes them "express lanes" is the expectation that most of the time, most people will not be willing to pay to use them, hence traffic will be lighter for the lucky few.” To be clear, the whole point of the prices is to ensure that traffic stays at 45 or more (without being too empty). It’s not a question of “most of the time”, since prices should adjust based on capacity. If people aren’t opting in, prices will go down. If too many are opting in prices will go up.

I’m sure that’s not enough to make Jeremy happy with these, but I want to be clear about how they work. The whole *point* is not to raise money, it is to create a fast-moving lane for high occupancy vehicles. (On that point, yes, “express lane” is a worse name than “High Occupancy Toll lane” or “HOT lane, which the agencies prefer. I used “Express” because it was shorter…)

@AllenPod: I like the idea of making it more expensive to drive inefficient cars. But that doesn’t create room on the freeway for high-occupancy vehicles. The ones we have are getting stuck and, yes, we need more of them. (I agree with some commenters that asking how much that will cost is a good question.)

@Consider: Re equity of these lanes, I’ve given a few pointers to initiatives the transit agencies are making. *All* of the agencies working on this recognize and care about the equity implications and will consider these lanes a failure if they are not adequately addressed. But it is true that they are still works in progress.

@Martin: The point of these HOT lanes is to (a) ensure that high-occupancy traffic can move at fast, reliable speeds while also (b) not wasting that highway capacity when there is not enough high-occupancy traffic. The revenue they raise can be used to address equity concerns and improve transit. (We also need better transit.) You are suggesting that a tax would be a good substitute for these lanes. But the goal of these lanes is not to raise revenue. It is about using our highways efficiently.

I really appreciate the thoughtful comments. I’m trying to clarify my view in these responses, but this is certainly a complex issue. IMO the main question is whether fast transit is not only feasible (these lanes ensure it is) but affordable. If these lanes end up being filled by paying single-occupancy vehicles and not filled by high-occupancy vehicles, at least most of the time, then imo we will have failed. It’s not worth all this work and cost for an express option for single-occupancy vehicles, equitable or not. I would love to see a dashboard tracking that stat (% of SOVs vs carpools vs buses in these lanes over the course of the day), but I can’t find one. The MTC manages this page, but … I would love to see better data about how our roads are used.

Anyway, thanks again for all the great comments.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Whitey McWhiterson, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 4:32 pm

Whitey McWhiterson is a registered user.

This plus ineptness with the vaccine means, please, next election, vote against every single incumbent in Santa Clara County. No one could do a less honest or less competent job than these people. Every single elected official in Santa Clara County must go !


 +   2 people like this
Posted by AllenPod , a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 30, 2021 at 9:03 pm

AllenPod is a registered user.

Sorry, Whitey, but there are severe downsides to the selection of clean outsiders to run our government.
I want experienced, thoughtful, well-bruised by reality folks to carry my vote.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Petra Karenter, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 31, 2021 at 6:51 am

Petra Karenter is a registered user.

Not your best post.

Very good comments, however!

You're fortunate to have such a thoughtful groups of readers.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by BruceS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Mar 31, 2021 at 4:27 pm

BruceS is a registered user.

There were several problems with the original article. Most
have at least been addressed in the comments, but a few notes:

1. Conflating traffic and pollution/carbon - in the long run (hopefully) most to all vehicles will be electric (or perhaps fuel cell or whatever), making this point moot. Yes, this will take a while to happen, and there are advantages anyway in reducing traffic, but still it's making a direct connection that isn't necessarily correct.

2. Mass transit only works in metropolitan areas zoned to make it work, and long built around mass transit, e.g. New York. The Bay Area traffic patterns (at least along the Peninsula) are scattered enough to make effective mass transit all but impossible. We have major employers distributed all along 101, and housing mostly the same, with traffic going every which way.

Indeed, I might suggest that our zoning problem is less with housing than with jobs. In most places that have good mass transit at least a majority of the jobs are centrally located, allowing for some sort of spoke-and-ring transit to efficiently deliver people to work and home again. Part of the problem in the Bay Area is probably our geography, which makes this more difficult, but some also is almost certainly in our plethora of cities and counties, all with competing interests.

Had we recognized this problem 40 (or perhaps even 20) years ago, we probably could have solved it. But now I fear too much is 'baked in'. I hate to be a pessimist, and would love to be corrected though, so good luck.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by mario pagliardi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 1, 2021 at 10:14 am

mario pagliardi is a registered user.

Comment removed


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Apr 1, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

Congestion pricing is a very good idea. Most of our traffic problems are due to providing road capacity for free, which encourages overconsumption of this resource. Singapore uses congestion pricing effectively to minimize traffic, reduce commute times, and encourage public transit.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 1, 2021 at 1:20 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

If reducing congestion is the aim, then reducing the number of trips needing to be made on 101 should be proactive. At present for many people there is no alternative that makes any sense. To get to either SFO or SJC from Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, etc. is not really an easy option particularly for those who want a quick day trip to LA or a 10 hour transocean trip.

Get some high speed buses with several "stops" at various off ramps, probably with decent parking, and I estimate that will reduce the number of trips. Someone getting a ride to an airport puts 2 trips on the road and one way with probably only the driver. It would be easier for most people to get a ride to a stop at an offramp rather than an airport.

Getting high speed buses from places such as Milpitas, Cupertino, etc. using the same off ramp stops and dedicated shuttles to business areas.

Gilroy and Morgan Hill do have Caltrain, but it is very limited. Get some express buses using the same stops and shuttles.

Caltrain is very useful for those who live/work in the vicinity of stations. The same idea from places not served well by Caltrain (or BART) could be invoked. The high tech companies know this but their buses are only available to their workers. Getting similar buses that everyone can use should be the aim.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Apr 1, 2021 at 11:47 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

A practical problem with these "Lexus lanes" is that the congestion pricing is often artificially capped at a price that many in a wealthy area like ours are always willing to pay. Thus, the pricing doesn't send a price signal to a large percentage of the drivers, but only affects lower and middle income drivers. This means that wealthy people effectively have no skin in the game, leaving driving reduction as a burden for only lower and middle income people. Not very fair, is it?

A fairer method would be to base the toll on driver income, so someone earning $1 million per year might pay $1000/mile, while someone earning $30k might pay $1/mile.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Apr 2, 2021 at 5:59 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Comment removed because referenced comment was removed.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Tom Halstrom, a resident of Martens-Carmelita,
on Apr 4, 2021 at 6:41 am

Tom Halstrom is a registered user.

There are a couple of things that the author got wrong.

The idea of making all lanes of a freeway toll lanes is interesting, but for Interstate highways, that were not toll roads prior to becoming part of the Interstate system, this is not allowed if federal funds were used to build the roads. This is part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The east coast tollways that became part of the Interstate system were grandfathered in. Express Lanes are built with state funds. Congress would have to make changes to federal laws to allow tolls on Interstate highways built with federal money and it would be wildly unpopular legislation for elected officials to vote for.

What will eventually be necessary is to charge Vehicle License Fees based on mileage because fuel tax revenue will slowly disappear as we move to full electrification of vehicles. But this runs into the problem of the fee being considered a toll when the vehicle is on an Interstate highway and someone is sure to challenge mileage based VLFs based on this.

The photo of housing in Orinda was especially clueless. Look at the solar panels on the roof! What we are moving to is a lot more remote-working from energy self-sufficient houses where the owners drive electric cars and go into the office only occasionally. This is an ideal situation for GHG reduction as well as traffic reduction. It eliminates the big issue with suburban housing which was the need to travel everywhere by gasoline of diesel powered private vehicle. The pandemic has accelerate the move to low-density suburban living. It's not so good for owners of commercial office space who have seen lease rates plunge. It's not so good for owners of high-density luxury rental housing who have seen rents plunge and vacancy rates skyrocket.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eric, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Apr 4, 2021 at 12:58 pm

Eric is a registered user.

To make progress on transportation issues, we first need to establish what our goal(s) is(are). Is it to reduce greenhouse gases? Is it to reduce drive time? Is it to reduce highway construction and maintenance costs? Is it to create a new source of tax revenue? Is it creating socially just transportation? Is it to create an economically viable efficient long term transportation system? Is it to get people to their destination at minimal cost? Is it to get people to their destination in minimum total transit time (or average transit time)? You have to understand the problem and agree on the goal(s).

The tendency is to start with a potential intuitively appealing "solution" rather than understanding the problem and goals thoroughly then selecting and tuning the best solution(s).

This is system problem and will require impartial skilled facilitation to keep on target and arrive at the best solution. The conflicts of interest and barriers need to be removed or recognized and managed (personal gain, personal preference, political gain or expediency fear of change, consultant distortion and inflated recurring fees etc.) Students learning Six Sigma could be good candidates to facilitate without personal or economic agendas.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Apr 4, 2021 at 2:17 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Thanks everyone for your continued thoughts on this. I wish I had more data so we could ground this in some numbers. I'll keep working on that. For now, my 2c below...

@Mondo: That is such an interesting thought experiment. I agree, the maximum toll is chump change for many people living here, so there is no real disincentive to drive in those lanes. Your suggestion to price by income on the high side, not just the low side, is an idea that might go ... nowhere, but would certainly add perspective for high-income drivers. I read that the goal of one of these agencies is that low-income households should spend no more than 25% of their income on transportation. One quarter! What kind of toll would we have to charge high earners here to compel them to carpool? It's hard to imagine.

@Tom: Thanks for bringing up the legal issues. I'm aware of the difficulty with converting all lanes, but didn't go into detail on it because this post wasn't really about that. From what I read it's not quite as cut-and-dry as you make it out to be. See page 38 of Value Driven, which cites an ongoing effort in Oregon and the federal government's Value Pricing Pilot Program. But it doesn't sound at all easy either and you are right that one or two HOT lanes is an entirely different thing from an all-lane conversion.

Re solar-powered sprawl into the Orinda hills being a good thing, we'll have to disagree on that. In fact, I worry that the solar panels are green-washing the development. Even if these residents never leave their house and all deliveries are electric, I worry about destroying wilderness, and especially hot and dry and fire-prone wilderness, for this sort of low-density sprawl. I don't think we value wilderness/habitat/corridors highly enough. This is definitely a good topic for a follow-on blog, though. These are difficult tradeoffs, and gets to @Eric's point about what exactly our goals are.

@Joseph and @Bystander: I agree, congestion pricing is effective but it's not obvious how to implement that for the Bay Area. You need alternatives, and Bystander describes something that sounds like TransForm's ReX to me. The big question is how to make that affordable.

@Eric: Thank you, yes, it's important to be clear about goals, and this is a complicated topic that could (and does) go in many directions.

@Bruce: We would certainly be in much, much better shape if everyone were driving a clean car and telecommuting part-time. But I think, without numbers to back this up, that we would still benefit from carpools and effective transit. All of those work shuttles are expensive to operate and companies want them to go at a reliable speed. I'm sure you aren't advocating taking them off the highway. So how do we incent buses and carpools? Then, can we build an effective public express bus system so it's not just private shuttles? Those are some of the issues here.

You are all bringing up great points. Thank you for reading, for thinking about these issues, and for taking the time to share your thoughts.


Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.

Email:

SUBMIT

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.


Get the most important local news stories sent straight to your inbox daily.

My letter to council on PHZ zoning
By Steve Levy | 8 comments | 1,706 views

An extra helping: Local restaurants unite for two days of fundraising for AAPI group
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 1,260 views

My Man vs. Squirrel
By Diana Diamond | 6 comments | 1,137 views

"What Did You Do?"
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 580 views

While we wait
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 565 views