Sunday, November 15, 2015

HOV, Yeah You Don't Know Me

The Connecting Arkansas Program is a 10-year, voter approved half-cent sales tax that is “one of the largest highway construction programs undertaken by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.” 35 projects, over 200 miles of roads and over $1.8 BILLION will be invested in this undertaking.

In reviewing the documents of  this massive, theoretically 21st century investment you will find three (3) mentions of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on the Connecting Arkansas website. Three.

Of these three, you will find HOV listed:

Three mentions of HOV in a $1.8 BILLION undertaking. Three.

If you read MoveArkansas you probably already know what HOV or High Occupancy Vehicle means but just in case...the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) defines HOV as:

"High Occupancy Vehicle" lane, or car-pool lane. The central concept for HOV lanes is to move more people rather than more cars.

HOV lanes can be managed a number of ways, including allowing all drivers to use the lane assigned HOV status during non-peak hours and restricting the lane to vehicles with two or more riders, as well as motorcycles, during heavy traffic times. To put it another way, HOV lanes can be open to all travelers for 20+ hours a day and restricted for essentially less than four hours.

We have 16,418 miles of state and US Highways in our state. Arkansas does not have a single HOV lane.  

This despite the first HOV lane in the US being introduced in 1969 for Northern Virginia’s Shirley Highway. No HOV lanes despite the fact that the Federal Highway Administration authorized states to begin funding HOV lanes in the 1970s. We’ve had 46 years to catch up with a more modern transportation strategy and we still are stuck in the mindset that we can build our way into economic growth. All the while, we still have the fifth worst roads in the nation according to a recent report.

“...leadership clinging to the accumulated dogma, throwing more troops at the front line in a mindless effort to move it a few hundred yards.”
He notes that it is unfathomable for us to give up on an ideology because retreat is failure. 

I’ve unfortunately come to believe that the expanded I-30 Crossing project is an inevitability. We simply don’t have the vision or the leadership to stop it. Too many people firmly believe that there is no such thing as bad construction. Add to that, too many entities stand to profit from this undertaking.

Where I hope we can make an impact is on the edges. Turning that fifth lane into an HOV lane would be a small but significant impact.

Even if a single, if likely too short, HOV lane were instituted in the heart of the commercial core of the capital city, we send a signal that we’re finally moving into a more modern mindset. Sure, it would be a mixed signal in that we don’t actually need the five lanes in which one becomes the HOV lane. Instituting HOV lanes promotes the idea of ridesharing and carpooling. This is not something that has much formal support outside of a few commuter lots here and there. There are ancillary benefits to HOV lanes, as well. Tom Vanderbilt, Author of How We Drive, points out a few counter intuitive benefits on his blog here. Instituting an HOV option is a leadership step. Leadership in something other than laying asphalt is desperately needed in our transportation practice.

Perhaps instituting an HOV lane on the I-30 Crossing would lead to a discussion of making one of the lanes on I-40 West and East, Little Rock to Conway and reverse, an HOV lane. This is the area that truly needs an HOV lane and the place where I suspect the idea would have the most impact in the state.

I recently moved back to Little Rock after living in Seattle for the past year. My girlfriend and I joked we’d entered an 'HOV positive' relationship after I moved as access to the HOV lanes made a significantly positive impact on our various commutes throughout the Puget Sound area. By the way, after having spent a year in Seattle I can firmly say that we don’t really have traffic here. What we have is a short inconvenience. Anybody who has ever visited, much less lived in a major city knows this is true.

HOV lanes are far from a panacea, but they are a step. They’re certainly worthy of being actually included in the conversation. They’re definitely worth of more than three mentions. Instituting an HOV lane is some form of progress which five lanes WITHOUT an HOV component is not.

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