Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why not Express Lanes?

Have you ever driven on the 10 just west of downtown Los Angeles? There we have a nice little innovation that separates the traffic that is exiting the freeway and the traffic that is going to travel a little bit further. Now I know that heading east everyone seems to equally be slowed down by the interchange, but heading west it works pretty well. The slow traffic is separated from the faster traffic. We should do this on a larger scale.

As we speak it is in the works right now. Much of the San Bernardino Freeway (as far east as El Monte) will have these express lanes that people will have to pay for. It is much the same for the Harbor Freeway down until the 105. The theory seems to work pretty well. By separating the express traffic from the exiting traffic, only the traffic that intends to exit soon will be slowed down. Those that want to travel further can continue on their way at good speeds. This sounds like it would be a nice feature to have to bypass downtown (and this was one of the main reasons that the Foothill Freeway was built).

But merely separating the traffic would not be enough. The express lanes would just get crowded with normal traffic as they are now. But what if people had to pay to use those lanes? You would still get to use the slow lanes for free, but you would also get the benefit if you choose of using the express lanes. With congestion pricing, around rush hour the price would be highest and at other hours would be lower. This would encourage a more constant use of the freeways instead of the rush hour usage that we see now where the freeways are over-utilized at peak hours and under-utilized at all other times. Toll lanes would tend to equalize that and make traffic flow more smoothly at all times.

It sounds pretty good from a theoretical basis, but people always make the case that such lanes would be “Lexus Lanes” and would only benefit the rich. We should remember that we are not an egalitarian society. Food is the same price for everyone, and so the rich can better afford it, yet do we complain about that? It is the same with virtually all goods in our society, yet we do not complain about that. Why should we complain about this? Access to the freeway is a commodity much like anything else. Yes, you pay taxes for it, but with the money from the toll roads we should be paying less in gas taxes.

We ignore productivity because we want to make things “fair” for everyone, and in the process of trying to make everything fair we forget equity. We are not a society of equals, nor should we be. Our society benefits those who produce the most so that quality of life rises for everyone. So let us not worry about what this would mean for the poor. This would only incentivize living patterns to where they should be given the cost of transportation. The result would be a smarter city arrangement and a more efficient transportation system. Our current system is a failure, so we might as well try it.

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