Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thinking about Metro's HOV lane conversions

Lost in the debate about Metro's rail plans has been their plan to convert the HOV lane network to a congestion-priced High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane network, where any vehicle can enter the lane that's willing to pay the price. The price is adjusted - either on a fixed schedule or in real-time - to keep the lane(s) free flowing. As regular readers of my blog know, I'm a huge supporter of this concept: MaX Lanes - Managed eXpress lanes that move the maximum number of vehicles at maximum speed.

The 4-managed lanes under construction down the middle of the new Katy freeway are getting national attention for the pioneering agreement between Metro, HCTRA, and TXDoT to reserve guaranteed capacity in the lanes for buses - up to 25%. Bob Poole at Reason calls these "Virtual Exclusive Busways" (VEBs), which pretty much exactly describes what they do: guarantee free-flowing lane capacity for buses or other transit vehicles, while using the rest of the capacity for cars, so no capacity goes to waste. The description of their VEB study is here, and the full pdf is here, with an appendix dedicated to the Houston case study, including the full text of the memo of understanding between the three agencies.
The Katy reconstruction, with the four new managed lanes, is under way as of this writing. Thus, Houston will be the nation's first metro area to implement a Virtual Exclusive Busway.
As part of this conversion, Metro is looking at the possibility of converting single-lane reversible HOV lanes to two lanes of bi-directional HOT lanes (probably not barrier separated from the same-direction free lanes). This will give them a managed lane network in all directions all day long. The Katy Freeway is obviously a perfect example, with the Energy Corridor and Westchase jobs creating strong flows (and congestion) both directions all day long.

But I hope Metro thinks carefully before jumping to this model for all our spoke freeways. Many of them have strong single-direction flows: inbound in the mornings, and outbound in the evenings. Contra-flow buses are not going to have any speed problems, even in the normal free lanes. And, of course, how many people will be willing to pay to be in the managed lane(s) when the free lanes are freeflowing?

Instead, they may be more useful and bring in significantly higher revenue if they are configured as two or more single-direction reversible lanes, where capacity is maximized in the congested direction and people are willing to pay to get out of it. So, for example, 290 or 45 might have 3 or 4 free plus 2 or more managed lanes of capacity in the congested direction at rush hour, while the contra-flow direction would make do with just the 3 or 4 free lanes. It does keep some of the complexity of reversible lanes, but the reduction in wasted contra-flow capacity and the gain in in-demand capacity would be well worth it. And it would be safer, since it would keep the barrier separation from the slower congested traffic. Finally, it would help keep employers in a healthy core (downtown in particular) rather than the far suburbs, since the capacity will be focused that direction.

4 Comments:

At 10:15 AM, December 16, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

I like the studies that were done on VEB's. I really want to see the Katy HOT lanes in action. The two lanes in each direction will also provide for instances of stalled cars and possibly accidents. It's seems right now the biggest problem in our HOV lanes are the random stalled cars and/or people who drive too slow.

Another note about the Katy Freeway expansion: Doesn't it seem that construction is moving mighty fast? I've talked to several people who commute from Katy to my office at US 290 and Tidwell. They mention that the ocasional traffic tie ups do occur, but they are no different than before construction started. The worst headaches are on the weekends, but we all know this is to prevent them during rush hour times.

 
At 8:23 AM, December 17, 2005, Anonymous Brian Shelley said...

From Tory-
...a congestion-priced High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane network, where any vehicle can enter the lane that's willing to pay the price. The price is adjusted - either on a fixed schedule or in real-time - to keep the lane(s) free flowing.

This is another great attribute about charging tolls. You raise the price, congestion goes down.

 
At 3:01 PM, August 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is all an idiot's ideal. Why should I after paying 15+ years of taxes in Houston and to the FED be required to travel what used to be FREE. Why start charging us to use what was FREE? HOV lanes were free. My TAX DOLLARS paid for part of the road and now you want to charge me again to drive on the road. Once again, who came up with such an assine idea? I see if an opportunic person or corporation bought a right away parallel from the private individuals and wanted to put in a toll-road then they could charge what they wish. I think it is stupid for us as individuals that have lived and paid several years of Houston taxes and to the IRS (FED) to have to pay again to use a HOV lane. Also, when did bus riders become better than ordinary citizens and get an expressway. I am all for private toll road and not for public funding of a private toll road.

 
At 3:35 PM, August 24, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I believe HOV will still be free for existing users (buses, vanpools, and 2 or 3 in the car). But the unused capacity will be available to those willing to pay. Everyone wins. Underutilized lanes get more use (still at high speed), some people get to pay to go faster, and those people are no longer on the free lanes, making them less congested.

 

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