Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Political Traffic

I’m one of the only people in the world that can take an issue like freeway traffic design and turn it into a political issue. Watch how I do it.

My recent business travels have taken me to a couple of cities where the freeways have hov (or “high-occupancy vehicle”) lanes. Sometimes they’re called “diamond” lanes. The idea is that there has to be at least two people in the car to drive in the lane. Yeah, that’s “high” occupancy. Two people.

The intent is to encourage carpooling. Maybe if we can get more people to share rides to work, we’d have fewer cars on the road polluting our air, filling our atmosphere with ozone, and melting those ice caps.

The problem is they don’t work.

hov lanes do virtually nothing to change people’s behavior. If you’re going to carpool, you’re going to carpool. If you’re not, you’re not. The prospect of saving a few minutes on the ride to work isn’t usually worth the extra time it takes waiting for Dagwood to plow into the mailman on his way out the door.

So hov lanes reward people for practicing the behavior that they would be doing anyway. They get to shave a few minutes off their commute just because they happen to have a friend riding shotgun. Oh, and sometimes that “friend” is an inflatable guy named “Irv” whose only purpose is to thwart the system and scare car-jackers.

And at what cost? Well, it makes sense that if one lane is less-traveled and going fast, the other lanes are more crowded and going slower. Yep, hov lanes not only reward the unworthy, they punish people just for trying to get to work on time.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to evenly distribute the traffic amongst all the lanes and give everybody a fair shot at a pleasant driving experience?

Which leads me to my political discussion. I have noticed that hov lanes appear primarily in cites with a predominant liberal bent. This is a rather unscientific observation, but it makes sense. hov lanes demonstrate exactly what liberals typically do. They attempt (and fail) to legislate behavior while giving the appearance of rewarding that behavior. The chief benefactors are people who don’t deserve to be rewarded. Although most people experience a reduced level of service, the authorities can pat themselves on the back for giving the appearance of doing something worthwhile.

I’m familiar with at least one city that has a different approach. Dallas has express lanes that let you fly past the stalled traffic. For a price. It costs something like a quarter or something to enter these lanes. Kinda like a toll road parallel to the main road. You can decide whether the improved experience is worth the cost.

What a concept! Making people pay for a rewarding experience and then giving them a proven benefit as a result.

Oh, yeah, Dallas is one of the most conservative cities that I’m aware of.

Conservatism. Works every time it’s tried.

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