Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Parsons Brinkerhoff: HOT Lanes “benefit everyone”

The above was just one of the findings of the Congestion Relief Analysis, a report conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation, with much assistance from many consulting firms, among which was Parsons Brinkerhoff. The report’s purpose was to answer two questions: “What would it take to significantly reduce expected future traffic delay due to congestion in the State’s major urban areas?” and “What are the associated costs and impacts?”, questions which are also being asked by many here in Honolulu.

Instead of looking for and finding solutions to Honolulu’s congestion problems, the Hannemann administration has chosen to pursue, from the beginning, an elevated heavy rail system, which every analysis has shown to do little or nothing to reduce traffic congestion.

The Washington DOT report, in a section titled “Why is Congestion Growing in the State”, two points are made which also exemplify the source of Honolulu’s congestion woes:

[1] Capacity expansion has not kept up with the pace of population and travel demand growth, resulting in an imbalance between demand and capacity.

[2] Most travelers are auto dependent due to lack of population and employment density, which is essential to make alternative travel options more viable.
Several alternatives were studied in the Washington DOT report. Each one was analyzed with the goal of maximum congestion relief in mind. One of the alternatives was transit, which included busses and rail as the only means of reducing congestion – exactly as proposed by Hanneman. The study found that (bolding added for emphasis):

“Major transit expansion in the adjacent urban areas [Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver] would provide an alternative to single occupancy vehicles for people traveling congested corridors during peak periods. However, according to the computer modeling, transit expansion alone is not shown to be effective in reducing total delay at the system level. The lack of supportive land use densities and the difficulty in serving non-commute travel limits the ability of transit to serve trips that are now customarily made by auto.”
High occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, with value pricing (tolls which vary depending on congestion levels), similar to what I propose, were, however, deemed effective solutions:

“Region-wide value pricing is indicated to be very effective in reducing total delay. Roadway tolling helps to dampen travel demand, shorten trips, shift travel to non-peak periods, and encourage use of other travel options (transit, carpooling, biking and walking) that are not subject to toll charges.

Value pricing in the form of High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes is found to reduce corridor delay and make the corridor operate more efficiently. HOT lanes make corridor travel time more reliable, which benefits everyone, including occasional users.”

Honolulutraffic.com also has a commentary and link to the Washington State DOT report.

The main lessons for Honolulu are that (1) fixed mass transit is an inferior solution, and (2) An express transitway for high-occupancy (HO) buses, vanpools and carpools, and toll-paying (T) low occupancy vehicles is an effective solution to congestion and mobility. HOT lanes combined with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is an affordable, effective and sustainable solution for Oahu.

Not only is the Bay Area developing a network of HOT lanes, but an extensive application of HOT lanes is also getting done in Washington, D.C. (Capital Beltway HOT Lanes: http://www.virginiahotlanes.com/) On the other hand, also in 2008, an expansion to the D.C. Metro was not funded.