Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Your comment that High Occupancy Vehicle lanes are not really a traffic management system was curious. [Dr. Gridlock, Feb. 8]. Every car reduction from a congested highway is a benefit, especially when the concept leads others to use the HOV lanes.
Regarding high-occupancy toll lanes: First, there is only a finite space within which Interstate 66 can be managed or grown. As you wrote, it is unlikely that a future nine-lane road in each direction could be built.
So within the competitive framework of space, it seems unwise to allocate two-fifths of the road capacity to HOT lanes that will be underused while the three lanes allocated to the common person will continue to be crammed beyond engineered capacity.
A five-lane road in each direction will eventually reach an overload point. Begin planning an additional east-west interstate highway. Yes, it would be very costly, and a route would be hard to identify and build, but it is a future necessity.
The Virginia Department of Transportation should get busy on planning an outer beltway with a crossing between Virginia and Maryland. Another beltway would eliminate the requirement for many users of I-66 to drive to the Capital Beltway before going north to Maryland or to Virginia cities and towns to the south.
Bill Wunderlich, Fairfax City
DG: HOV lanes are indeed a useful concept for encouraging commuters to leave cars behind on the way to work. But once the carpoolers get into the HOV lanes, they’re on their own, just like the drivers in the regular lanes. There’s usually no further effort to manage the trip.
I get comments from drivers complaining that they encounter congestion in the I-66 HOV lane. Often, that occurs just west of the Capital Beltway. On other portions of the lane, the carpoolers may do just fine. There’s just no way to guarantee them they’ll have a consistent experience.
The HOV concept was developed well before much of today’s smart-travel technologies had emerged. So at this point, the HOV lane is the blunt instrument in the traffic manager’s tool box.
The HOT lanes concept adds some flexibility. When and where there’s extra space in the carpool lanes, the tolling system invites those willing to pay a price to join in. But the price will go up to prevent drivers from becoming overly enthusiastic about contributing to the traffic.
The idea is that the carpoolers and the toll payers will wind up with a congestion-free trip.
How could there possibly be enough space to add in the toll payers? Virginia says the answers include adding a lane in each direction and raising the high-occupancy threshold from HOV2 to HOV3.
Wunderlich is not alone in hoping for more general-purpose lanes. That’s what many commuters are asking for. And the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a prominent advocacy group for congestion relief, also would like to see that.
The Virginia government has yet to come up with a way to finance that within the lifetime of today’s commuters.
Plus, there’s plenty of community opposition, both inside and outside the Capital Beltway, to a major widening of I-66, another interstate, or an outer beltway.
I invited travelers to submit their thoughts on traffic safety and got this response from one of the Washington region’s top advocates for safe cycling.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
To add to your list of behavior that endangers bicyclists and pedestrians, turning right on red lights is very high on my list.
When cruising through a stop sign, motorists are looking left and not looking for pedestrians or cyclists attempting to cross from the right, who likely have the right of way. I think it’s become habitual for most D.C. area motorists, including police.
Like most cyclists and pedestrians, I am also a motorist. Having heard criticisms about bad bicyclist behavior for many years, I am now a better motorist. However, I also am more aware of other motorists’ behavior, including noting the above infractions by motorists at nearly every intersection.
Now when I drive, I stop and look right before turning left, and I try to go the speed limit; almost no other motorists drive at or below the speed limit. When asked about it, almost every motorist I’ve talked to thinks it’s okay to drive above the limit.
My nomination for the most widely abused speed limit is the 35 mph limit as one approaches the main Dulles Toll Road plaza in Tysons Corner from the west. I’ve tried going 35, but am almost rear-ended when I do.
— Bruce Wright, chairman,
Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling
DG: The plaza area can be a tricky stretch. Send in your own nominations for locations in the Washington region where you see the worst behavior in traffic, and I’ll include them in upcoming columns.