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High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes are supposed to reduce pollution via ridesharing, and are better known as Carpool Lanes. These are found on many freeways, although many older freeways have not yet incorporated them in certain portions yet. They often have a minimum passenger requirement of 2, though previously the standard was around 3-4 (At least in Los Angeles).

An good example of bad carpool lane design is that of Interstate 10 eastbound from around Interstate 710 to the Baldwin Avenue exit, the 30+ year old El Monte Busway. There is only 1 entrance in the approximately 11 miles of its length making this carpool mostly useless. Many people illegally enter here and get ticketed.


While I agree with HOV/carpool lanes in principle, I've heard some decent arguments against them (or rather why they are not the end-all solution to traffic problems). One problem I see stems from casual carpool. The basic idea of carpool lanes is to have less cars on the road. That means that people who normally drive need to pair up (or make trios), either through friends, neighbors, acquaintances or casual carpool. Most people I met when I did casual carpool (picking up people and driving people myself) are not people who would normally be driving in the first place. They are people near public transportation who have found a free way to get to their destination (for example, they got a free ride over the San Francisco Bay) instead of paying $X.XX to use the public transportation. If most people using the carpool lane aren't regular car commuters, then the carpool lanes isn't easing up any traffic. Second, I can't tell you how many times I was stuck in traffic when I first moved to the Bay Area and saw mothers and a 5 year old kid in the commuter lane (I don't think most of them were commuting). Third, you need massive vigilance to make sure people don't abuse the carpool lane and just drive in it without a second or third person (not that frequent, me thinks) like a cop sitting on the freeway, which just makes people paranoid and slows things down :).

Finally, most places that need to institute carpool lanes are fast growing metropolis'. Let's say people do use these lanes in the intended, ideal fashion and gather up a friend who commutes to a city in a car as well. As more people use it, but more people start moving to the city, more cars come on the road and take those people's places. Meanwhile, suddenly, the single lane used for carpools, due to the increased amount of proper usage, has become as clogged as the regular lanes.

Which brings me to my next point. Perhaps cars are not the best way to be commuting to work and the DOT's of each state shouldn't encourage it in any way. Traffic jams are not just caused by a large amount of cars. They are caused by accidents, stalls, terrible driving (people who pop from lane to lane looking for the "fastest" lane in stand-still traffic, people who like to give 10,000 car lengths between the car in front of them in heavy traffic), people merging on and off highways, toll bridges (think about how much easier the commute into San Francisco would be if there was no back up at the toll plazas!) and just generally poor infrastructure leading into major cities (don't make me list some of them all over the country :). All of these added problems are what makes the number of cars on freeways during rush hour so unwielding.

Perhaps transportation departments need to think about rapidly getting public transit into place and making it completely desirable for people to use (low prices, bus-train accessibility for transfers, good scheduling, extensive coverage) and find ways to make it absolutely miserable (yes, more miserable than it already is :). Alas, in order to pull this off, it would require some massive changes to the ways in which more public transportation is put into place. And maybe some areas are just doomed due to this car obsessed culture. This is not to say I think that carpool lanes should be done away with. I'm not saying that HOV lanes are completely bad, but they are a band-aid approach to a larger problem that isn't being addressed in most major cities fast enough. If you are driving on freeways, for whatever reason, please do pick up someone. I just wanted to add a little something to this node showing the "darker" side of commuting.

The HOV Lanes, or at least in Virginia, always have some controversy surrouding them. Here the lanes are not simply restricted to having more than two or three persons in the car at one time. A new rule was added recently stating that a hybrid car can also be allowed on the lanes, with only one person in the car. This is causing quite a stir in the metropolitan area because hybrid cars do save gas, but if there's only one person in the car at the time it defeats the purpose of "High Occupancy Vehicles." And we're all a slight bit jealous that they get to travel alone.

The past controversy was over people using blow-up dolls and putting them in the passenger seat to be "qualified" in the HOV lanes. But our tricky police caught on and now are checkpointed at various spots on the highway and freeways to check for that type of thing. That sort of thing has calmed down by now, most likely because explaning to the cop why you why a blow-up doll in your passenger seat isn't the most tact one.

Most of the time the HOV lanes are as crowded as the rest of the lanes, but there's some superior feeling you get from riding in them. Maybe it's just when the theory of HOV lanes works and you can zoom past the other cars, and simply laugh because you'll for once be home in time for dinner.

HOV Lanes sometimes can be reversable. They are quite weird and only open at certain times. During rush hour in the morning they are open going into the city. During rush hour at night they are open going out of the city. There are gates on either end of the HOV Lane and a few electronic signs that display the status (OPEN/CLOSED/CAUTION) of the HOV Lane. One specifically is I-279 going to Pittsburgh, also known as Parkway North. It is seperated from the other 6 lanes of traffic (3 on each side) by Jersey barriers on either side. Two lanes for the major part of the lane. It isn't a very long lane, but it does help some of the congestion. Also, if you are leaving a Pittsburgh Pirates game or a Steelers game, it is allowed for you to drive in the HOV Lane without the occupancy requirement. This is also true for weekends. The HOV Lane is also used for buses extensively using it.

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