Converting HOV Lanes to Managed Lanes Decreases Travel Time and Increases Transit Quality

Converting high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV) lanes to managed lanes decreases commute times and increases the quality of transit service. This cost-effective transportation solution has proven effective in multiple cities throughout the country. This was the conclusion of a session at last month’s Transportation Research Board conference in Washington D.C. The session highlighted improvements in Seattle, Miami, San Diego and Minneapolis.

There are several common factors present in each metro area. All cities feature variable pricing. (In variable pricing when congestion increases in the managed lanes, the price increases to encourage people to switch to the general lanes or another route. When congestion decreases, the price decreases to encourage people to use the lane.) All projects used travel time information either as signs on the highways, as part of an application for smart phones, or both. All projects improved transit service and decreased travel times. Finally, all projects located their transit stations in the middle, above or adjacent to the managed lanes.

Seattle: In the early 2000’s, Sound Transit and the Washington Department of Transportation partnered to improve I-405. On I-405 the HOV lanes were not meeting performance targets while on SR-167 the lanes had unused capacity. Transit service needed improvement in both corridors. The plan added two new managed lanes in each direction to I-405 and improved travel time on local arterials. The transit part of the plan added a Bus Rapid Transit system, 9 new transit centers, a 50% increase in service, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) direct-access ramps and flyer stops, a managed lane system, 5000 new park and ride spaces and 1700 new vanpools. The conversion decreased travel times and increased transit service. Managed lanes are being studied for the new SR 520 bridge and future improvements to I-5.

Miami: During 2010, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) partnered with the Miami-Dade and Broward transit agencies to improve travel speeds and options. The DOT converted one HOV lane to two managed lanes. This project added one additional lane in each direction to the highway. The average travel speed during the afternoon nearly tripled from 18 miles per hour to 50 miles per hour. The Miami-Dade and Broward transit agencies took part in a regional bus program that operates express buses from the suburbs into downtown Miami during the morning and evening rush hour with 30-minute headways. Over the last two years the express buses have increased every month in popularity, slowed only by the lack of parking spaces at the transit station. This increased the total ridership in the managed lanes from 1,800 during the peak hours in 2009 to 4,600 during the peak hours of 2011. The state plans to expand the program to I-75 and I-595.

San Diego: The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) in cooperation with CalTrans and the local transit operators added managed lanes to I-15 in southern California. The 35-mile corridor ranges from Escondido in the north to downtown San Diego in the south. The corridor features a four-lane barrier separated facility. The movable barrier provides either 1, 2, or 3 lanes depending on the time of day. The spacing of stations every 4-5 miles allows the buses to travel at highway speeds for most of their journey. The new managed lanes move 21% more people per lane than the general-purpose lanes. And the high-occupancy vehicles represent 80% of the total managed lane users. The 2050 plan includes managed lanes on I-5, I-805, SR 52, SR 54, SR 56, SR 94, and SR 125.

Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Department of Transportation and MetroTransit partnered for the I-394 project. Minnesota converted I-394 HOV lanes to managed lanes in 2005. Minneapolis prioritized maintaining and improving its quality bus service. The city has an extensive Express Bus system with 18,000 users riding more than 100 express buses. The I-394 corridor is a shoulder lane with BRT stations. The revenue is shared with transit providers in the corridor. The HOT lanes provide a new option to solo drivers while increasing the quality of service for transit users. Minnesota plans to build managed lanes on I-35E, I-35W, I-94, I-494, I-694, US 169, SR 36 and SR 37.

These four different HOT-to-managed-lane conversions prove that managed lanes can succeed in almost any location by increasing vehicle speeds, passenger throughput, and quality transit service.