Monday, September 19, 2005

Ode to the HOV

Ode to the HOV

Yesterday, my mother-in-law introduced to a fascinating progressive magazine called Ode. It's originally written mostly in Dutch, then translated to English, so sometimes the writing is a little stilted. But generally, it has lots of interesting articles about developments around the world, particularly in the area of social entrepreneurship.

One article in the October '05 issue, entitled "Unjamming the future" was all about how to deal with the dramatic expansion of car ownership in the developing world, but in a realistic way. Among the strategies was the development of dedicated busways and bus lanes, as a much cheaper alternative to light rail or subway development.

I think it's high time to (re)consider busways and high-occupancy vehicle lanes in St. Louis.

I say reconsider because in the 1980s, when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the current MetroLink line was prepared, a "Locust Street Transit Mall" extending from 4th St. to Tucker Blvd., a dedicated busway, was proposed. It was strongly opposed by downtown merchants and Mayor Schoemehl, who favored light rail.

St. Louis does already have one dedicated busway, of sorts: the Hodiamont right-of-way, which I discussed last month. It serves a relatively small area of the west side of the city.

Also yesterday, I noticed MoDOT repaving the express lanes on I-70 from Union Blvd. to downtown. Whether that was a necessary project or not, it got me thinking: Why couldn't the I-70 express lanes be converted to an HOV/busway lane? Seems to me it would only require posting signs on the entry points indicating it's for "Car Pools / Buses Only." There are some problems with this idea, of course:

--Many single-occupancy drivers love the express lanes. It's a much faster way to get through a part of town where, quite honestly, they don't want to stop anyway.

--Those single-occupancy drivers would cheat, and the design of the express lanes would make it difficult for police to enforce the rules. This could be remedied with traffic cameras at the entrances. If they catch somebody with only one person in the vehicle - not sure how that would work, but it seems doable - the system would mail the driver a ticket.

--The bus couldn't really stop anywhere in that stretch. I think there used to be exits from the express lanes onto Kingshighway, but didn't they remove those during the rebuild of I-70 a couple years ago? So you'd have to get on the bus on Riverview or Goodfellow, and ride all the way into downtown. Some express buses on I-70 currently stop at East Grand Ave. on passenger signal. That's not possible if you're riding down the express lanes.

--If the current scheduling was kept, it would only serve traditional commutes: into downtown before noon, out of downtown after noon.

--MetroLink already serves a good chunk of commuters who might otherwise use this stretch of I-70. They park at North Hanley and ride downtown; a bus using the express lanes wouldn't be much more convenient for them.

--Traffic exiting the express lanes still has to enter the main roadway well in advance of the Poplar Street Bridge complex -- the region's primary traffic bottleneck.

However, I still think dedicated busways and HOV lanes are worth considering in St. Louis. Maybe I-270 would be a good place to try this.

Currently, there's no bus service along the I-270 corridor; the closest parallel is the #49 Lindbergh bus, but it usually operates on Lindbergh (of course!), several miles east. A bus running from, perhaps, St. Louis Mills to DePaul Hospital, West Port Plaza, Olive Blvd., St. John's Mercy, Missouri Baptist, Ballas Road MetroBus Center, West County Center, SLCC-Meramec, and Sunset Hills Shopping Center could be a very useful addition to the bus system, connecting several major trunk line reverse commute routes. Perhaps it could even branch off to Fenton, or St. Anthony's Hospital and South County Center. However, for it to make sense at all, there would need to be dedicated bus lanes on I-270. Otherwise, those buses would be caught in heavy traffic just like the cars.

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