RFTA tracks HOV cheating
The high-occupancy-vehicle lane on Highway 82 seems to run neck-and-neck with paid parking in Aspen as the most despised traffic regulation in the commuter culture valley.
Many drivers love to hate the HOV lane, and they love to illegally use it, as any commuter can attest. But just how many people driving alone actually give into temptation and use the HOV lane when they shouldn’t? The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority thinks it knows the answer.
RFTA staffers determined that about one out of five single-occupant vehicles used the HOV lane illegally during a 90-minute period during a morning commute last week. RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship isn’t trying to pass the survey off as a scientific study. Surveying traffic for 90 minutes for one day at the Old Snowmass stoplight hardly qualifies as exhaustive research, he said, but it’s a start.
“There were some interesting ‘ah-ha’s that came out of that,” Blankenship said. For example, 22 percent of all single-occupant vehicles passing by that point during the 90-minute stretch were illegally using the HOV lane.
The cheaters accounted for 15 percent of all vehicles observed and 10 percent of all people observed, Blankenship said.
Vehicles of all types, from motorcycles to buses, were hauling 2,955 people during that 90-minute period. Single-occupant vehicles accounted for 69 percent of the traffic. However, they hauled just 46 percent of the people.
Conversely, vehicles that hauled at least two people accounted for 31 percent of the traffic and 54 percent of the people.
The HOV restriction is in effect from 6-9 a.m. for the commute into Aspen and from 3-6 p.m. heading downvalley during the work week. The restrictions are in effect between Basalt and Buttermilk. Only vehicles with two or more passengers are supposed to use the HOV lanes.
Blankenship likes the HOV lanes because they reduce travel time for buses. It is an incentive for mass transit.
The special lanes have their supporters among bus riders and people that car pool. But Pitkin County government also receives a “plethora” of complaints, said Public Works Director Brian Pettet. Some critics contend it is no longer necessary, since the highway has been widened to four lanes and construction delays have disappeared, he said.
Others critics support an HOV lane, but feel it should be on the left side rather than the right. The HOV was established on the right lane so buses could slip in and out of stops with ease.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s 1993 formal decision on the highway widening from Basalt to Buttermilk instituted the HOV lanes as an auto disincentive. It was a concession to elected officials in Aspen and Pitkin County.
The decision indicates traffic studies should be undertaken after the highway expansion to help determine when and where the HOV lanes should be operated, Pettet said. He said when he meets with the county commissioners next week to discuss traffic issues he will suggest they formally ask CDOT to conduct that study.
Pettet said there are numerous options between leaving the lanes as they are and eliminating them. Some suggestions include shortening the distance they are in effect, allowing construction vehicles to use the HOV lane, or allowing single-occupant vehicles to use the HOV lane for passing.
He said he has no specific recommendation. “What I think needs to be done is a traffic study,” Pettet said, noting that RFTA’s survey wasn’t enough.
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