Thursday March 15, 2007

Let's charge for high-speed lanes on I-95

I-95

OK, let me see if I understand this correctly. We take the HOV lane on I-95 and turn it into a toll lane. Actually, two toll lanes. Then you make the toll variable, and increase it such that a car on those lanes can always travel at 50 mph.

Where to start with this one? OK let’s put aside the “What?! You can easily add an extra lane? Why didn’t you fucking morons do that about two decades ago?!?!” and concentrate on the larger questions this proposal raises. Now, I ride I-95 daily (against the traffic, and at off-peak hours, thank Jesus), so I see the hell that downtown 9—5ers go through. I also see their cars, and rest assured that a good number of these people are comfortable enough in terms of salary and uncomfortable enough in terms of traffic frustration that I think a lot of them are going to be willing to jump in to this program.

And a lot of them jumping in is going to mean that traffic in those two lanes is going to slow down. Raising the toll. How high will it go? In 2002, I-95 in Miami served 260,000 cars per day (most recent data). It’s generally about 5 lanes each way. If you instead have 4 regular lanes + 2 toll lanes, the toll needs to be such that 20% of the drivers are willing to pay it just to break even on the non-toll lanes. But common sense suggests that 20% of I-95’s traffic spread across two lanes is going to travel much slower then 50mph. This means that tolls will need to be so high that less then 20% of commuters will not be able to afford them even under traffic conditions worse then they are today. How much would you be willing to pay? $2.50 (roughly the cost of a similar trip on the Turnpike)? $5? $10? And how much would the richest 15% of commuters be willing to pay?

Let’s do the math with the most conservative figures we have. If we assume that traffic is still 260,000 cars per day, and if 15% of those cars across 2 lanes results in 50mph, and if $5 is the most those 15% are willing to pay (i.e. the folks in the 16th percentile are unwilling to pay), and assuming 50 5-day work weeks per year, you’re looking at around $50 million in revenue per year, and you’re starting to get an idea of what the actual motivation behind this suggestion might be. Charge for high-speed lanes on I-95? Let’s not and say we did.

Homework: An interview with Reid Ewing (pdf), in which he describes in some detail how ass-backwards South Florida’s transportation system is, and what we could actually do about it.

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  1. Steve    Thu Mar 15, 09:36 AM #  

    On the subject of truly bad ideas, let’s take photos of the interstate while driving our cars on them at 65 mph in heavy traffic.



  2. Dave    Thu Mar 15, 09:56 AM #  

    The logical end result will be at our wealthiest residents will be able to avoid traffic while the rest will be stuck idling…



  3. Jonathan    Thu Mar 15, 10:12 AM #  

    Highway use is already rationed by making drivers waste time sitting in traffic. Why not give drivers the option of paying in money instead of time? If the price of the toll lanes is set high enough (and the price could be set variably depending on conditions) traffic will flow freely in those lanes, and drivers will change their behavior so that overall road use declines during peak periods. This benefits all drivers, even those who don’t pay, and is what has happened in areas where similar schemes have been instituted. You appear to be assuming that overall road use would stay the same, but I think that is not a realistic assumption.

    I skimmed the Ewing pdf, and maybe I missed something but it looks like his idea to reduce highway congestion consists of using traffic lights to restrict the number of vehicles that can get on to the highway during peak periods. This would shift the wasted-time costs of highway congestion to drivers waiting on entrance ramps rather than on the highways themselves, but it wouldn’t give drivers new options. It is a top-down engineering solution that ignores the possibility of changing behavior by introducing rational price signals into the system. If I read it correctly, it is essentially traffic calming on a large scale. The general problem with traffic calming is that it reduces congestion by making driving so burdensome that people avoid it — IOW by removing options (your only alternatives are to drive and wait or not to drive at all). Implemented properly, toll lanes and congestion pricing can create new options (drive and wait, don’t drive, drive and pay) for drivers and increase the system’s overall efficiency.



  4. Christopher Jahn    Thu Mar 15, 11:11 AM #  

    Typically, this “solution” fails to address the causes of traffic on I-95 south of the Golden Glades; local traffic getting on and off the expressway.

    If you’re going to “split” 95 – which is not a bad idea – you should split it into “local” and “express”. The “express” lanes would only have interchanges at 112/195 and 836/395.

    THAT would alleviate most traffic jams AND be FAIR to everyone using the road. It’s also a proven method, as anyone who has driven the Garden State Parkway in northern New Jersey can attest.



  5. Shawn    Thu Mar 15, 11:25 AM #  

    I like Christopher Jahn’s idea.

    And really, God help Miami if they close down half of the lanes in order to build one more lane on 95. That is going to be 5 years of hell. For once there isn’t any construction on the highway and can’t we just keep it that way!!!!! They have heavy construction on almost every single alternate route (A1A, Biscayne). I think I am about to lose my mind!



  6. MiamianLawStudent    Thu Mar 15, 11:44 AM #  

    Alesh,
    Great post.



  7. Lorna    Thu Mar 15, 12:52 PM #  

    I think it would also help by placing signs on I’95 that read “Slower Traffic, stay off HOV lanes or passing lanes.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve travelled to Miami from FTL and have had to pass slow cars on the HOV lane. What are these people thinking? It’s Sunday every day? If they are not driving at the max speed limit allowed, they should MOVE.



  8. Steve    Fri Mar 16, 11:31 AM #  

    Great idea, Lorna. A sign. That’ll fix everything.

    We need one in Liberty City, too, that says “No Drive-By Shootings.”



  9. Manola Blablablanik    Fri Mar 16, 05:17 PM #  

    Steve, a sign would totally work if it they put pictures of someone’s tits or ass on a sign right near an exit. All the fools would veer off the highway, leaving the rest of it clear for us.



  10. Steve    Sat Mar 17, 09:44 AM #  

    Manola: it might depend on whose tits and ass. But maybe not. I volunteer mine. Great concept, regardless. How come you’re not running for mayor? The community needs fresh perspectives!



  11. Manola Blablablanik    Sat Mar 17, 01:53 PM #  

    Aw Steve, thanks for the vote of confidence. I don’t know if I should run for a political office in Miami Beach. I might become a dictator type and force everyone to put their panties back on. :-)



  12. Biscayne Bystander    Sun Mar 18, 12:04 AM #  

    Great post Alesh. I still feel what Miami lacks is better, cleaner, safer & more accessible public transportation.



  13. rluser    Tue Apr 24, 04:13 PM #  

    Then Build it, Biscayne, Bystander