Highway 101 traffic needs a good express lane solution

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

As the Bay Area’s economy has picked up, congestion on our highways has gotten noticeably worse.

In fact, San Francisco was recently named the second most-congested city in the United States, with San Jose making an appearance at number six on the list.

We all want more options for how to get around, and the Peninsula is no exception. A 2013 study reported that while 71% of San Mateo County residents drove alone to work, a whopping 65% of them wished they could take reliable public transportation instead.

As TransForm’s Community Planner, I travel regularly from the East Bay to the Peninsula. When the schedule works out and the location is near a train station, I'll happily hop on BART and/or Caltrain to get to my meeting. Otherwise, I carpool with a colleague – which often means spending two hours in evening traffic.  There have been many times I’ve wished I were reading on a BART train that was moving, instead of parked in gridlock traffic on Highway 101.

Now, more than ever, the Bay Area needs a solution to traffic congestion, especially on important corridors like Highway 101, home to 3 of the top 10 congested segments of highway in the Bay Area.

Many counties across California are looking to express lanes as a solution to traffic. Express lanes allow carpools and buses to move quickly through traffic, and can be used by solo drivers for a fee. If done well, express lanes could give more people more choices on the Bay Area’s roads.

So what’s being done about it?

At a recent City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) of San Mateo County) meeting, Andrew Fremier with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission presented C/CAG board members ideas for tackling congestion on Highway 101.

Fremier proposed that transportation agencies in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties refocus their efforts on creating an express lane along the entire length of the corridor.

During this meeting, C/CAG board members also reviewed the results of a study exploring an express lane on a stretch of Highway 101 where there are current plans to build a new highway lane. The study was in part based on TransForm’s push for an express lanes solution we call "Optimized HOT." (HOT stands for "high-occupancy toll," another name for express lanes.) While the high-level analysis fell short on some key items, the consultant recommended that C/CAG move forward with an express lane.

At TransForm, we know that express lanes can help solve the Bay Area’s traffic problem—if they are done well.

A good express lane (as envisioned in our Optimized HOT proposal) has these three characteristics:

  1. It converts existing highway lanes into express lanes. This saves us money and makes better use of our existing highways, instead of expensive and destructive highway construction.
     
  2. It uses express lane revenues to fund more transportation options, such as better Caltrain and BART service, reliable and affordable bus service, and bike lanes, so that people of all incomes have more freedom to choose how they get around.
     
  3. It has a strategy in place to ensure that everyone along the corridor benefits, not just the people who can afford to pay the toll but also low-income families.

These three elements ensure that we alleviate traffic, while also making transportation work better for everyone who uses the Bay Area’s roads.

A good express lane network is not just good for our roads, it’s good for our health.

When express lane revenues fund active transportation - that is, infrastructure that makes it safer and easier for people to bike and walk to where they need to go - a community’s overall health improves. More people walking and biking means less harmful pollution from cars and all the benefits that come with an active lifestyle (such as reducing obesity). 

It’s a win-win for both climate and our communities: San Mateo’s 2013 study found that promoting active transportation is major way to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce climate change.

It’s promising news that these three counties are leading the way on innovating solutions to our region’s horrible traffic congestion. We’re excited for the future of a good express lane along Highway 101. And with all of the Bay Area looking to leverage new technologies to solve our transportation problems, we aren’t far away from a better commute for all of us. 

For more information on the Bay Area’s express lane networks, and to receive updates on our work to make express lanes better, sign up here.

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.