"HOT" activity on the Peninsula, from San Jose to San Francisco

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

If you drive a car or take a bus on any freeway in the Bay Area, chances are you’ll get stuck in traffic. This isn’t only a time-wasting nuisance, it’s bad for us.  The more time we spend idling in traffic, the less time we spend with our families, at our jobs, or being active and healthy. 

It’s clear that we need a solution to gridlock traffic that moves everyone more quickly, without spending hundreds of millions on expanding highways, so that none of us are stuck or left behind. Express lanes – highway carpool lanes that solo drivers can pay to use – could be that solution, but only if they’re done well.  That’s why we’re happy to see so many transportation agencies around the Bay Area considering better express lanes as a way to alleviate our congested freeways, while improving transportation options for all those on the road.  

Earlier this year, we released a report on how to make express lanes great, and several agencies caught on to the idea. TransForm’s definition of a great express lane is one that: doesn’t require building any new highway lanes; funds more  transportation options; and makes commuting faster, safer, and more affordable for all people who travel along the corridor, not only those who can afford to pay the toll. Here’s a look at the progress being made around the Bay.

Santa Clara County leads the way

It’s been two years since the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) established express lanes along SR 237, and the numbers prove that they’re having a positive impact. Since opening in May 2012, express lane tolls in Santa Clara County have generated $2.5 million in revenue, and people driving cars have been saved from sitting in 120,000 hours (that’s almost 14 years!) of traffic. 

In the last year alone, 3 million vehicles (including carpoolers and solo drivers) experienced less traffic delay when they used the express lanes. Morning commuters saved up to 14 minutes per trip! These lanes worked so well, and were put in place so quickly, because they were a conversion of existing carpool lanes.  

The next step for the VTA is to decide what to do with $1 million of that revenue, a decision that will be made in the agency’s biannual budget process starting in the new year. We’re working with our partners at Peninsula Transportation Alternatives, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group , and Working Partnerships USA to ensure these new funds go to funding public transit improvements in the same corridor, to further reduce congestion along SR 237 and set a precedent for other express lanes.

San Francisco to study better express lanes

The solution to gridlock traffic won’t ever be costly highway expansion, which is why we’re thrilled that Caltrans recently awarded the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) funds to study how to make more efficient use of its existing roads and highways (101 and 280). The agency’s Freeway Performance Initiative study will help the SFCTA determine the set of improvements it should pursue to obtain optimal use of its existing network of asphalt. SFCTA is currently laying the groundwork for study parameters which will help shape what transportation network scenarios will be developed and analyzed.
 
The best bet for a better commute along San Francisco’s heavily-trafficked corridors is to convert an existing highway lane into an express lane that will fund more transportation choices. This solution, which we call Optimized High-Occupancy Toll lanes (or Optimized HOT for short), would save the county money, protect San Francisco’s beautiful open spaces, make public transportation a more viable option for commuters, and move everyone on the freeway more quickly. 

We know that SFCTA is considering Optimized HOT as a highway improvement in their study, and we will work closely with them to make this effort as successful as possible. 

San Mateo County tests Optimized HOT concept

Spurred on by our report, Innovation Required, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and San Mateo County transportation officials have been hard at work testing out sketch concepts for an express lane on Highway 101 in San Mateo County. The two agencies are taking the first step towards analyzing TransForm’s proposal to take the far left lane and convert it to Optimized HOT, instead of spending millions to widen the highway and build a new carpool lane. 

We’ll be working closely with staff from MTC staff and the County’s congestion management agency, San Mateo City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG), to discuss these results and help make great express lanes a real possibility in San Mateo County. 

Moving forward on making our commutes faster and more fair

The topic of express lanes is heating up on the Peninsula, from San Francisco to San Jose, especially as traffic continues to get worse. As momentum builds, we see a great opportunity to help our regional agencies and leaders move forward on making our commutes faster and more equitable. Stay tuned to this blog for the latest news on express lanes, or sign up for email updates.

For more information, please contact our Community Planner, Clarrissa Cabansagan.

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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.