It doesn’t have to be rush hour in Southern California for freeways in metropolitan areas to be jammed up; an overturned big rig or construction in the slow lanes at 3 a.m. can accomplish that. Motorists caught in these off-hour traffic fiascos can add to their frustration by gazing over at the carpool lane, where the occasional high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or electric car is whizzing by.
While the Bay Area and other NorCal metropolitan freeways have short specific times when HOV lanes are in effect, Los Angeles carpool lanes are 24/7. Dennis Romero at LA Weekly says it’s another example of Northern California dominance in state politics—the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and two U.S. senators are northerners.
Regardless of the reason, that’s the way the HOV lanes are going to roll.
Governor Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 210, which would have eased the restrictions on short stretches of two L.A.-area freeways, indicating he didn’t really care what the arguments were in this specific case. “I vetoed a nearly-identical bill last session,” he wrote in his veto message (pdf). “I continue to believe that carpool lanes are especially important in Los Angeles County to reduce pollution and maximize the use of freeways.”
Generally speaking, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) makes the call on how HOV lanes are deployed. And Brown was loath to empower lawmakers to start carving out exceptions to the rules. An analysis of the legislation by Assembly staff explained why the two regions were treated differently.
“Northern California highways usually experience two weekday congestion periods during peak morning and afternoon commute hours, followed by a long period of non-congestion,” they wrote. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is a pit. “Southern California normally experiences very long hours of congestion, typically between six to eleven hours per day, with short off-peak traffic hours. Part-time operation under these conditions is generally considered unfeasible.”
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) disagrees. His bill would have directed Caltrans to determine when there was a specific need for HOV on short stretches of the 134 and 210 Freeways leading into Pasadena from the West, and open them up at all other times.
Apparently, the general public does not share Governor Brown’s perspective on HOV lanes. The Senate floor analysis of the bill notes that carpool lanes are difficult to implement because of “general assumptions made by the affected public that they provide little benefit to average drivers and do not relieve congestion.” The public seems to get particularly snarky when HOV lanes have tolls; thus the nickname “Lexus lanes.”