`Diamond Lanes' Don't Shine in California

By Elias, Thomas D. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

`Diamond Lanes' Don't Shine in California


Elias, Thomas D., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


LOS ANGELES - Californians, tired of seeing nearly empty carpool lanes while they crawl along during rush hour, are increasingly opposed to plans to create more than 300 miles of new high-occupancy lanes.

There's even a move in the state Legislature to open so-called "diamond lanes" to all drivers.

"The moment even one of these lanes is opened to all traffic, the difference is going to be so dramatic that their days will be numbered in California," says Republican state Assemblyman Tom McClintock, who represents suburbs of Los Angeles. Mr. McClintock is sponsoring a bill to declare a one-day "diamond lane holiday" and study the result.

The lanes are so unpopular that they have given rise to creativity among commuters. One pregnant woman ticketed for driving alone told a judge she considered her unborn child a passenger. The driver of a hearse pointed to the body he was ferrying when stopped by the state Highway Patrol. Others have used dummies or placed hats on dogs while trying to fool police.

New Jersey abandoned carpool lanes on some highways on Dec. 1.

"[They] are not producing the results that we all had hoped for," said Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. "We were unable to change the patterns of motorists using the roads."

All signs indicate California's steadily growing diamond lane network also is not achieving that goal.

New state statistics show just 7 percent of traffic uses carpool lanes at rush hour, accounting for about 14.5 percent of commuters on roadways which have HOV lanes. That figure has remained virtually unchanged for 15 years, even as more than 200 miles of new diamond lanes were opened.

"The numbers make it clear carpool lanes are not acting as an incentive to get people to commute together," says demographer Steve Lippman. "One reason it has not worked is that the region is so diffuse that most people here do not live anywhere near others who work at the same place."

Commuter Catherine Mays, responding this month to a computerized poll conducted by America Online, voiced what many others feel: "Why should one-third or one-quarter of the space on our freeways be given to so few drivers? …

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