Are we really doing everything we can to address traffic? Is there a simpler, quicker or cheaper solution that we are overlooking?
In earlier parts of this story, we talked to people who think we could do more, and that quicker, easier solutions are right on hand.
One argument from part two is that we could now dedicate a highway lane to market forces, which would open up traffic dramatically and people would pay for the privilege of zipping down town. What are these “market forces” anyway?
Vanderbilt University Economics Professor, Malcolm Getz talked about creating a toll lane from the HOV lane. This is “not an insignificant investment” Getz acknowledges. Like others commenting on this subject, it would take more than a change in policy or a paradigm shift in individual behavior.
“It would take a revolution,” explains Mark Cleveland, Nashville’s 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year. “Toll lanes are not legal in Tennessee, automated enforcement systems and video cameras are not legal in Tennessee.”
It’s also illegal to drive in the HOV lanes during rush hour, but hey, who’s looking anyway, right?
Cleveland sees HOV lanes in Middle Tennessee as “..the most significant traffic management asset in Nashville — going completely to waste.” Lack of enforcement, he argues, eliminates all the intended speed-of-transit and convenience related incentives for bus and carpooling. “The result is – we get more cars.”
Cleveland is not a fan of toll road approach to reducing congestion, “We pay for our roads as we go in Tennessee and nobody wants to pay two or three times, let alone every day! We just don’t have to go that far to get results.”
Nashville Chamber’s Moving Forward initiative seeks business and community leader feedback on opportunities to address the regional transit challenges. Cleveland has served as a member of the Routes, Networks and Modes Committee and the Autonomous Vehicle Sub Committees, making recommendations to Mayor Megan Barry. “I support improved bus systems, but it seems insincere to me to spend billions, blame it all on cars, and not deal with the real traffic issue with existing assets and existing laws.”
With or without HOV lane incentives, it struck him that incentives and rewards are the basic building blocks of success in business. He decided to develop an app for Android and iPhones that rewards people to carpool more often. “We created Hytch to reward people who go to the trouble to share a ride, because they reduce congestion immediately and help defend our clean air. Hytch sponsors pay you to share a ride, in the city or on the highway, with or without the HOV lane as an incentive – cash is king!”
Cash? Cash for carpooling? That would be the carrot. Now imagine that the HOV lanes were open just for bus riders, motorcycles, electric vehicles and “2+ people in a car” as Lt. Gilliland admits they are designed for… “there needs to be a stick: policy that enforces the existing HOV laws.”
“An HOV enforcement policy change will create a wide open HOV lane for just two critical hours a day,” says Cleveland. “That’s cheaper than building a new lane, better than building dedicated HOV lanes or charging tolls and we all use that lane any way we want to for 22 hours a day!”
“It’s important to have a larger vision,” Cleveland says, “but lost in translation and debate about these alternative transit options and technologies that are years, maybe decades-away — is the simple fact that we are totally ignoring the most obvious tool that is already in place.”
Cleveland appreciates that talking about HOV lanes isn’t popular, but he believes that regional leaders can make a simple policy change to create free and open HOV lanes, overnight.
HOV lanes, as we have reported in previous stories, can routinely cut commute times by large percentages when they are properly used. Statistics show Tennessee’s rate-of-enforcement of HOV laws is among the lowest in the country.
“The issue is with policy and priority — let’s argue about toll systems and light rail — but what can be done right now?” Cleveland said. “Hire 20 police officers just to enforce existing HOV lane laws. I bet that will change behavior! How much would that cost? Not much. We can test bus rapid transit with a free and open lane. How much would that cost? Not much. People will zip down town in a bus or with two people in their car. That’s how you address traffic.”
The traffic enforcement arm for the Metro Nashville Police Department, led by Lt. Mike Gilliland, has 25 officers in it. They effect thousands of stops per year, but, according to Gilliland, because of limits in manpower and lack of a policy emphasis on HOV enforcement, simply do not view it as a priority.
If it was a priority, however, Cleveland believes something as simple as hiring a small number of officers, in the big picture, could have an exponential affect on regional traffic patterns.
“Something as simple as that could be done, but it is not being done,” he said.
It would be a fraction of the cost of building a regional transit system, but is not even being considered, let alone discussed, except by certain people outside the official process.