HOV in the News

(...all I know is what I read in the papers. -Will Rogers)

When the HOV lanes opened on Rt. 80, the politicians tried their best to sell them. Unfortunately, none of their arguments made sense. So I started to rebut them via letters to the editor and/or to whomever made the statements. Then I started a web site to document the fight.

This section was the core of my web page during the Great HOV War, and I will keep it around for historical purposes (...for the next time they try to put in HOV lanes). It documents the (long) battle and many of the statements politicians made, along with my rebuttals (...I have since summed up the most common ones in the HOV Myths page).

Basically what this chronology shows is how the government shoved HOV lanes down our throat in 1994, and fought us until John McLaughlin published his first Lanes of Pain column on the front page of the Sunday Star Ledger, 6/21/98. And I'm pleased and proud to have had a small part in the battle (...scroll down to see my picture on the front page of the Star Ledger, 6/23/98). So here it is in chronological order (...starting in earnest from when I got my web site in 1996) the documentary of...

The Great HOV War as it read in the papers

(...I wonder if Ken Burns is interested?)

1994

Rt. 80 HOV opens. (3/7/94).

My 2¢: I wrote my first letter to the editor on 3/25/94. Never published (...it was too long).

1995

My first published letter to the editor (Star Ledger, 1/8/95):

A recent livid contributor wondered why daily commuters are not raving mad about the HOV lane. We are. But what can we, the small group of people who need Rt. 80 from 6 to 9 a.m. eastbound and 3 to 7 p.m. westbound, do about it? As long as government can burden everyone in small enough groups, any given group can't get enough support to do anything about it (unless, of course, government starts losing money as with the luxury boat tax). Look what happened to Florio when he tried to hit everyone all at once.

What angers me most about the HOV is that I am convinced that it does not work. The entire concept depends on inefficiency. "Carpool and get there faster". Why? Because few people use it. Pollution then increases when the bulk of traffic gets bogged in the general lanes. Plus there are several other factors working against the HOV, such as less than desirable traffic mixing, creating dangerous speed differentials between lanes, and even the additional policing it requires slows traffic even further.

So the HOV is not fair and does not work. What can we do about it? Anybody? Anybody?

1996

Rt. 287 HOV opens (in sections during construction). (Sept. 96).

Shower until your skin gets all pruney (DOT ads pushing the new Rt. 287 HOV in the Star Ledger and Daily Record, Sept. 96).

My 2¢: They just don't get it, do they? Isn't the HOV supposed to be an attempt at doing something good for the environment? Yet the DOT promotes wasting water to entice people to car-pool. Brilliant.

Scrap the HOV lanes, and get people on trains (Daily Record, 9/5/96) - State Assemblyman Michael Carroll comments: HOV lanes are a rather typical governmental program; they don't work at great expense while inconveniencing thousands.

My 2¢: Assemblyman Carroll has been one of the only politicians against HOV lanes from the very beginning.

1997

SO FAR, TURNPIKE'S HOV LANES HAVE LOW OCCUPANCY (Star Ledger, 1/19/97) - HOV lanes, added in a $361 million widening project and are limited to vehicles carrying 3 or more persons, are running at barely one-third capacity. The Turnpikes top executive pronounces the lanes a success. The 1.2 miles around interchange 13 in Elizabeth where there was no room to add a lane, the authority simply co-opted the existing left lane of the outer roadway. This happens to be the section of the Turnpike with the most trucks, creating a bottleneck.

My 2¢: If this is proof to Turnpike executives that HOV lanes are a success, how can we trust them on any statement? I can't figure out how a highway that directly charges its drivers for use, can restrict people from parts of it. When you think about it, car-poolers actually even pay less because they carpool.

And another thing, the main argument used by NJ for not being able to remove HOV lanes is that they would have to pay back federal funds. But who paid for the turnpike HOV lane, tolls or federal funds? If it's tolls, then the federal funds argument doesn't hold water. But if it was federal funds, then why do carpoolers riding in the HOV pay tolls?

SPEAK UP IF HOV LANES WERE YOUR IDEA (NY Times, Jan. 97) - Pointed out that even planners admit that HOV lanes don't really ease congestion, except marginally for the relatively few who use them. They (California, 1976) conceded that the idea was punitive, rather than ameliorative, in nature. It also pointed out the frustration of drivers as they watch the cars zip by in the underused HOV, and how they can be brutal to people trying to exit the HOV. Assemblyman Michael Carroll states "I've never seen a single study, not one, which suggest these things encourage one person to get out of a car and get into a van-pool", but concedes that HOV lanes are here to stay until tougher choices are made on providing mass transit.

My 2¢: New Jersey is cracking down on aggressive drivers. Maybe they should do their part to ease frustration and aggravation by getting rid of HOV lanes.

JERSEY CARPOOLS FADING IN REAR-VIEW MIRROR (Star Ledger, 2/23/97) - Stated that 18.3% of the New Jersey commuters carpooled in the early 80's, down to 12.4% by 1990, and only about 8% in 1994. The DOT blames lower fuel prices and NJ's fragmented and spread out suburban development. Rising incomes, lower operating costs, and even more fuel-efficient cars are also cited. The article also pointed out instances of carpools starting and failing.

My 2¢: Money seems to be a bigger influence than saving a few minutes on why people carpool. Besides, carpooling doesn't end up saving time at all, but it's the only incentive HOV lanes promise. Why not try waiving the tolls for carpools on the turnpike instead of adding HOV lanes? ...Yeah, I know - money.

SHOULD WE SCRAP THE HOV LANES ON ROUTE 80? (Daily Record, 4/6/97) -

YES, by State Senator Gordon A. MacInnes. "Tom Kean, the governor of New Jersey in the 1980's who was widely respected by environmentalists, sent me a letter last week, and I quote: 'Congratulations on your position on HOV lanes on Route 80. You're absolutely right!'" Senator MacInnes states HOV lanes cause accidents and pollution, and do not encourage carpooling.

NO, by State Assemblyman Alex DeCroce. "HOV lanes are carrying more people, more efficiently, improving our air quality and enhancing the commute for thousands of motorists every day." He stated that those who call for an end to the I-80 lanes should be prepared to find $87 million to pay back federal money. He adds: "people cause accidents, not HOV lanes". He goes on to blame complexity of road entrances and exits, an increase in volume, a decrease in police, and increases in aggressive drivers and HOV violators.

My 2¢: What surprised me most about this article was how many misstatements Mr. DeCroce, the chairman of the Assembly Transportation and Communications Committee, made. Click here to view the letter I sent Mr. DeCroce. By the way, that was the 3rd letter I sent to Mr. DeCroce. He is the only politician who has never responded to my concerns. How did he get to be chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee anyway?

I've been following the fallout from the above article, and as of 4/26/97, it's 8-0 letters to the editor in favor of Senator MacInnes, plus an additional editorial "MacInnes right to give up on Rt. 80 HOV lanes."

Rt. 287 HOV LANES TO REOPEN JAN. 19 (Daily Record, 11/27/97) - State officials said yesterday that they never considered keeping the HOV lanes open to all cars. That would require the state to pay back $140 million in federal funds.

My 2¢: Incredible. It doesn't matter if the HOV increases aggravation, congestion, pollution, or accidents. The only consideration is the money. Actually, the federal government doesn't offer any incentive to NJ to find out if they work or not.

HEY - find out if HOV lanes are good or bad first. If they harm, then the Fed's are extorting us. Then, as our elected officials, it's your job to go to Washington and fight FOR us, not against us. It is our money, after all. Get it back!

HOV Lane an effective way to reduce congestion and pollution (...and now Bill gets to work on time). (DOT ads pushing the Rt. 287 HOV in the Star Ledger, Daily Record, and on the radio, Dec. 97).

My 2¢: Doesn't the DOT have to abide by the same truth in advertising laws as everyone else? They have no data showing the HOV reduces congestion and pollution. They've even admitted having a study showing they increase congestion, and only mysteriously suggest that it will get better around the year 2003. As for saving time, I carpool and I don't save any time. Carpooling is more like the comic strip Blondie, where the carpool is perpetually waiting for Dagwood. And if anyone actually falls for this "save time" line, they'll most likely abandon their carpool when they find this out.

'LOGICAL' WAY TO SOLVE HOV TRAFFIC GETS SECOND LIFE (Daily Record, 12/3/97) - The state police suggested starting the HOV farther west. Either a new shoulder would have to be built - an expensive proposition, or the state could ask permission to go without a shoulder, which raises safety concerns. Ernest Carnicelli, an engineer from Rockaway, suggests that "maybe it's time for them to be decommissioned", and cites a DOT study which said opening all 4 lanes to all cars would eliminate traffic congestion.

My 2¢: My 'logical' fix would be to temporarily suspend the restrictions and see what happens. It is by far the easiest and cheapest. If NJ could suspend the Rt. 287 HOV until after construction, why not suspend the lanes to see if they are bad. Isn't this a worthy enough cause? Doesn't anyone in government want to know?

1998

HOV lanes reopen as carpooling wanes. LESS ROOM TO RIDE (Daily Record, 1/18/98) - States interest in forming carpools waning - only 85 car & van pools created (...through McRides), down from 175 the year before. Cites difficulties car-poolers face merging from low speed traffic to high speed HOV. Admits ACCIDENTS WENT UP 25% on Rt. 80 in the12 months after the HOV opened. Cites DOT study saying that opening the HOV lanes to all traffic would reduce traffic, but only for a few years. Interviews a car-pooler who admits that he would carpool without the HOV and that he thinks they create congestion (...see, I'm not the only one). Also talks with a commuter who tried to find a carpool through McRides, but could not. He almost did, until they figured out that it would take more time to exit Rt. 80 and form the carpool than any time they'd save in the HOV.

My 2¢: Excellent article. Find it; read it. I love the admission by the DOT that it has a study showing traffic would be better without HOV restrictions, but I'm puzzled why they think it would only be for a few years. Question - what would change in a few years? Is that when people will start carpooling? I have news for you - volume will be worse in a few years regardless of an HOV. If traffic would better now without the HOV, then it will be better in a few years too (...or, at the very least, remove the restrictions and lower congestion for a few years).

Also astounding is the admission that HOV lanes increased accidents by 25% (...this sure as hell can't help our insurance rates). Question: What causes the most horrific, bumper to bumper traffic jams? I think it's accidents. Thus, NJ's flagship congestion project increases traffic jams. Not only have I always suspected this, but there are actually statistics supporting it. Christie appeared SOOO concerned that raising the speed limit to 65 MPH would increase accidents (...yeah, so concerned that she doubled the fines), yet she doesn't seem to care if the HOV makes it more dangerous.

This angers me. It's not like HOV lanes have ANY redeeming factors (...if you think they do, E-mail me and I'll debate it). But now, not only am I in favor of abandoning HOV lanes, but I think someone should be held responsible for the increased accidents.

Rt. 287 Commuter: It's worse than construction. TRAFFIC JAMS RETURN WITH CAR POOL LANE (Daily Record, 1/21/98) - "The drive was going great until they opened the HOV lanes".

My 2¢: My boss came in to work yesterday (1/20) and begged to sign a petition to remove HOV lanes, then ranted and raved for 5 minutes on the evil 287 HOV lane, the 2 accidents he saw, and his commute home. I had to take Rt. 10 home that evening. Traffic was horrible near Rt. 287, as 1010 WINS radio talked about accidents on 287 between Rts. 24 and 10.

HOV: A cheaters paradise (Star Ledger, 4/24/98) - As many as 75% of the motorists were using the Rt. 287 HOV illegally.

My 2¢: Just think how empty the HOV would be without cheaters.

Dead end for HOV's (Daily Record, 5/3/98) - The noble idea of taking cars off the road isn't taking hold. Some cars are carrying 2 or more people, but those may have existed anyway. It's hard to know if very many car pools have been formed as a direct result of HOV lanes.

My 2¢: If you remove HOV restrictions and the percentage of car pools stays the same, then the road will move more cars AND people. NJ has done nothing to try to find out how many car pools have been inspired directly by the HOV.

Death knell for HOV lanes? (Daily Record, 5/3/98) - For the first time, state officials told the public last week that HOV lanes might someday be history on Rt. 80 & 287. They classified Rt. 287 as a disappointment, and admitted they cause traffic jams on Rt. 80. But it may take years, and millions more of our tax dollars trying to make them work before we can get rid of them.

My 2¢: Why do we have to suffer more years of increased aggravation, pollution, and accidents before we can get rid of them? Governor Kean promised he'd remove them from the Parkway, and did in 1982 after he was elected . Were politicians better then?

Feds must approve HOV improvements on Rt. 80 (Daily Record, 5/13/98) - The state must show any changes on are for safety, and not simply to reduce traffic congestion.

My 2¢: Let me get this straight. Federal authorities won't approve funding for Rt. 80 improvements if the intent is to reduce congestion, but they'll approve funding for HOV lanes, which increase congestion. Just when did the government turn against us?

1998 ½

(...the "Lanes of Pain" era)

LANES OF PAIN. Those HOV lanes have got to go (Star Ledger, first of 4 front page columns, 6/21-6/24, plus tons of letters to the editor on 6/24 and 6/28, a reply from DOT Commissioner Haley on 6/28, and McLaughlin's response to that on 7/2) - John McLaughlin pulled no punches bashing these "unmitigated disasters". The HOV lanes looked ridiculous, the readers mad as hell, and NJ says tough it out.

Look Ma, I'm on the front page of the Star Ledger! (6/23/98)

HOV me

My 2¢: 6/21/98. An historic day. This is when the tide turned. If you're fighting HOV lanes somewhere in the USA, find these articles!

There is no way I can do justice to these articles here. Fantastic, especially if you hate HOV lanes (...it brought tears to my eyes; I'm trying to buy the movie rights). If you haven't read them, go to your local library and do so. Excellent job, superb research (...great photo's too).

The Star Ledger received nearly 900 replies to the articles, nearly all anti-HOV. All were forwarded to the DOT.

McLaughlin also urged everyone to write their politicians, which I have been doing. I wrote letters to DOT Assistant Commissioner Stanley Rosenblum and FHWA administrator Dennis Merida challenging the logic they use to defend HOV lanes. Click HERE to read the letter I sent to the DOT & FHWA.

McLaughlin continued the Lanes of Pain series every step of the way to taking down the HOV signs on Nov. 30, 1998. Without him, the fight would probably still be going on (...as it does for many HOV freedom fighters across the USA). Thank you again for being on our side, John McLaughlin, because the politicians don't seem to be anymore.

Expect a high-occupancy lectern on Monday (Star Ledger, 7/11/98) - Several official have accepted invitations to speak at forum about fate of HOV lanes.

My 2¢: My thanks to Rep. Bob Franks, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg for picking up the ball that John McLaughlin got rolling. Click HERE to view my summary of the speakers.

HOV has few friends left (Daily Record, 7/19/98) - Pam Fischer of AAA takes the Daily Record on a ride in the HOV to demonstrate the hazards of merging into the HOV lane. Listed the worst statistics yet for the Rt. 80 HOV - rush hour accidents up 34% in the year after the HOV opened and rear-end collisions up 76% over the same period, when traffic increased by 10%.

Congress lifts Route 287 penalty (Daily Record, 10/9/98) - Congress agreed to let NJ off the hook for the $140 million it cost to build the Rt. 287 HOV. "These HOV lanes are not working and we should not hold commuters hostage to bureaucratic dictates that serve no purpose. Government should admit mistakes when they are made." - Senator Frank Lautenberg.

IT'S THE END OF THE ROAD FOR HOV LANES Whitman will abolish restrictions on Nov. 30. (Star Ledger, 10/22/98) - In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Governor Whitman made it clear that eliminating the lanes "won't put us in violation of EPA standards". The letter says the reviled HOV lanes on Rt. 80 and 287 "do not succeed in alleviating traffic congestion or improving air quality, and their removal is warranted", citing the results of a state study that Rt. 287 failed three nationally recognized criteria for success - their ability to encourage carpooling, a reduce or at least not increase congestion, and to meet a minimum usage threshold. The state further found the lanes create additional safety problems for drivers and make pollution even worse. The Governor decided to send the letter as soon as President Clinton signed spending bills that contain language eliminating the need for NJ to repay the federal government the $240 million it put up to build the lanes.

My 2¢: Victory! Actually, I'll believe it when the signs come down. The Feds are threatening to throw a monkey wrench in the plan, but I heard the only thing that can stop it now is a lawsuit.

A HUGE thank you to Star Ledger columnist John McLaughlin for taking up the cause with his Lanes of Pain series. I've been writing letters to politicians for years thinking they were there to help us. But my answer was summed up in DOT Commissioner John Haley Jr.'s response to McLaughlin: "Stop fanning the flames of peoples anger" (Star Ledger, 6/28/98). Is that what the government really thinks of our concerns? The only ones who fought for us were columnists like McLaughlin. Maybe we should consider privatizing the entire government.

Who's that zooming into the lead? Christie (Star Ledger, 10/23/98) - The Governor not only jumped on the LOV (Low Occupancy Vehicle) bandwagon, she moved up the celebration by nearly a month.

My 2¢: I don't think Whitman has a clue whether the HOV lanes are good or bad, but she knows a good bandwagon when she sees one. Too bad it took years of increased pollution and accidents before politicians listened to what so many commuters were telling them.

Feds to HOV foe Whitman: Not so fast (Daily Record, 10/23/98) - The state.

Uh-oh: EPA draws the line on Route 80 (Star Ledger, 11/18/98) - The federal government may be mounting a conspiracy to ruin LOV (Low Occupancy Vehicle) Day.

Whitman won't allow any HOV roadblocks (Star Ledger, 11/19/98) - She did it. The HOV lanes will be abolished on Rt. 80 regardless of what the federal government says, Gov. Christie Whitman vowed yesterday.

My 2¢: OK, OK, the first good thing she did since the tax cut. I'll won't write her any nasty letters until after the holidays.

HOV's demise cleared by feds (Star Ledger, 11/26/98) - U.S. transportation secretary Rodney Slater decided not to contest removing HOV restrictions from Rt. 80 & 287. At the same time, it removes any threat that Slater's office might seek repayment of $240 million. "The HOV lanes were already punishing NJ drivers," Sen. Frank Lautenberg said yesterday. "It would be wrong to punish the taxpayers as well for this failed experiment."

My 2¢: Apparently the laws on states recovering federal dollars in situations like this are unclear, and the feds don't want to fight NJ and lose and possibly give up considerable leverage over use of highway money. Hey, LET THE STATES DECIDE how to use our tax dollars. It's hard to fight the monolithic, faceless federal government over an HOV lane that only effected a handful of people in Morris County NJ. The feds don't have a clue what happens during the morning commute.

The HOV lanes were removed from Rts. 80 & 287 on November 30, 1998.

...and there was much rejoicing.

But one last thing, just because the politicians "saw the light", don't for a second think they learned anything (...my apologies to the few politicians like Assemblymen Michael Carroll who were against it from the start). Most are against HOV lanes not because they don't work, but because enough people (...and newspapers) started screaming about them.

Don't underestimate their stupidity. Politicians seem doomed to repeat history. Case in point, compare the IT'S THE END OF THE ROAD FOR HOV LANES (Star Ledger, 10/22/98) article above with this one:

1982

HOV lanes reach end of the road (Star Ledger, 6/4/82) - The Garden State Parkway's underused HOV lanes will be eliminated. Governor Thomas Kean decided to scrap the program aimed at increasing carpooling... because it proved ineffective. Transportation Commissioner John Sheridan, who made the final recommendation to the Governor, was more blunt and called the carpooling experiment a mistake. "Our studies indicate that the lanes had no positive effect on the level of carpooling...," he said. The Governor added "the lanes created confusion for some motorists as well as a potential safety hazard...." A DOT researcher added that because only 17 percent of the cars... were using the two HOV lanes, despite efforts to entice more motorists to carpool, the experiment was considered a failure. "Our prime purpose for creating the HOV lanes was to convince people to share rides and thus reduce the number of vehicles..., obviously the HOV lanes were not a sufficient inducement".

Scary, isn't it?

It could have been written about the HOV lanes today. It makes you wonder how we ended up with HOV lanes again.

The worst part is that until McLaughlin's Lanes of Pain series, the DOT held steadfast that the HOV lanes were a success, even though nothing changed between the Parkway in 1982 and Rts.80 & 287 today - Did they carry more vehicles this time around? No. Today, the DOT brags about the Rt. 80 HOV carrying 14% of the vehicles while 17% was a failure in 1982. Do they now induce people to carpool? No. I've acquired 15 DOT vehicle counts (3/94 through 4/97) which do not show any increase. Are they less of a safety hazard? No. The DOT admits that accidents on Rt. 80 went up by 25% in the 12 months after the HOV lanes opened. Have they shown that HOV lanes in any way reduce congestion and pollution? NJ can't have any data showing this because the (Rt. 80) lane opened as an HOV, so they have no idea how it would run without restrictions. The only thing that seems to have changed since the Parkway HOV debacle is the government lowered their standards! (...or just aren't as smart as they used to be.)

And that's why I'm keeping this web site online.