Tag Archives: HOV

Highway 304 HOV lane violations said still to be rampant

The in basket: David Barr writes to say he found a Road Warrior column from 2011 about widespread flouting of the rules in the HOV lanes coming out of Bremerton heading toward Gorst and “sadly I can report that the situation has remained completely unchanged and I believe revisiting this story is warranted.

“A few times a week I leave Bremerton around 4 p.m. when shipyard traffic floods the area, and I consistently see a significant portion of people occupying the HOV lane do so without meeting the requirements of that lane.

“It has to be true that enforcement of the rules during the 3:45-5:30 peak commuting time would only complicate the congestion situation. Can you imagine pulling 30-50 people over in a half an hour in that location?  It would not only be a nightmare for traffic, but also for the safety of the troopers.  Additionally, the state patrol would be likely be exposed to public outcry for making the commute more difficult.  Its a lose-lose for them.

“I can’t help but feel that these conditions contribute to the lawlessness I perceive when it comes to these particular HOV lanes,” David said. “A practical person would simply conclude that it seems unsafe to enforce the rules during these heavy commuting times and this is why daily commuters have little motivation to follow the rules.

“Does the state patrol have any plan to fix this?”

The out basket: I see the same thing when it’s light enough to see into the vehicles passing me in that HOV lane. One recent night when it was raining heavily that wasn’t possible, but the stream of vehicles in the HOV lane was so heavy I had to assume that most were breaking the rules.

Still I could get upset only on principle as their behavior really wasn’t delaying me much. I suspect that that HOV lane was created more to qualify for federal money for the Gateway improvements than to help with traffic.

State Trooper Russ Winger, spokesman for the state patrol here, says, “It is true that enforcement during this time would probably contribute to slower traffic movement. Emergency lights on the shoulder tend to do that. This does not mean our troopers are going to shy away from enforcing the law. Regardless of a driver’s rationale for violating the HOV restriction, it is still illegal. Assuming that we are going to avoid the area and enforcing the law because of ‘public outcry’ is incorrect.

“As to your reader’s question of do we have a plan to ‘fix it,’ no, we do not. The only real ‘fix’ is more lanes and fewer vehicles. Not likely soon.

“Making traffic stops out on the highway is dangerous, period. That comes with our job. Our troopers will continue to enforce the speed and HOV law here when they can and at random times.”

 

HOV lane etiquette and the law

The in basket: Dan Wierman writes, “Today I made a round trip from Bremerton to Seattle and back. My dad was with me and since there were two of us in the car, I chose to drive in the carpool lane on I-5, even thought the traffic was not too heavy. I rarely get the opportunity to drive in the carpool lanes.
“Even driving at or slightly above the speed limit, cars would catch up with us. Some would just go around to the right of us and many would stay on our tail.
“So my questions are:
– Are we bound by the same congestion rules – I believe it (forbids) holding up five cars or more – while driving in the carpool lane?
– Is it considered ‘camping’ if you stay in the carpool lanes like it is if you drive in a left lane without passing cars?
– Any other insights on how to manage driving in carpool lanes?
“I apologize if these questions have previously been brought up,” he said in conclusion.
The out basket: I have addressed this before, but there’s no need to apologize. It’s been over seven years since I dealt with it directly.
It hasn’t been that long since I addressed his second question, though. About a month ago, I quoted State Trooper Russ Winger in saying that the HOV lane is not considered the left lane for enforcement of the law that requires staying out of the left lane unless you’re overtaking and passing other traffic, leaving room for a freeway merger or preparing to turn left.
The “don’t delay five cars or more” law wouldn’t apply to HOV lanes or any multiple-lane highway. It reads, “On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow moving vehicle, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in a line, shall turn off the roadway wherever sufficient area for a safe turn-out exists, in order to permit the vehicles following to proceed.”
Seven years ago, I wrote, “If in the HOV lane next to stop-and-go traffic, it’s not smart to be doing even the speed limit, as one of the crawling cars in the next lane might try to move into your lane at any moment, giving you little or no chance to react. Any driver behind you in such traffic should be grateful to be making steady progress, even if well below the speed limit.
“If all traffic is moving at highway speeds, I usually move out of the HOV lane to avoid frustrating a driver behind me wishing to go faster. But it certainly would be within a driver’s rights to stay put and make the speeder make the lane change. It would probably be just one of many lane changes such a driver will make that trip.”
No experience I’ve had since then would change that advice, except having found double white lines separating some big city HOV lanes from the next lane over. It’s illegal to cross over double white lines into or out of an HOV lane except in the gaps between those lines.
Trooper Winger has his own perspective. Though neither of the laws Dan asked about requires moving out of the HOV lane, “motorists using this lane should consider that one of the purposes of the HOV lane, besides reducing the number of vehicles on the road, is to promote the flow of traffic,” he said. “Stacking vehicles behind you, just because you can, is not a good strategy. It promotes ‘bad feelings’ between motorists which can lead to erratic lane changes and road rage.
“I would suggest that drivers occupying the HOV lanes be aware of their speed and the traffic behind them. Move out of the way and let the vehicles by and then reenter the lane. Be considerate and think about the big picture, which is the safe and efficient flow of traffic,” he said..

Teens challenge mom on common driving issues

The in basket: Tracy Anderbery said in an e-mail, “I have two questions for you.

“As an adult driver I’ve been doing things that my now-driving teens say is illegal but I can’t find the answers to them in the RCW (state law).

“The first is that when I’m pulling out of a driveway onto a four-lane highway or even a busy two-lane road that has a common turn lane, I turn left from the driveway into the common turn lane, stop, and then merge into the right lanes when it’s clear. I don’t drive or travel in this lane.  If I were to wait for all four lanes to be clear, I’d never get out of the driveway.

“Second, when turning right onto Highway 305 from Lincoln Avenue, you have to turn into the carpool lane first during peak hours.  It’s illegal to travel in this lane if you don’t have more than one passenger, but if you wait for the break in the solid white line to merge, you’ll be traveling from one stop light to another in this lane which could mean a ticket.  Can I merge over the solid white line without being ticketed?”

The out basket: I told Tracy that both questions are hard to find answers to in the RCWs and involve gray areas.

The wording of the state law about two-way turn lanes (“set aside for use by vehicles making left turns“) and the state drivers’ manual (“reserved for vehicles making left turns”) make it sound like merging right isn’t allowed, I told her. But in asking law enforcement officers over the 18 years I’ve been writing Road Warrior, only one said the practice is illegal.  All others say it is a legal practice. It’s certainly safer and I do it all the time in heavy traffic.

The law does specifically forbid certain actions (traveling in a two-way turn lane farther than 300 feet, using it to pass cars in the through lane) but merging right is not among them.

As for the Highway 305 question, the white line inquiry is easy. You can legally cross a white line if you are moving into another legal travel lane. You can’t if it takes you into a non-travel lane like the shoulder or the gore areas at freeway ramps (except to stop briefly), and you can’t drive across double white lines.

The gray area here is how long you can stay in the HOV lane during the designated hours to turn right onto or off the highway. Just get out of the HOV lane as quickly as possible.

 

 

24/7 HOV lanes perplex reader

The in basket: Richard Geasland writes, “My question is about the diamond lanes on Highway 16 at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, northbound and southbound.  I have not seen any signs on that stretch denoting times that the diamond lanes are in force. Am I to assume that they are in force 24/7? Other diamond lanes around this area have signs that are around normal commute times.”

The out basket: I’m not sure where Richard has seen diamond (HOV) lanes in the past, but most of the ones I’ve encountered, here and elsewhere  (but not those in Kitsap County) are in effect at all hours of all days.

The HOV lanes on Highway 305 in Poulsbo were introduced with specific hours they were  in effect, and they remain that way. The single HOV lane on Highway 304 coming out of Bremerton was effective 24/7 when built. But it became apparent that congestion outside of the weekday afternoon commute was non-existent and the state made it a general purpose lane except for 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday a year or so ago.

Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic Region public affairs office says, “The 24/7 designation on HOV lanes is still the norm, however on the east side of Lake Washington in King County, several freeways, including I-90, SR 167 and I-405, have variable HOV hours.  All I-5 HOV lanes are 24/7, and at the moment so are all SR 16 HOV lanes.”

Tolls for use of the HOV lanes account for the variable hours on some of the highways she cited.

“Traffic engineers look at a variety of elements when determining whether to relax the restriction, and once the projects in the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program build HOV lanes through Tacoma they’ll take another look,” she said.

Driver unimpressed with 3-304 merge proposals

The in basket: David McCloskey e-mailed to ask and comment about a state Department of Transportation study of ways to make traffic flow more smoothly west of Bremerton on the way to Gorst, including consultant work by the Parametrix company

 “Why did WSDOT spend $500,000 to use the Parametrix company instead of their own highly skilled engineers? he began, then addressed the preliminary suggestions announced in May and added his own.

“Five of the suggestions most likely will not work, just forcing the traffic backup more towards Gorst,” he said. . “My fix would be to place a metering light at the Auto Center Way exit and make Highway 3 two lanes all the way through. Get rid of the 304 HOV lane in front of the ship yard (1% usage at 3-6pm).

“Spending this money was HOGWASH, with no improvements seen till next year. We need a resolve now. I have driven this route for five years already. The highway speeds reduce to 5 mph.” 

Except for one, those preliminary recommendations are limited to modifying the existing merge by adding lanes where there is room for more and letting both lanes of Highway 3 flow under the Highway 304 overpass,

The other one would create a third lane from the interchange all the way to Gorst, which would entail cutting into the rock cliffs that line the highway now.

A state Web site says a workshop will be held this summer to choose one of the options as the best.

I passed David’s comments on to the state and asked if the third lane alternative doesn’t stand out as far and away the most expensive. It’s been proposed off and on for decades, without ever going forward.

I also asked if the workshop has been scheduled.

The out basket: Claudia Bingham-Baker of WSDOT’s Olympic Region, replied, “We do plan to hold a workshop in August, in which the stakeholders involved in the SR 3/SR 304 study will be presented the study results, including the various options being considered.  The stakeholder committee and WSDOT together will determine which option becomes the preferred alternative.

“Once the preferred alternative is identified, WSDOT will hold a public meeting to share that alternative with the public.  Neither meeting has been scheduled yet.”

David’s comments will be added to others received since the list of possible options came out, for the stakeholders’ consideration, she said.

“Cutting into the rock face adjacent to the highway to make room for the lane “(would make) that option an expensive one indeed,” Claudia said.  “Whether it would be the ‘most’ expensive option depends on what other ideas the stakeholder committee may come up with.

 “Mr. McCloskey claimed that WSDOT paid the consultant Parametrix $500,000 for the SR 3/SR 304 study rather than using their own ‘highly skilled engineers.’  We, in fact, paid Parametrix $43,000 for specialized traffic modeling services needed for the study, and we picked up the analysis process from there.  We’d like to thank Mr. McCloskey for recognizing that our engineers are highly skilled.

“Mr. McCloskey mentioned ramp meters (already being considered), making SR 3 two lanes all the way to Gorst (included in several options being studied), and getting rid of the SR 304 HOV lane (we’re looking at potential impacts of converting the HOV lane to general-purpose).

“We sympathize with drivers’ frustration that studies take a long time and design and construction of a permanent fix takes even longer. All the while, we know that people just want to get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time.

“The purpose of the study is to identify a fix that will work not only now, but at least 20 years into the future. Even once we identify that preferred alternative, no 3-304 merge preoposals or construction funds are currently identified for the work. Until that time, we can only offer up behavioral solutions – adjust work hours to avoid peak commute times, share the ride so he can use that HOV lane, and pack patience.”

Spotting the HOV lane violator

The in basket: I’ve always wondered how police officers manage to enforce HOV lane rules, with tinted windows on many cars obscuring who’s inside and a law the makes someone lying down in the back seat or even an infant in a car seat a valid second passenger.

Out of curiosity, I watch the Highway 304 HOV lanes coming out of Bremerton when I’m there at rush hour, viewing from the next lane over. It affords me a view of the two front seats of any vehicle coming up from behind me, as windshield tinting is rarely as dark as side window tinting. Even that requires taking my eyes off the car in front of me briefly, always a risky thing to do in bumper to bumper traffic.

One recent afternoon, I saw a state trooper parked on the southbound shoulder of 304 and figured he was watching for speeders in the outside lane anxious to get out of town toward Silverdale, or to get ahead of traffic and cut in closer to the merge with Highway 3.

I turned my attention back to the HOV lane and noticed an expensive gold-colored hard-top sports car with only the driver visible, using that lane.

He was far from the only one, but the car gave the impression of a driver who’s used to doing things his way. I profiled him, I suppose.

When I got across the bridge over Highway 3, there was the sports car on the shoulder with a trooper leaning in the window, the emergency lights flashing on the patrol car stopped behind them.

Was it a tandem HOV lane enforcement by two officers?, I asked Trooper /Russ Winger, spokesman for the local patrol detachment.

The out basket: Russ wasn’t certain, but said, “Our officers do work together in tandem and multiples on occasion. In that particular location troopers can keep an eye out for speeders as well as seat belt and HOV violations. We have radios that allow us to communicate violations and vehicles to other troopers when it would otherwise be difficult, due to traffic, for the observing officer to safely overtake the vehicle and stop it.”

It’s easy to rationalize using the HOV lane when one is alone in one’s car. The lanes’ purpose is to make a long-term impression that you can get through faster if you car-pool or take the bus, reducing traffic and demand for more lanes over time.

But at that given moment, an HOV scofflaw can tell himself  he’s taking his vehicle out of the backup in the general purpose lanes, making things a little better.

The slim chance that I might get caught and have to pay the hefty HOV violation fine is enough to keep me out of them when I’m alone in my car, though.

 

Poulsbo’s 305 HOV lanes deemed effective

The in basket: Some months ago, a reader told me she believed the timing of the traffic signals on Highway 305 through Poulsbo was to be reviewed at some point after completion of its widening project and the establishment of the HOV lanes.

The Poulsbo City Council has opted for fairly long red light wait times on the side streets to keep the through movements flowing.

I didn’t recall ever hearing of such a planned review of the signal timing, but did report back then that the unorthodox placing of the HOV lanes on the outside rather than against the center barrier was to be reviewed at some point – five years after they opened, as I recall.

The outside lane was chosen to be the HOV lanes to make it easier for transit buses to get to and from the roadside to pick up and discharge passengers.

I asked Andrzej L. Kasiniak, Poulsbo city engineer, what he recalled. And I asked Olympic Region officials for the state Department of Transportation if the HOV lane review had ever been done.

The out basket: Andrzej said he was unaware of a council pledge to review the signal timing at a particular time.

Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olympic Region, replied, “While no formal study was done, we did look at the numbers and types of collisions that occurred within the limits of the HOV lane and the numbers and types of complaints we received about the lane, especially over the last five years.

“An informal before-and-after study showed a drop in collisions of about a third throughout the corridor. “Similarly, while there were a handful of complaints soon after the lane was constructed, there have been a very small number in the last five years.  From this, we feel the HOV lanes are working fine and plan no further study.”

Right turns and the Poulsbo HOV lanes

The in basket: Michael Schuyler read the recent Road Warrior column about it’s being illegal to turn right out of Charleston Beach Drive in Bremerton directly into the Highway 304 HOV lane and asked on the Road Warrior blog at kitsapsun.com, “OK. Let’s say you are alone turning right onto a highway where the HOV lane is the right lane, such as SR 305 through Poulsbo. Let’s just say traffic is also heavy at the time.

“If you turn right into the HOV lane you are using the lane illegally. If you turn into the inside lane, you violate the “turn into the nearest lane” rule.

“Will the WSP give you some slack here, or will they cite you for not moving over immediately?” he asked.

The out basket: When that HOV lane opened, the official answer to Michael’s question was kind of vague, saying that turning right into the lane was permissible for a single occupant vehicle if it moved quickly to the general purpose lane. Likewise, moving into the HOV lane was OK to prepare for a right turn off of the highway if you did it right before the turn.

The official advice hasn’t changed. State Trooper Russ Winger says, “He should turn into the closest lane, even if it is the HOV lane. That is not an illegal use of the HOV lane. If not allowed to be in the HOV lane by restriction, move to the other lane as soon as practical.”

If I’m ever in a situation where I take that advice, I’d be careful not to pass any cars in the general purpose lane before moving over, signaling and moving over when a break in traffic appears.

Right turn to SR304 HOV lane not legal

The in basket: I found myself in afternoon rush hour traffic leaving Bremerton on Highway 304 the other day and saw a maneuver I was quite sure is illegal.
The driver of a pickup truck coming out of Charleston Beach Road and wanting to use the HOV lane made the right turn directly from the side road into the HOV lane, crossing the flow of left turners coming out of the shipyard. The driver used a temporary gap in that flow, so there was no close call.
Surely, I asked State Trooper Russ Winger, spokesmen for the State Patrol here, the presence of the HOV lane doesn’t nullify the rule of the road saying drivers turning onto a street or highway must enter the closest available lane of the thoroughfare being entered, does it?
That usually means left turners must enter the inside lane and right turners must enter the outside lane.
The legal way to get to the HOV lane from Charleston Beach Road, it seemed to me, is to turn into the outside lane and move left in two movements, while signaling.
The out basket: Yes, said Russ, the pickup truck driver violated two laws, the one requiring use of the closest lane and the one requiring a signal for at least 100 feet before changing lanes.
“The act of turning, say, right at an intersection and immediately changing lanes – just completing the turn to the left lane – would be violating signal law as you could not possibly have signaled for 100 feet,” Russ said. When there are two adjoining turn lanes, though, the turning driver must head for the corresponding lane on the street being entered, not necessarily the closest one.
In traffic enforcement, Russ added, “I try to use good judgment when I see that and ask was it unsafe. You could plant yourself at such an intersection and see this movement hundreds or more times on any given day.”

HOV lanes aren’t ‘left lanes’

The in basket: Now that the state has decided the HOV lanes leading out of Bremerton on Highway 304 can be opened to all vehicles except between 3 and 6 p.m. on weekdays, I found myself wondering if the standing rule that one must stay out the left lane except to pass applies to those lanes when the HOV restriction is not in effect.  So I asked.

The out basket: Trooper Russ Winger of the Bremerton detachment replied that the laws says “a high occupancy vehicle lane is not considered the left-hand lane of a roadway. The (state) shall adopt rules specifying (a) those circumstances where it is permissible for other vehicles to use the left lane in case of emergency or to facilitate the orderly flow of traffic (i.e.. time restrictions for two or more occupants only), and (b) those segments of limited access roadway to be exempt from this subsection due to operational characteristics of the roadway”.

“So,” Russ said, ” as that law reads, the HOV lane is not considered a ‘left lane’ and as such, not subject to RCW 46.61.100 ,” which says, among other things, “It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic.”