That noise you just heard was the collective groan of a legion of solo commuters.
County and regional transit leaders are considering converting one of U.S. Highway 101’s four lanes to a carpool route in San Mateo County.
Carpool lanes — which aim to inspire commuters to ride in groups and thereby take single-occupant vehicles off the road — are ubiquitous on Bay Area freeways. However, 101’s carpool lanes end at Whipple Avenue and don’t pick up again until Marin County.
That could change depending on the results of a $200,000 traffic engineering study that is about to be contracted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the City/County Association of Governments. The study will consider a commuter lane at least up to San Francisco International Airport and perhaps as far north as the San Francisco County line.
While the concept of adding a commuter lane on 101 through San Mateo County has been bounced around for at least a decade, transit planners have been slow to move on the idea largely because there’s no space to add a lane. And while carpool lanes are generally welcomed when it means an extra lane for traffic to move through — as is the case south of Whipple — they become much less popular when it means taking a lane away from other users, City/County Association of Governments Executive Director Richard Napier said.
“It gets very troublesome if you try to do a conversion,” he said. “We’re not talking about doing it; we’re just asking the question, ‘Is it even feasible?’”
The study would consider exactly what the impact on traffic would be and whether that situation would be aided by the addition of a handful of auxiliary lanes — short sections of extra lanes between exits, where there is space.
John Goodwin of the MTC said a carpool lane has been envisioned for this stretch of 101 since at least 2002, when his agency approved a high-occupancy vehicle master plan. At that time, it was proposed between Whipple and SFO. A few years later, when the plan was updated, that concept was extended through the Interstate 280-101 interchange in San Francisco. But by the time the plan was further updated in the past year, it had been scaled back to the airport again.
Christine Maley-Grubl, the executive director of the Peninsula Traffic Relief Alliance, said she thinks a carpool lane “is a great idea,” if 101 can handle the change without inexorably clogging up other lanes. She said the study should be able to determine that. Regardless, Goodwin said the actual change is likely to take time.
“The fact is that any kind of project takes a long time, and the Bay Area is perhaps Example 1 of that universal dictum,” Goodwin said.
348: Miles of carpool lanes in the Bay Area in 2002
800: Miles of carpool lanes in the Bay Area, 2035 goal
20: Miles of carpool lanes being considered on U.S. Highway 101 through San Mateo County