Our freeway congestion is crazier than the bread lines experienced by Russians towards the end of the Cold War. Similarly, our roadway capacity is a finite resource, yet we have no means for managing the demand. During periods of high demand, people sit in cars, burning fuel, wasting time, and keeping anyone from going anywhere. Could we somehow re-shape traffic so that everyone can get where they need to go without clogging our roads? WSDOT is building Express Toll lanes for thus purpose (with very high overhead costs--see the linked article), but I think we could do better.
Consider the last time you went to a popular restaurant. Did you have a reservation? Or did you have to wait a while for a table? Now imagine a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, yet the crowd extends far beyond its doors. This is what we see on many freeways today, and it’s a big problem. On-ramp meters that limit the flow into the freeway exacerbate this problem, actively shifting the congestion from the freeway to local streets. Backups commonly extend to surface streets, impeding access to local destinations.
Instead, imagine if you could make a freeway reservation, perhaps via a website, SMS, phone call, smartphone app, or even integrated with navigation software--far simpler than making a restaurant reservation. So now you have a reservation. Where do you put your car if it isn’t on the road?
Drivers stuck in traffic often exclaim, “405 is a parking lot!” But this mocking also hints at the solution: cars at rest should be in parking lots, not roads. And there are many grocery stores, coffee shops, malls, churches, schools, and restaurants where parking spots are abundant. The excess vehicles could be diverted to queue in nearby parking lots rather than congesting surface streets. Instead of clogging surface streets and honking horns, drivers could park their car and read a book, grab a snack, sit and chat with others, or just put in a few extra minutes at work. The reservation might suggest a place to park and wait; this provides another revenue opportunity for our transportation system: advertising. Your freeway reservation might even include a coupon for a discount at a nearby shop or cafe where you relax or run some errands while you wait.
But sometimes you can’t wait for a reservation. Maybe you need to pick-up kids from child care before the late fees kick-in, you’re running late to catch a flight, or you absolutely can’t be late for work. In these cases you’d be willing to pay a couple bucks if you could just go now. If you can’t spare any time, you should have the option to pay with your money.
Or maybe you simply forget to get a reservation. If that happens, you’ll be charged the prevailing freeway access fee when you enter the freeway. (If one arrives outside their reservation window, the freeway access fee would be discounted based on the time remaining until the reservation window.)
And if you’re sharing your ride with anyone else (carpool, HOV, bus, rideshare), you get a free pass as a ‘thank you’ for helping increase the capacity of our transportation system.
What if there’s an accident that blocks traffic? People holding reservations could be contacted with an suggestion to postpone their reservation, perhaps including some kind of incentive to encourage them to delay their travel.
With peak hour freeway reservations, tolls, and rideshare incentives, we could convert time wasted in traffic to do something useful while significantly reducing roadway congestion. More time with families, living life, earning money, or connecting with others...and less time and energy wasted behind the steering wheel. Freeway reservations eliminate the need to build and manage dedicated HOV lanes or toll lanes, optimizing freeway capacity for greatest efficiency with minimal initial cost. Recent advancements in communication technology make it easy for drivers to easily request reservations and drastically reduce freeway congestion.