Jewish World Review
March 28, 2000 /21 Adar II, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- FORGET CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM and saving Social Security. The hottest political action these days is on the highway. Across the country, taxpayers are sending an angry message to federal transportation officials:
Take your HOV and shove it!
The revolt against ineffective high-occupancy vehicle lanes first gained momentum in 1998, when New Jersey became the first state to win the right to end car-pool-only rules without paying federal penalties. State government analysts found that the grand social-engineering experiment with HOV lanes failed to encourage car-pooling. Instead, the exclusionary lanes resulted in increased congestion, air pollution, law-breaking, and a greater likelihood of accidents.
N.J. Governor Christie Todd Whitman ditched the diamond lanes on two main highways and opened them to all comers. "We have taken a long, hard look at New Jersey's HOV lanes and concluded that they simply are not producing the results that we all had hoped for," Whitman noted in a letter to federal officials. "Despite an aggressive public relations and marketing campaign, New Jersey was unable to change the driving patterns of motorists using the roads."
Commuters in the Garden State cheered the end of coercive "lanes of pain." Behavior modificationists, who foisted HOV lanes on the nation through the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, vowed to defend their precious painted diamonds to the death. The anti-car crowd howled. Environmentalists cried foul.
But follow-up studies show that air quality in the region where HOVs were decommissioned continue to meet federal requirements.
Elsewhere, the case against government-directed car-pooling keeps getting stronger. A study by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office in California, the birthplace of HOV lanes, concluded in January that a carpool lane carries as many or more people as a regular lane, on average, but that HOV lanes run at only two-thirds of their vehicle capacity.
Recipe for congestion and road rage, anyone?
Tom McClintock, a California state assemblyman, has introduced a bill to scrap HOV lanes. But in the Pacific Northwest, voters aren't waiting for the pols to put an end to HOV hell. A young, grass-roots activist in Washington state is revving up an unprecedented, anti-HOV initiative drive. Tim Eyman, a thirtysomething small businessman from outside Seattle, is gathering signatures for a campaign to throw open all car-pool lanes to all traffic 24 hours a day.
Washington boasts 191 miles of federally-subsidized car-pool lanes - and the third-worst traffic congestion in the nation.
Though he has never held elected office and doesn't plan to, Eyman is a formidable reform maverick and arguably the state's most influential political figure. He led an overwhelmingly successful ballot campaign last year that slashed car-tab fees to $30. Against all odds and special interests on both the left and right, Eyman and his anti-establishment tax revolters gathered more than a half million signatures for that initiative – the second-most in state history without people paid to gather them.
Now, Washington's weak Democratic governor, Gary Locke, is mimicking Eyman's rhetoric and supports a tepid plan to open a few HOV lanes on weekends.
Such half-hearted measures will be flattened like roadkill by Eyman's fellow travelers. In a letter to his local paper, Bill Muse of Seattle voiced the frustration of millions of commuters nationwide who are tired of seeing half-empty HOV lanes treated like holy land: "My tax dollars paid for those lanes and I'm not going to let bureaucrats tell me how many people I have to have in my car before I can drive there."
"HOV lanes are a crock," Muse fumed. "Their goal is not to ease congestion but to make it worse, thereby punishing us for the sin of driving."
Soccer moms and driving dads are fed up with the environmental zealotry,
inflexible central planning, fiscal irresponsibility, and contempt for
personal freedom that gave rise to HOV lanes. Beltway bureaucrats, beware:
If grass-roots initiatives like Eyman's catch on, you won't be in the
driver's seat for
03/22/00: Clinton and the Echo Boomers