This week, after getting a broad background of the tolling project on Highway 101, we got the opportunity to meet Adina, the executive director of Friends of Caltrain. We organized a rough timeline to be able to achieve our final deliverables: education materials to both policymakers and the general public about managed lanes based on a literature review on managed lanes as well as survey and focus group results. Before February 4th, we will comment on and edit the first draft of the survey that Friends of Caltrain has written, read through literature about managed lanes that Adina will send to the team and begin scheduling focus group meetings. After the fourth, we will work to send out surveys, conduct focus groups, collect and consolidate data, and analyze results. We also got a better understanding of the general scope of our project which will involve fine-tuning surveys, sending out an electronic survey, holding several focus groups, and converting results to an accessible format to be published in.
What We Observed and Learned
Highway 101 is infamous for its terrible gridlock, and knowing how tackle congestion in such a car-emphasized design requires taking in all of the stakeholders involved in influencing the transportation system in the Bay Area. This particular highway stretches through many different jurisdictions, and also affects a wide breadth of people. Because we must try to tackle congestion from this diverse perspective, implementing managed lanes on the 101 in San Mateo County is a really complicated issue, especially given the number of organizations with authority over the area, such as Caltrans and San Mateo County, and the diversity of people who use the 101 to travel to a variety of locations.
Furthermore zooming on the issue of highway modification itself, there are plenty of variables to consider, such as tolling, passenger minimum, transit alternatives, and legislation in the way of converting lanes. Changing any of these variables impacts the rest of the system, and of course each change impacts different groups around the Bay differently. For example, different income brackets in the Bay Area use different transit alternatives— low income individuals tend to rely on bus systems more often, but more of the funding in the Bay Area goes to Caltrain. These are the tradeoffs that must be considered when evaluating the efficacy of tolled lanes and transit alternatives. Thus, the survey and focus group research is just one step to ensure that Friends of Caltrain and TransForm arrive at the option that will yield the most benefit for locals and create a less congested Bay Area.
Survey results will help us understand shared pain points that will lend to alternatives beyond simple lane expansion. Managed lanes are one of many potential solutions to driver need. Indeed we expect congestion and related time issues to top the list but convenience may prove influential. For example, lane additions are politically popular but counter-intuitively traffic intensifying. At a cursory glance, drivers appear to value ease of travel. Carpool lanes help reduce this burden but the state of California bars conversion of existing lanes without replacing the net loss of a standard lane.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
It’s exciting to be able to work on a potential solution to a complex problem especially in regard to three pillars of sustainability such as environmental quality, economic vitality, and social equity. In order to do work within promoting sustainability in social equity through tolling, we realize that it is necessary to gain a robust background in managed lanes with a lens on sustainability in environmental quality, economic vitality, and also general project sustainability. After we have the supporting information about managed lanes, it is then when we will be able to be the sounding board and connection between users of the road and policy influencers such as Friends of Caltrain and TransForm. Communication will be key. Communication not only between our team here at Stanford and the two organizations we are partnered with but also between our team and the community members we will be conversing with. Because we will be conducting focus groups sessions from Weeks 5 - 8, we realize that the framing and language of our questions and disseminated information will need to be tailored to our population. Empathetic communication and a robust education on the 101 managed lanes project is how we aim to go forward to effectively and empathetically frame our questions.As the weeks go on, we will be able to iterate on our strategies as we communicate within our team and with our two partner organizations.
In terms of the 101 project itself, we are entertaining the presence of many project difficulties, such as the enforcement of the toll lanes. Even if the funding from tolled lanes is used to fund alternative transit to help low income residents, how do we know that people will know about this alternative transit and actually use it? Furthermore, if this alternative transit is subject to the now higher traffic in other lanes, what are the broader implications of this? As we read up on the literature that Adina will send us and any literature that we may stumble upon in our process, we recognize there will be more questions that pop up, and as Adina told us at our first meeting, we simply need to be accepting of that complexity and ambiguity in searching for solutions to congestion in the Bay Area. As we move forward, it is important to be open to all possible conclusions, and reflect that openness in the surveys and focus groups we hold.