Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

Currently: 102° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

Embracing transportation solutions will ease Las Vegas’ growing pains

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Steve Marcus

Cars use the High Occupancy Vehicle lane on northbound Interstate 15 near Sunset Road Wednesday, May 22, 2019.

The Las Vegas City Council has asked authorities to scale back the hours they’re enforcing the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95. Fine, that’s the council’s prerogative.

But when it comes to its rationale for the request, one element of it is frustrating. As voiced by Councilman Stavros Anthony, it’s that the lanes are pointless because local residents don’t carpool.

“People like to drive in their own cars by themselves to get where they are (going),” Anthony said last week at a council meeting.

Whoa, Councilman. Pull over. Not only do some Las Vegas residents embrace carpooling, but many want to see much greater development of public transportation.

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with discussing whether the HOV lanes should be enforced 24/7 or dialed back to high-traffic times, as the council requested with a resolution offered by Anthony, it’s way out of line to suggest that local residents don’t support efforts to reduce the congestion on our highways and streets.

That’s the purpose of the HOV lanes, which are generally restricted to cars containing two or more people. Exemptions are made for motorcycles, Regional Transportation Commission buses and emergency vehicles.

With the completion of the massive Project Neon highway improvement project, there are now 22 miles of HOV lanes on the 15 and 95. Violations for driving solo in those lanes carry a $250 fine.

Under Anthony’s resolution, enforcement of the lanes would be reduced to 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those were the hours that were previously enforced before the Nevada Department of Transportation switched to 24/7 last month.

NDOT says it’s collecting data on usage of the HOV lanes, but points out that 24/7 enforcement has been adopted in other states and that there are safety considerations involved in reducing enforcement — the more lanes that are available for general traffic, the more lane-changing there’s likely to be and therefore the more chances for collisions.

Therein lies a key point: Anthony and the council are not traffic experts and don’t know the actual consequences of such a decision. That being the case, they should be asking NDOT and the RTC for guidance.

In the big picture, there’s no question that the HOV lanes are good for Las Vegas. With 2.2 million residents and 42 million annual visitors — and both numbers growing steadily — it’s critical for our community to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads.

One essential need is light rail connecting McCarran International Airport to the Strip and eventually North Las Vegas, which would reduce a huge number of cars by providing visitors with an easy way to get up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and would also give workers on the resort corridor a convenient way to get to and from their jobs.

Meanwhile, the Regional Transportation Commission board should reverse the decision it made this past spring to reject a light rail system connecting Maryland Parkway with downtown Las Vegas in favor of a bus rapid transit system.

Without approaches like these, our future will look a lot like the past few years in the valley — constant road construction, constant waits in traffic, constant aggravation. More cars also means more of the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change and increasingly threatening our community in the form of prolonged drought and heightened risk of wildfires.

So contrary to Anthony’s incorrect generalization, Las Vegas doesn’t want to remain stuck in the dark ages of reliance on cars. For proof, look at what happened when the RTC asked the public for its preferences on the Maryland Parkway project — hundreds of residents responded, and 72% expressed support for the light rail option.

This community is hungry for a new approach to our transportation needs. Maybe 24/7 enforcement of HOV lanes isn’t exactly the right answer, but the thinking behind it is precisely what we need.