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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Smoothing Effect of Carpool Lanes on Freeway Bottlenecks

  • Author(s): Cassidy, Michael J;
  • Jang, Kitae;
  • Daganzo, Carlos F
  • et al.

Real data show that reserving a lane for carpools on congested freeways induces a smoothing effect that is characterized by significantly higher bottleneck discharge flows (capacities) in adjacent lanes. The effect arises because disruptive vehicle lane changing diminishes in the presence of a carpool lane. The effect is reproducible across days and freeway sites: it was observed, without exception, in all cases tested.

Queueing analysis shows that the effect greatly reduces the times spent by people and vehicles in queues. By ignoring the smoothing effect at one of the sites we analyzed, for example, one would predict that its carpool lane increased both the people-hours and the vehicle-hours traveled by well over 300%; when in reality the carpool lane and its attendant smoothing reduced both measures. The effect is so significant, in fact, that even a severely underused carpool lane can in some instances increase a freeway bottleneck’s total discharge flow. This happens for the site we analyzed when carpool demand is as low as 1200 vph. It follows that strategies designed to induce smoothing by other means also hold promise for managing congestion, both for freeways that have carpool lanes and those that do not. Possible strategies of this kind are discussed.

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