Letters to the Editor

HOV lanes don't belong in Federal Way

I do not live in Federal Way, but I spend a good deal of my time in your city because of my work. Since I spend a lot of time there, it behooves me to express my view about the recent improvements made to Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street.

This particular intersection is a terrific improvement over what it used to be for so many years, not only aesthetically, but also from a traffic safety standpoint. One of my complaints about traffic signals in Washington is that they are placed overhead, above the traffic lane. If you have ever approached an intersection following a large vehicle (such as an RV or truck trailer), you know that it is impossible to see a traffic light until you are in the intersection. By then, it may have already turned red.

I learned to drive in California, where they religiously place their traffic signals not only over the lanes, but also on the poles that support the beams for the overhead signals. Being able to see those signals on the side of the road when the overhead signals are blocked from view makes an intersection much safer. Federal Way has done this with Pacific Highway and 320th, and I applaud its achievement in straying from the obsolete norm of this state.

Despite the improvements to this intersection, the city has also done something that is highly dangerous for drivers, and that is the installation of HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes on these surface streets. I have tried to see the logic in putting HOV lanes on a busy street in a city, but I see more potential for accidents than safety.

The purpose of a HOV lane is to move vehicles around traffic faster and reward drivers for hauling more than just themselves. I see how these lanes work on freeways with no obstructions. However, where they have placed HOV lanes in Federal Way is asking for trouble. As busy as Pacific Highway South is with its businesses and cross streets, the purpose of a HOV lane is defeated. Incoming traffic from side streets and parking lots into a lane that is intended to move traffic faster and without blockage is as smart as putting speed bumps in that lane. The drivers in the HOV lane have to be constantly on the lookout for incoming traffic, riding their brakes on top of watching for sudden lane changes for those who want to enter the parking lots and side streets.

And that doesn’t even take into account the traffic signals. How are vehicles supposed to move ahead in a HOV lane with a red light? Indeed, the lane that is intended to reduce driver stress in this case propagates it. Additionally, the irregularity of the solid and broken white stripe to indicate when merging into the HOV lane is permissible is too confusing to merit attention. It is ridiculous to expect a driver to follow that line and be concerned about when it’s okay to change lanes, and be attentive to the busy traffic of these two streets.

I strongly support the removal of the HOV lanes on Pacific Highway and 320th before an accident happens –– if one hasn’t already because of the problems I’ve described above. HOV lanes are for freeways, not cities. In Federal Way, they promote a lack of safety and an increase in driver stress that is certainly not needed. The city should make them just regular lanes for all traffic.

Richard Wildhirt


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