Crusty Logic Christianity & Liberty

The Lane Width Revenue Spigot

This is one I’m surprised I hadn’t found out about earlier

Cities and Counties (not sure about states) have a trick for increasing revenue from speeding tickets when they can’t find enough speeders – increase lane width.

Most of us have known that ticket revenue is a critical part of funding law enforcement.  And this has become even more apparent in recent years with ‘administrative fines’ that are purely a revenue source and have nothing to do with road safety.

This new trick isn’t much different.  Traffic engineers are encouraged to widen road lanes but not raise speed limits accordingly.

Here’s how it works.

The maximum legal width of vehicles is between 8’ and 8.5’.  EG, the widest a semi, bus, or other vehicle can be is about 8’.  The average car is 5’5” wide with the largest consumer vehicle being the Chevy Suburban at 6’7”.

Lane widths are based primarily on the intended speed of the roadway with some consideration given to other factors such as traffic handling capacity, one-way vs two-way, shoulders, parking, and other factors. Throughout most of the industrialized world and historically in the U.S. these widths have been:

< 25mph = 7’ – 8’ lanes

25mph = 8’ lanes

30mph = 9’

35mph = 9.5’

40mph = 10’

45mph = 10.5’

50mph = 11’

> 50mph = 11’ – 12’

Lane width has a significant impact on how fast people drive. The widths above generally result in people driving about the desired speed. Increasing the lane width increases the average speed accordingly.

Combine increased lane width with not raising the speed limit and you have increased opportunity for ticket revenue.

For example, over the past two years the city and county re-stripped four roads by my house that I’ve used nearly every day for about 25 years. These roads previously had lane widths of either 9.5’ (with a 35mph speed limit) or 10’ (with a 40mph speed limit). The 9.5’ lanes were increased to 11’, the 10’ lanes were increased to 11’ and 11.5’.

A couple of months ago I got a ticket for going 45 in a 35 on one of these (what is now a long, straight, flat, wide road). The poor cop wasn’t aware of what he’d gotten himself in to by stopping me. Many questions ensued and, fortunately, he was very nice about it. He told me that they’d never had many complaints of speeding on that road until recently and over the past year he’d found that he could pull people over as fast as he could write tickets.  I asked if this corresponded with the re-stripping and he replied “of course”, like how dumb was I not to know that.

It only took a couple of calls to traffic engineers to confirm this game.

Revenue First, Safety Second

What galls me far more than government using this charade for raising revenue is that it does so at the expense of safety. Prior to the widening of the lanes, drivers stuck pretty close to the desired speed. Me included. Intentionally increasing speeds the way they did also intentionally decreased safety for the people who live along these roads (these are all residential roads). It’s more dangerous for them leaving their driveways or when working in their yards near the roadway.  Not to mention the increase in tire noise created by faster vehicles (an increase from 35mph to 42mph doubles the noise level).

Further, the total pavement width was not changed so the shoulders used by pedestrians and cyclists were decreased by anywhere from 1.5’ to 2’ which made all of these roads much more hazardous for these users.  Shoulders that were 3’ to 5’ are now 1.5’ to 3’. Not a smart move given the significant increase in people riding bikes and walking.

The response from local traffic engineers is that the wider lanes reduce crashes.  There are two problems with this though. First is that no study, of dozens done on this topic, supports this position. Worse, several, three in particular, indicate that widening lanes beyond an appropriate width (see above) increases crashes and decreases safety due to the natural increased speed.  Second is that actual crash data for these roads thus far shows no change in number or severity.

So, less safe for residents, significantly less safe for pedestrians and cyclists, more noise, and no safer for motorists.  But more revenue for the city.


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