The “Diamond” is nobody’s best friend
Want a clean shot on the highways these days? There is one lane that gets little use, but most of us are not permitted to move into it. The so-called “Diamond” lane is pretty much open any time of day or night because it is for motorcycles or cars carrying more than one person in a nation of individuals driving alone to work.
In the last few years, energy efficient vehicles have been afforded use of this coveted lane. When I bought my Prius, I too was one of the commuting elite. Makes sense to include vehicles that are contributing so much to conserving fuels. As great as these vehicles are, they are still too expensive for the masses.
I have to believe that legislators were hoping to change the behavior of single-occupant vehicle users. The obvious goal was for people to carpool to work; hence the Diamond is only in effect on weekdays during prime commute times. Not too many couples work at the same place, so the carpooling is asking people to look around their neighborhoods and their workplaces for sharing rides. As it happens, however, it is very difficult to change behavior.
I have watched the Diamond lanes in my community of over 300 thousand people. These lanes are still almost empty every rush hour, which is when they are designated Diamond. So from 7 to 10 in the morning and 3 to 7 in the evening all traffic must shift right and ignore this extra lane.
I find it tempting to slip into it to get around a traffic backup, but the Highway Patrol is way too generous in giving out pricey tickets for any who trespass. Out of nowhere, there are blue lights flashing and an unwanted tryst occurs in the closest available space.
My husband and I were rare. We have always worked in the same place and been able to carpool. We were able to use the Diamond lane pretty much all of the time, even without owning an energy-efficient vehicle. I lost my travel companion about the same time our state ended the special energy-efficient-vehicle Diamond permits. Double whammy! Sad to say it took the situation of getting personal to draw more than my fleeting annoyance.
We need to realize that we gave it a good run. We tried to encourage carpooling. It isn’t happening. We are too much private individuals. It further complicates our already complex lives. How many of us even know our neighbors or colleagues well enough to see if we could carpool? The problem is that deep.
We can all lament the loss of strong neighborhoods where people are involved in each other’s lives, but we need a more grass-root effort to help people establish community. That’s what would lead to some of us connecting enough to drive to work together.
But in the meantime, which looks like it is going to be for a long time, I would hope we could free up that extra lane and reduce a little bit of the frustration commuters experience. Get people home quicker to their neighborhoods where they can have more time with their families and maybe even with their neighbors? Artificial efforts to coerce people to change behavior do not work. When there is a level of compliance, it tends to be grudging. Change cannot be legislated, but must come from an inner conviction.
Perhaps we could put the “Diamond” funding into helping people connect with their co-workers and neighbors. Most of us are not eager to spend commute time with strangers. Promote buddy programs within the public and private sector. Help us get better connected with those around us. Promote camaraderie and friendships at the workplace and in our neighborhoods.
At any rate, we should keep diamonds only as adornments. As lanes, diamonds are not our friends, best or otherwise.