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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bring Back ZiL Lanes, For Buses

There used to be special lanes on major Moscow boulevards specially reserved for the capacious ZiLs of the Politburo and their chief henchmen. Journey time from the Kremlin to the government dachas was only a matter of distance.


Today, even the government elite have to live with a German adage of the consumer society which translates as, "Before God and in a traffic jam, all men are equal." Mid-1990s Moscow is a city of the probka, the traffic snarl-up.


In the days of shortages -- when if you wanted to buy a car for your children when they came of age, it was wise to put down their names for a Zhiguli at birth -- Moscow was famed for its public transportation. Its metro stations were proletarian palaces. They carry some 9 million passengers a day, the busiest metro system in the world.


Above ground, the creaking old trolley buses still plough on, but more and more slowly. Everyone who now has the money seems to have deserted mass transport for the individual car.


If the growth in car ownership continues at the rate of the last couple of years, Moscow will soon resemble London, where traffic rarely moves faster than a lava flow, and cooling lava at that, or worse still, Bangkok, where traffic rarely seems to move at all.


Doing something about this is much easier said than done.


American cities have tried to encourage car pools -- metropolitan Washington restricts use of certain highways during rush hour to the bureaucratically named "high occupancy vehicles," or HOV, carrying three or more people.


Car pools, as the rest of the world calls HOV, do not work very well. In the end, personal mobility tends to be constrained only by financial factors: Unable to dissuade driving by any other means, cities have started to play with the idea of "road pricing," a fancy way of saying that drivers will be charged for using roads subject to heavy congestion.


The City of London banned all non-essential private traffic after a particularly nasty IRA bomb attack, and inadvertently found it did wonders for local business and mobility.


Moscow has not yet reached this point. Already, however, it could take some first steps. Those old lanes for the Politburo ZiLs need to make a comeback, in the form of some decent bus lanes -- assuming workers can paint the lines over the potholes. The bus stops need to be made clearer.


The city could also profit from installing bicycle lanes. The reduction in traffic and pollution would be beneficial. The only question is whether enough cyclists would be willing to brave the elements -- and Moscow's mean drivers.