Column: Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

March 12, 2012 14:00 pm · 22 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2 p.m. and answers your commuting and transportation questions. Email your questions to

COMMUTER: I have a question about hybrid vehicles being allowed to use the HOV lanes.  I’ve heard that studies show that since July 1st, when hybrids could no longer use the HOV lanes with fewer than three occupants, traffic flow has actually gotten worse in both the regular lanes AND the HOV lanes, because people are illegally moving in and out of them.  Has there been any talk of renewing the HOV stickers for hybrids?

-Ellen S.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Why, yes, Ellen S., indeed there has; but first, let’s quickly cover the basics of your question. As many Claycordians already know, those yellow clean air stickers for hybrids no longer qualify you to drive in the carpool lane with just one occupant. As Ellen S. said, the program ended onJuly 1, 2011, and owners of hybrid vehicles with yellow Clean Air Vehicle decals can’t use theHOV lane solo anymore during rush hour.

Understandably, many of the 85,000 drivers who got Clean Air Vehicle stickers weren’t too thrilled that their perk had been taken away, but lawmakers felt it was time to encourage even cleaner vehicles. Also, advocates for the decision not to extend the program saidHOVlanes had become too crowded.

Then, a study by UC Berkeley researchers suggested that kicking hybrids out of the carpool lane had actually contributed to congestion inCalifornia.

So, yes, Ellen S., this study sparked discussion, at least amongst hybrid owners, of restoring hybrids’HOVlane privileges. At this point, though, legislators and regulatory agencies such as the California Air Resources Board are focusing on the new crop of gas-saving vehicles.

Speaking of which, here’s some news: This week, the Department of Motor Vehicles plans to start handing out the new green stickers that will go to owners of a new Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, or other qualifying cars.

These motorists will be allowed to obtain a sticker and drive with no passengers in the car pool lane. The green stickers are available to the first 40,000 applicants who buy or lease cars that meet the state’s AT PZEV requirements (that’s advanced technology partial zero emission vehicle to you).

Also, white clean air stickers are available to an unlimited number of ILEVs. Examples of these vehicles are 100 percent battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell and natural gas vehicles.

For an exhausting, er, exhaustive list of the vehicles that qualify for single-occupant carpool status, and more information on these programs, visit the air resources board’s site or call the ARB Helpline at (800) 242-4450.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Last week, Claycordians let off steam about drivers on westbound Highway 24 who use the Wilder Road exit to circumvent the backup. These motorists exit the freeway, and then loop back on, having passed other cars that are inching forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Here are excerpts from a couple of responses and an answer from the CHP:

COMMUTER: Westbound Highway 4 at Willow Pass is also a problem spot with people clogging up the side streets, doing the get off/on routine – even though the signage stipulates either right or left at stop sign. Finally, the CHP realized they had a gold mine with people jumping off Highway 4 eastbound at Railroad in Pittsburg and jumping back on. Or westbound Highway 4 at Bailey Road, where the clowns use the right lane (supposed to be for people from Bailey Road merging onto freeway) to pass people.

Bottom line: The police/CHP aren’t going to do anything until someone gets killed or enough people complain.

-Anon II, Claycord

COMMUTER: More problematic are the cheats who take the Orinda exit but instead of exiting to north or south Orinda, they continue straight back onto the freeway (and most likely become the “Wilder Road cheats” at that point). This is clearly prohibited as there are two posted “No Through Traffic” signs on this exit. That is why you see the CHP writing tickets there every so often. … These selfish drivers congest the exit, making it incredibly difficult to take the Orinda South exit as they block the off-ramp trying to sneak back onto the freeway.

-24 Cheats Need to Stay on the Freeway

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Anon II and 24 Cheats made some excellent points with regard to the signs at these exits. There’s not too much the CHP can do unless such signs are posted, Officer Scott Mills explained.

“If there is a black and white regulatory sign that states specifically what it is used for – ‘Right lane must exit,’ for example – we can enforce it if we witness someone using the lane to pass five or six cars and then diving back into traffic,” Officer Mills said. As 24 Cheats pointed out, this is why you sometimes see drivers getting nailed at theOrindaexit, because there’s a sign prohibiting such behavior. Dorothy also mentioned that “cheaters who jump to Highway-4 get caught sometimes by the Concord Police.”

Alas, there is no such sign at the Wilder Road exit. Incidentally, the Traffic Jammer heard a rumor that the Orinda exit once accommodated buses, and that’s why the sign says, “No Through Traffic.” Supposedly, the lane that exits the freeway and then swoops back on again was reserved for buses at one time. Can any Claycordians supply additional information about this?

This wraps it up for today’s column. Be sure to cruise by next Monday at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to


1 PSA March 12, 2012 at 2:25 PM

Kirker Pass North bound bottom of the hill Pittsburg side Sunday afternoons CHP is giving out speeding tickets.

2 Always Right March 12, 2012 at 2:25 PM

The California legislature treats Californians like chumps and serfs. They give 85,000 people the assurance they will have access to HOV lanes if they buy a more expensive car, and then a couple of years later they take it away.

Isn’t that called bait and switch? Isn’t that unethical?

Yet, we continue to elect the same crew to Sacramento. 42 years of one party rule in the legislature… what do you expect? They act like the lords of their kindom and we are their serfs. VOTE THEM OUT.

3 @always right March 12, 2012 at 2:48 PM

It wasn’t a couple of years and it’s about time. The idea is to car pool not make exceptions for some. Now everyone who doesn’t car pool takes the regular lanes. That’s the right thing to do, unless you’er looking for special treatment because, what you own one? you’re disabled? you’er senior, on a fixed income?, you’re ______, (fill it in)

4 JWB March 12, 2012 at 2:53 PM

Always Right were did you get your assurance that the HOV access would be for ever? The law clearly had an expiration. As a matter of fact the white and green stickers are set to expire on January 1, 2015. If you are too dumb to understand that yellow stickers only gave you a limited time access to HOV why do you blame politicans?

5 black man March 12, 2012 at 2:54 PM

I’ll admit it……I drive on the shoulder when Wilder Rd is backed up from Orinda, then I get off Wilder and jump back on. After admitting this, I wont be driving on the shoulder anymore.

6 Grey Hound March 12, 2012 at 3:18 PM

The Greyhound bus commuter service used to use the Orinda exit / onramp to pick up Orinda to San Francisco commuters in the pre-BART days. My dad took the Greyhound from Concord to SF and that was one of the regular stops.

7 Killjoy March 12, 2012 at 3:28 PM

@ Always Right

When those 85,000 stickers were given out, the recipients were informed that it was for a limited time, and that their day in the sun (or carpool lane in this case) was going to come to an end.
It was not bait and switch, nor was it unethical.

However, for many many other reasons, I agree with you that they should be voted out. But that’s a topic for the Politics thread.

8 Chef March 12, 2012 at 3:52 PM

“Ellen S” is pissed she overpayed for a crappy Prius because of a gimmick. Now her almighty sticker is nothing. Just get over it, the politicians and car makers made tons of money through that promotion. Now its time for another run at a few billion dollars from unsuspecting people.

9 Charles-the-cat March 12, 2012 at 4:10 PM

@Chef – with gas over $4 a gallon, nobody who drives a Prius regrets buying one. It’s a nice car. Why so bitter?

10 G March 12, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Turns out chevy volt buyers get a $7,500 tax credit. Average income a volt owner is $175,000 a year. In CA $1,500 in rebates from the state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project for 2012 volt’s. So our government is helping providing green toys for the well to do.

11 Dorothy March 12, 2012 at 5:01 PM

I had one of those yellow stickers and in all the time I had it, I think I used the carpool lane about 4 or 5 times over the years before it expried. I knew when I got it that it had a time limit on it.

On the other hand, I may not get any carpool stickers for getting a new Prius over a year ago but on a round trip to Washingtion (state) and back, I got over 50 mpg average. Not too shabby and certainly not crappy. (Meow)

12 anon March 12, 2012 at 5:09 PM

Nah, Chef is just pissed because his power wagon only gets 8mpg.

So are the people that are driving around in gas guzzlers cool?
I wouldn’t get a Prius to save the planet or gas, but to save money.

13 JWB March 12, 2012 at 5:27 PM

@G one question do you think it would be better for the environement or the amount of oil imported if people with an average income over $175,000 would drive gas guzzlers? Yes, maybe the technology for green cars is still too expensive for low income drivers. But who says over time it might not become more affordable? Why do you think it is wrong for the government to promote green technology? Just because it is too expensive for low income users? Do you think other technology such as computesr, cell phones, naviagion systems were initially priced within the reach of low inocme users? Just wondering?

14 Global Warming March 12, 2012 at 5:39 PM

Were not the HOV lanes to stop global warming? The people using them should be the ones in the big suv’s. They are the ones creating all the pollution and wasting massive amounts of fuel by being stuck in traffic. Let them get where the are going and stop wasting fuel. The hybrid owner can sit in traffic all day and have little to no impact on creating more global warming, they also use very little fuel sitting there. How much road tax does a electric vehicle pay? The suv’s are paying a much greater amount of tax and therefore deserve to use the HOV lanes.

15 TinFoiler March 12, 2012 at 5:44 PM

The Chevy EV-1 went 100 miles on a charge, however the oil companies that want to keep us in the stone age, put an end to that with their monpolies. Not just with oil, yes they also corrupted batteries and made them unavailable.
I’m going to repost what Chris posted in the “Talk about whatever” thread:

Chris March 4, 2012 at 3:18 PM

1) Some folks at Shell Oil Co. wrote “Fuel Economy of the Gasoline Engine” (ISDN 0-470-99132-1); it was published by John Wiley & Sons, New York, in 1977. The Library of Congress (LOC), in September 1990, did not have a copy of this book. It was missing from the files. I bought a copy from Maryland Book Exchange around 1980 after a professor informed me that it was used as an engineering text at the University of West Virginia. On page 42 Shell Oil quotes the President of General Motors, he, in 1929, predicted 80 MPG by 1939. Between pages 221 and 223 Shell writes of their achievements: 49.73 MPG around 1939; 149.95 MPG with a 1947 Studebaker in 1949; 244.35 MPG with a 1959 Fiat 600 in 1968; 376.59 MPG with a 1959 Opel in 1973 (Photographs of the Opel, taken in April/07 are here.) Note the insulation added to the engine, (1,2) heat helps vaporize gasoline.

16 Beacon March 12, 2012 at 7:00 PM

“Then, a study by UC Berkeley researchers suggested that kicking hybrids out of the carpool lane had actually contributed to congestion in California.”

My theory is that all HOV lanes contribute to congestion. The 680 toll lane in Sunol is the biggest waste of taxpayer money in recent history. It cost millions to build and carries very few cars.

17 Beacon March 12, 2012 at 7:03 PM

Also, how about taking a sliver of our highways as designated motorcycle-only lanes? That would eliminate them from weaving between cars and encourage other’s to ride a motorcycle. I would more often, but I’m not competing with cars and truck on the highway.

18 G March 12, 2012 at 7:08 PM

Uniqueness, price point and competition among other things govern how well a product moves. Apple computers were unique and use a non flawed operating system, they earned their selling price and customer loyalty. The volt is just too expensive at least until gas prices are engineered up to European prices. Is almost believable that price of the car has been kept high to discourage average buyers. Difference in amount of advertising for other chevy products vs for the volt until very recently. An weren’t they pretty much forced into building it. Just another example of how screwed up something can become once government gets involved.
Competition from outside the US and what the average citizen is able to pay determines winners. As for the tree huggers I hope the pine sap ruins their expensive yuppie shirts.

19 trafficjammin March 12, 2012 at 10:37 PM

Beacon, your post caught my attention – you are a motorcycle rider, but you do not lane-split? I was under the impression that most motorcyclists are strong proponents of lane-splitting, that is, driving between cars on the freeway, especially when there’s a backup.

Dingdingdingding Grey Hound, take the prize! Thanks for filling in that bit of CoCo County history. So it was the Greyhound bus that stopped at the Orinda exit.

Global Warming, I got a big kick out of your post! It’s hard to argue with your logic!

20 ronanon March 13, 2012 at 10:46 AM

There was or still is a turnout in that section with a bus stop (covered bench).From the days when Gray Hound Bus lines werevtransporting commuters.

21 NoOnePersonCarpools March 14, 2012 at 4:04 PM

I call bullshit on the “traffic got worse after kicking the Hybrids out of the carpool lane” line.

22 TrafficJammer March 15, 2012 at 10:03 PM

ronanon, there’s still a covered bench there? Kewl! I would take the exit and drive past to look for the bench, since I often drive westbound on 24 to the tunnel, but of course it’s prohibited. Will keep my eyes peeled to see if I can spy the bench next time I drive past, though.

Hey there, NoOnePersonCarpools! I did not cruise by yesterday and hence missed your post, so it may be too late to make a response, but I’ll reply just in case.

I’m not asserting that traffic got worse after the hybrids were disallowed from the carpool lane. I really don’t know if it did or not. I was just trying to lay out the basics of the situation for those who hadn’t heard about it.

What I said was, “Then, a study by UC Berkeley researchers suggested that kicking hybrids out of the carpool lane had actually contributed to congestion in California.” That’s what the study suggested, not moi, the Traffic Jammer.

So, in response to your handle, NoOnePersonCarpools – how about motorcyclists? I believe they get to ride in the carpool lane solo. Do you feel they, too, shouldn’t be allowed to do so?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: