Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Loooooong Stoplights, No Thru Traffic, Highway Info Signs + More

January 7, 2013 14:00 pm · 14 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 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

COMMUTER: Janis Mara, can you use your traffic connections to have the traffic light gurus look at High School and East streets in Concord? If one is turning left off High School onto East Street, it takes a million lifetimes for the light to change.

I will pull up, sit and wait. In about two minutes I then back up, and pull forward and sit. If the light doesn’t change in 3-4 minutes I repeat this maneuver.


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Here’s the scoop: In a democracy, majority rules, and never was this truer than on the road. Main streets take priority over side streets, because more people travel them. Extra time is usually given to the main street, and East Street is the main street here. Hence, alas, your wait at the light coming from the side street is longer.

Ray Kuzbari, awesome transportation manager for the City of Concord, told the Jammer that the lights on East Street are coordinated on weekdays during commute hours and midday, and also at certain times on the weekend. This is so the many people traveling on East Street don’t have to stop at every light, but it probably adds to your frustration coming from the side street.

Finally, you are burning a whole lot o’ gas by backing up and pulling forward multiple times. Kuzbari confirmed that it’s not going to make the light change any faster. (It is, of course, preferable to throwing a well-aimed rock at the light.) You might just have to give up on the left turn and do what motorcyclists do when their vehicles fail to make the signal change: Turn right, then make a U-turn further down.

COMMUTER: Why is there a sign at the left-hand fork of the Orinda exit ramp on westbound Highway 24 saying “No through Traffic?”

–Call Me Curious

TRAFFIC JAMMER: The jammer initially responded to this by saying she had heard a rumor that the exit once accommodated buses. Ken Harrison, a former Pleasant Hill schoolteacher and resident, supplied the full story:

“At some point after the Sacramento Northern Railway passenger service was discontinued in 1940, passenger carriage along its route was carried out by Greyhound. I believe that service continued until BART was opened. So yes, the lane was reserved for busses, which I occasionally rode,” Harrison, who now lives in Alameda, told the Jammer.

COMMUTER: Why do the highway information signs displaying the times to San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley display the incorrect information in the mornings? This morning, like many others, I passed a highway information sign on Interstate 580 that said my commute to SF was only 35 minutes long.

In reality, it was 75 minutes, factoring in toll/bridge time. With all the technology and road sensors they should be able to provide accurate, up-to-date information. If they can’t, what’s the benefit of posting a message at all?

–Just Wondering

TRAFFIC JAMMER: JW, you are not the only person who has asked the Jammer this question. You are perhaps too kind to say, “in the mornings.” If there are any Claycordians who have found these signs to be accurate at any time, please do share your story.

With that in mind, and knowing that Claycordians like detail, the Jammer is sharing the response she got to this question from Caltrans spokesman Allyn Amsk in its entirety.

For those of you who aren’t as eager to read all the details, it appears that one of the big reasons for the difference is that the travel times for certain segments, including the westbound Bay Bridge, is based on FasTrak transponders. So, if you don’t have a FasTrak tag, it will take longer for you than the time on the sign.

Here’s the long answer:

From the description provided by your reader, this sign is located on westbound Interstate 580 at Chetwood (between Grand Avenue and Harrison Street in Oakland). The travel time represents the calculated travel time at the current time the message is posted.  The Department of Transportation does not predict or project the future travel time.  As the reader noted, for a travel distance of 35 minutes away, a lot of things can affect the actual traveling time of the motorist.  For example, traffic accidents or other unforeseen incidents can quickly increase the travel time a motorist experiences.

Another source of difference in travel time is the potential delay at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza.  The travel time for this segment of roadway is done primarily with the FasTrak electronic toll tags.  A large number of the FasTrak users are in High Occupancy Vehicle carpools which do not stop in the toll plaza and have a direct access to the bridge without stopping. The delay at the toll plaza may not be representative for motorists who do not use the HOV lane but use the cash line instead.

Our signs are connected to our Travel Time Server via cellular modems. If we lose communication, the sign will remain on with the same message until it receives the next good communication.  A field visit is usually required to diagnose this problem.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by 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

Traffic Jammin’ is brought to you by Lehmer’s Concord Buick GMC. Step up to your next GMC. GMC Truck Month is Happening Now!

1 Dragon January 7, 2013 at 2:20 PM

I actually have found the estimated time signs to be quite accurate. I used to travel for my job quite a bit, and the time to San Francisco and to SFO on various signs and all times of the day and night has been surprisingly accurate.

I wouldn’t necessarily count on making an airplane based on the given times, but that’s more because anything can happen between my house and the SFO Long Term lot and I’d rather hang out at the terminal than be late due to a traffic accident that I didn’t know about.

2 Lyle Burks January 7, 2013 at 2:54 PM

Your Majesty,

There is a second part to the reason for “no through traffic” on the Orinda exit. As traffic volumes increased on 24, commuters being smart, found that they could pass a LOT of cars backed up on 24 heading up the hill to Oakland by using the off ramp/on ramp combo. As they do further up toward the tunnel now, they would “exit” to Orinda and “re-enter” 24 via the onramp. I believe that CHP requested that sign to stop the “through” traffic from using the ramp as an extra lane.

Motorists were also making the same movement on the eastbound off to Port Chicago. CHP put an end to that with the same “no through traffic” signs.

3 Cowellian January 7, 2013 at 3:31 PM

I don’t understand why anyone in the Bay Area wouldn’t get a FasTrak. It makes a big difference at any of the bridges, but especially the Benicia bridge.

It never bothered me that some people didn’t have the sense to get a FasTrak transponder, as long as they stayed in their own lanes. But people who stop dead in the FasTrak waiting for someone to let them back into the cash lane should have their licenses permanently revoked and their cars impounded.

4 ptpauly January 7, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Yes CHP had the signs put up but it hasn’t stopped people from doing it. See it all the time. Even seen the CHP stopping and ticketing some of the violators.

5 Jerk January 7, 2013 at 4:17 PM

LQQK around and if it’s safe to do so – Just go through the Stale light, it’s the cities fault and they need to get on the ball before people start to fight getting a “red” aka DUMB Light ticket.

About Hwy 24, I won’t mention Wilder Rd exit that ALL the YUPPIES use to gain a 3 car advantage! Yeah! It’s already been addressed & discussed here. It too will be coming to an end when those High Dollar homes in the Canyon become occupied.

6 No through means you must exit! January 7, 2013 at 8:52 PM

I received a moving violation for taking the Orinda exit but not exiting to either the north or south ramps. I instead tried to re-enter the freeway, as SO MANY OF US DO OR HAVE, and was pulled over for not obeying the “no through traffic” sign. Therefore I must believe that is the only intention of those two signs (yes there are two, one on each side if the lane). Lessened learned and haven’t done it since. I see many do this and often see the CHP waiting for these people just ahead of the ramp to ticket them.

However there is a bus stop in between the two exits; whether it is still in use is another story.

7 Connie Dobbs January 7, 2013 at 10:06 PM

#6 I bet that bus stop is in use during the Shakespeare festival.

8 J. January 8, 2013 at 2:54 AM

Two-minutes is a loooooooooong light. Excruciatingly long. Four minutes would be a ball buster.

9 skippy January 8, 2013 at 9:57 AM

@Jerk, it also won’t be necessary once the 4th bore opens.

10 Brian January 8, 2013 at 11:32 AM

I won’t lie, I use the Wilder Rd. exit to merge back onto the freeway. Yes, I’m sure it isn’t the best practice, and I do feel bad about it. But I save 5-10 minutes each time doing it. Not that time means a whole heck of a lot, but stop and go on a hill does use more gas, so that’s where I try to save. A small amount? Certainly. But I do drive a lot every week, so any savings is welcomed.

11 Parsnip January 8, 2013 at 8:25 PM

Driving to work this morning I approached a stop sign at the same time a jogger, running with his dog, approached a sign on the opposite side. The jogger extended his right arm to let me know that he would be turning to the right.

That guy really won my respect, and definitely earned the right-of-way with me. I have never had a jogger or pedestrian clue me in as to what their plan was or what direction they intended to continue.

12 Traffic Jammer January 8, 2013 at 9:30 PM

@Lyle, good point! And as you doubtless know, it’s not illegal unless there is a sign or some other prohibition!

@Parsnip, that’s a great story, and I agree – way cool of the jogger to have done that!

@No through means you must exit, many times I’ve taken that exit when I was headed from Walnut Creek to Richmond, and have seen CHP cruisers waiting to nab someone!

@Jerk, what are those High Dollar homes in the Canyon?

13 J. January 8, 2013 at 10:07 PM

I’m not The Jerk, but the “High Dollar homes in the Canyon” are up Wilder, between Wilder and Moraga.

14 Traffic Jammer January 9, 2013 at 12:51 PM

I am most beholden to you,@J. Thanks!

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