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

January 14, 2013 14:00 pm · 29 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

Here’s a West County question that we all can learn something from:

COMMUTER: It takes forever to get across San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito to get to the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station.

Either you have to walk and walk and walk to get to the intersection and press the button at the crosswalk, and even if you risk it and run across the street, there’s several lanes to cross and just a skinny little median strip to wait at if traffic is coming from the other direction.

–Don’t Want to Miss That Train

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Beloved fellow Contra Costan, the Jammer agrees that the configuration of this intersection is far from ideal. The El Cerrito Police Department – a department that has been honored for its outstanding traffic safety efforts – endeavors to do everything possible to keep that area safe. It’s not easy, though, considering how badly it’s designed.

Despite the inconvenience, the Jammer implores you to please take the time to walk to the intersection and cross at the light.

The Number One cause of pedestrian injury is crossing the street in the middle of the block. Motorists aren’t looking out for you, they are moving much faster than you ever can and the odds are against you.

COMMUTER: I was driving down Treat Boulevard early Saturday morning and encountered three cyclists riding abreast, not in single file. Is this legal?

–Brake Jammer

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Ah, Brake Jammer, this is another issue along the lines of lane-splitting. California’s Vehicle Code does not prohibit cyclists from riding abreast. However, while it is not against the law, it’s a bad idea, at least in the Jammer’s opinion. When riding a bicycle or motorcycle, it’s imperative to be constantly on the defensive. Taking up most of a lane – again, when drivers don’t expect you to be there – can be injurious to cyclists’ health.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Last week, a number of Claycordians contributed insights into why there is a sign at the left-hand fork of the Orinda exit ramp on westbound Highway 24 reading, “No Through Traffic.” Lyle Burks, a longtime traffic professional, pointed out that drivers can pass a lot of cars backed up on westbound 24 by using the offramp/onramp combo. He believes the CHP requested the sign to stop through traffic from using the ramp as an extra lane.

This gave rise to the following confession regarding the Wilder exit off 24:

COMMUTER: I won’t lie, I use the Wilder Road 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.

–Wilder Road Exiter

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Well, there are those who say it’s actually fine for you to do what you do, and for folks to use the Orinda offramp/onramp combo as well. They say it actually reduces congestion, because a lane that would otherwise be empty is being used.

The trouble with this argument is that from observation, it seems to the Jammer that the motorists merging back into traffic slow things down. This is similar to those folks who refuse to move over when the yellow signs announcing, “Lane closed in one mile,” show up on Highway 24. If they moved over when traffic was flowing smoothly, it would be easy to fit in. When they wait until traffic is packed tightly, it takes longer.

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 Scooter January 14, 2013 at 2:16 PM

There is an old saying, “When I drive, I hate pedestrians. When I am a pedestrian, I hate drivers. But no matter what, I always hate people on bicycles.” For the most part, folks on bicycles want you to obey the rules and watch out for them but they want a free ride when it comes to rules. Just watch at any stop sign and see how many bicycles actually stop.

2 Stopper? January 14, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Sit at that same stop sign and see how many cars actually stop.

3 Dorothy January 14, 2013 at 5:28 PM

In spite of most of the bicycle riders knowing they are suppose to follow the same rules as a car, except when walking their bike, most of them also just do whatever they want. Anyone on a bike scares me because I don’t know how much skill or road knowledge they have riding their bikes. I never see cops stopping bikes for breaking the laws of the road.

4 Extreme Right Driver January 14, 2013 at 6:29 PM

About that Orinda exit. You can drive past the “No Through Traffic” sign and stick to the right lane but as soon as you see the “Right Lane Must Exit” you have to get over to the left. Once you pass the sign while in the right lane you MUST exit. If you merge left AFTER the sign the CHP will get ya! I learned that first hand form the officer who pulled me over.

5 adingoatemybaby January 14, 2013 at 6:45 PM

I love how Wilder Road Exiter justifies their actions by saying they’re doing the environment a favor. Sure they save fuel but the waste the fuel of countless others as they butt in line. Selfish.

Calling an offramp the equivalent of extra freeway lane is also way off base. Abe Lincoln had it right when he said, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

6 Cowellian January 14, 2013 at 7:11 PM

Traffic merges would be a lot more efficient if everyone would not start changing lanes, but stayed in their own lane until they got to the merge point. Then at the merge point, each lane goes in turn, one car at a time, give one, take one, like a giant zipper.

It’s the constant lane changes and jockeying for position that worsens the back up.

7 Teacher Wannabe January 14, 2013 at 8:24 PM

P***es me off when people do the Wilder on/off. But I laugh when I watch a car in the lane next to me get off, stop at the stop sign, then merge right back where they were. Or better yet, behind me. Most of the time they don’t gain anything.

And to the anti-bike people. Unfortunately a few ruin the reputations of the rest of us. I always obey traffic signs, ride single file , etc. I hate the cars that intentionally swerve close to me just to try to make me crash.

8 Intrigued January 14, 2013 at 9:00 PM

We see so many people merging off and on that Wilder rd. They really don’t gain anything at all-the traffic is so jammed there most of the time during rush hour that they end up way behind us when they get off. We just continue on. lol

9 Riding abreast prohibited January 14, 2013 at 10:19 PM


Riding abreast is prohibited per VC 21202(a). Bicycles must ride as close to the right hand edge of the road as possible, and in the same direction as traffic. Exceptions are made for passing another bicycle or other vehicle or preparing to make a left hand turn or to avoid hazards. I don’t think riding abreast can be construed as overtaking. Oh yes another exception is if a bicyclist is on a one way roadway, VC 21202(b).

So to answer Brake Jammer’s question, only the bicyclist on the far right would be riding legally, and the other two would be riding illegally. Would a cop write a ticket for that? Well that depends on the cop of course, but I probably would give the bicyclists a warning. Not necessarily a prudent thing to do on a busy street like Treat Blvd. On a quiet residential street with sparse traffic? No big deal in my opinion.

It also has nothing whatsoever to do with lane splitting.

The fact is in 90% of auto vs. bicycle collisions, the bicyclist is at fault. Bicyclists: ride safely, obey the laws, and make yourself visible with lights and bright or reflectorized clothing Drivers: watch out for bicyclists and give them some room.

Leave the technical questions to the traffic cops…

–The Fuzz

10 Orinda exit cheats cause problems for those actually exiting! January 15, 2013 at 6:23 AM

FYI, to say that using the Orinda exit (not talking about Wilder exit here) is no big deal and would be an empty lane otherwise is simply NOT TRUE! for those who actually try to use the exit to go south on moraga way in Orinda, they find themselves stuck for lengthy amounts of time in backed up traffic on the off ramp as the cheats who don’t actually take the exit clog the lane waiting to get back into freeway traffic. This is coupled by the horrific traffic merge taking place by the vehicles trying to get on the freeway from Orinda only to be slowed by the same freeway cheats who have now effectively blocked people from exiting and entering the freeway on that supposed “empty lane”. It is only empty when there is no traffic jam on the freeway because of course at those times, there is no need to use the exit lane as a bypass. However, once the traffic slows on the freeway, the cheats start using the exit lane and before long, the exit is a mess too. So the poster who claims he saves 10-15 minutes must do so because he is one of the first drivers to use the lane when traffic initially backs up, not realizing he is contributing to the eventual problem of a clogged on/ off ramp only minutes after he initiated his own “right” to use a lane he is not supposed to use. If only he could see what hsppens to that exit when prople like him have slready passed it before the ensuing traffic jam! Hopefully he gets a ticket soon!

11 Anon777 January 15, 2013 at 6:27 AM

I agree with Cowellian. I stay in the far left lane and merge in when my lane ends. Since the Traffic Jammer thinks differently, let’s see some REAL traffic studies that show what works, because I’ve only ever heard that fully utilizing ALL lanes is what keeps traffic moving.

12 me January 15, 2013 at 8:25 AM

Riding abreast prohibited…

It is not as simple as you write. Subsection 3 states except “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane”

The substandard width lane is a big issue for many roads in our county. Passing a bicyclist with less than three feet is considered unsafe. This means that the road needs to be able to accommodate a vehicle, a bicycle and at least three feet between the bicyle and the vehicle. Furthermore, if the road condition on the right is in poor shape, has debris, (i.e., has surface hazards), the bicyclist has the right to be further from the right hand side of the road.

Ultimately, I agree that the answer provided by Traffic Jammer was uninformed and misleading.

13 Captain Freeway January 15, 2013 at 8:26 AM

Well now… an overly aggressive, cheating, lane-changing gap-shooter couldn’t care less what the affect is to the drivers around him/her. They just do it because they’re selfish and arrogant. Imagine if everyone frantically flailed to get out of the way of aggressive drivers… let him have their way etc… can you imagine the mayhem. So, drive defensively and don’t be intimidated by the gap-shooters… and please try not to be an aggressive driver yourself. Take care, CF

14 Riding abreast prohibited January 15, 2013 at 8:51 AM

@ me:

Absolutely correct. Subsection 3 just is a common sense provision that allows bicyclists to avoid any road hazards. I just didn’t feel the need to cite it. Point is that Janis was incorrect insofar as saying the riding behavior mentioned in her article is allowed. It isn’t. While she attempts to provide a service to Claycordians by giving out information, usually correctly, sometimes she gets it incorrect.

Riding abreast on a high speed roadway like Treat is not only illegal (for those on the left) it is unsafe and stupid. However it doesn’t mean that drivers shouldn’t give unlawful and stupid bicyclists some space.

–the Fuzz

15 Well.. January 15, 2013 at 9:38 AM

My issue with bikers is being on roads that are to dangerous. There have been several times where I almost hit a biker or an on coming car as I move over to avoid the biker on narrow roads. Coastal roads are no place for bikes. HWY 1 is barely wide enough for for cars.

City streets where the speed limit is 45 is also bad if there is not a dedicated bike lane. Bikes should also not be alowwed on those roads.

As far as gap shooters, I do not give an inch. You want to merge back in? get behind me. You should have just stayed on the freeway.

16 RunnerDope January 15, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Regarding traffic throughput, it’s irrelevant whether the Wilder exit or Orinda bypass is used or not. You could have a hundred lanes through Orinda and it wouldn’t speed up traffic flow one bit. What determines throughput is the rate of cars through the tunnel and all that lane changing and gap shooting doesn’t affect that at all.

17 Cowellian January 15, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Righteous indignation aside, somebody in authority has decided that exit ramp cheaters actually help traffic flow on Highway 242, or they would have shut it down, just like they did on Highway 4 at Port Chicago.

18 Janis Mara January 15, 2013 at 2:32 PM

This is a fascinating thread and I don’t want to interrupt the flow – just wanted to thank all who supplied the correct information regarding riding bicycles abreast! My information came from the California Office of Traffic Safety website. Should have gone directly to the Vehicle Code instead!

@Fuzz, @me and @Riding abreast prohibited, many thanks!

19 Janis Mara January 15, 2013 at 2:34 PM

P.S.: Hey @The Fuzz, sounds to me like you are a law enforcement professional. Any chance you would be willing to send along your contact info to, so I can turn to you for answers from time to time?

20 Captain Freeway January 15, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Those in authority probably will do nothing to prevent exit off-ramp/on-ramp cheaters in Orinda and elsewhere unless people are hurt or property damaged caused. The cost of dealing with it Fortunately there are a lot more reasonable drivers that there are selfish arrogant SOB drivers.

21 Captain Freeway January 15, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Those in authority probably will do nothing to prevent off-ramp/on-ramp cheaters in Orinda and elsewhere due to cost… unless people are hurt or property damaged caused. Fortunately there are a lot more reasonable drivers out there than there are selfish arrogant drivers. So I guess it’s up to us to deal with this… within reason of course. :) While doing so, please be safe out there and try not to be an overly aggressive lane-changing, gap-shooting exit ramp cheater! CF

22 wait for traffic January 15, 2013 at 9:02 PM

Treat has been a bike route for at least forty years now. The only way to ride it is to take up the lane or some queen is going to think it is possible to fit a bicycle and a car where only one fit before.

Why are the local jurisdictions impotent in addressing documented road rage? Maybe they know it gets a pass from Janis.

23 Janis Mara January 16, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Wow, @wait for traffic, I’m honored that you think I am so powerful! I don’t mean to give the impression that I don’t think road rage is important. Could you share a little more? Not sure what road rage incidents you’re thinking of.

24 Riding abreast prohibited January 16, 2013 at 9:16 PM

@ wait for traffic:

Riding abreast and taking up a lane is not only illegal as I stated above, but I would argue insanely arrogant and stupid. Treat Blvd. is designed to move vehicles quickly from one side of the valley to the other, i.e from Walnut Creek to Concord. The speed limits are posted at 35 to 45mph, and vehicles routinely go much faster than that. Bicycles travel much slower of course. A car out of control by an impaired, distracted, or inattentive driver veering into a bicycle at a closing rate of 30 to 40 mph will have devastating and often fatal and tragic consequences for the bicyclist. Thus, bicycles are allowed to ride on the sidewalk on Treat Blvd and also on Ygnacio Valley Rd, another high speed roadway that goes east/west across the valley. There are also many regional trails that bicyclists can use to cross the valley at virtually NO danger from vehicles.

So if you want to insist on using Treat and taking up a lane because you feel some innate right to, go ahead at your risk of peril. I or one of my co-workers along with medical personnel will be there when the unnecessary tragedy happens to pick up the pieces. Like I said before 90% of auto vs. bicycle collisions are the fault of the bicyclist. Ride safely and prudently and enjoy your bicycle and the benefits of exercise. Hopefully you do it with wisdom, humility and respect for others. I wish you no harm and happy trails (maybe you should try those instead–so much more tranquil).

—the Fuzz

25 wait for traffic January 17, 2013 at 9:30 AM

Janis wrote:
> Taking up most of a lane – again, when drivers don’t expect
> you to be there – can be injurious to cyclists’ health.

The Faux Fuzz wrote:
> A car out of control by an impaired, distracted, or inattentive
> driver veering into a bicycle at a closing rate of 30 to 40 mph
> will have devastating and often fatal and tragic consequences
> for the bicyclist.

The only time bicyclists who obey the vehicle code are in danger is when other drivers are out of control or deliberately abusive. That seems to be all of our shared experience. Both of you either seem to, or outright endorse vehicle violence to enforce your extra legal road rules. There we differ.

26 Intrigued January 17, 2013 at 11:12 AM

@wait for traffic
you are right for the most part If the bicyclists obey the vehicle code. Many times they do not signal, deliberately move over in the the lane of on coming cars, don’t stop at stop signs or stop lights, the list can go on and on. And when something happens–they all of a sudden have obeyed all traffic laws. No so. I have been a bicyclist for years; and as a driver, I have had to move just to avoid them. So this works both ways in many different instances.

27 Janis Mara January 17, 2013 at 4:52 PM

@Intrigued, you make a good point! I’ve ridden with a couple of different bicycle clubs in the East Bay and enjoyed it very much. My jaw dropped, however, when I was in Marin County and saw a group of about 15 cyclists deliberately cross against the light at a crowded intersection. A police officer pulled one of them over with his lights ablaze and I cheered silently in my car.

@wait for traffic, my friend, I am so sorry if I gave the impression that I condone violence against cyclists. As I said, I enjoy riding my bicycle and I certainly don’t want to get squashed by a car, nor do I want any other bike riders to get hurt. My apology if my comment seemed to suggest otherwise.

28 wait for traffic January 19, 2013 at 8:16 PM


I hope you can see why I would bristle at the idea that danger befalls lawful bicyclists.

“A common mistake made by law-enforcement officers (and others) is to interpret the requirement to ride “as close as practicable to the right” to mean “as close as possible.”

A high speed, unimproved roadway, like Treat Blvd does not permit safe lane sharing between bicycles and cars.

I will second your observations about bicycle drivers that don’t obey the vehicle code. But what hope do we have of convincing people to follow the vehicle code if they are no safer for it?

29 wait for traffic January 19, 2013 at 8:17 PM

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