Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Hazardous Driving, Merging on the Freeway, Uniform Dating + More

July 29, 2013 14:00 pm · 40 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:  I noticed that the traffic light at Willow Pass and Parkside (in Concord) was flashing red all day Sunday due to some malfunction. This dramatically reduced the amount of speeding and hazardous driving that is so common on Willow Pass when it isn’t busy. I wonder if it would make sense to set all the lights on Willow Pass east of downtown to flash red except during commute hours.


TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer can see some sense in this, Winston, but when she ran it by Concord Traffic Czar Ray Kuzbari, Champion of Drivers and Pedestrians, he shot it down immediately.

“It’s not safe for pedestrians,” Kuzbari said. “We have crosswalks at these signal intersections. Pedestrians can push the button to make the light change so they can cross safely on a red light. It would not be safe for pedestrians to cross if the lights were flashing red.”

COMMUTER:  I am being driven to the brink of madness by drivers who try to merge onto the freeway at 40 mph. I like to drive in the right-hand lane so I can go 55 and conserve gas, as I’m retired and on a fixed income.

This also means that over and over I am forced to slow down or change lanes to avoid the slow-moving mergers. The part that drives me into a state of near-road rage is that they then floor it and zoom up to 65 or more once they are actually on the freeway.  Why don’t they do that as they merge?

–Road Rage, Here We Come

TRAFFIC JAMMER: RRHWC, the Jammer and all Claycordians feel your pain. If you are beginning to be aggravated to the point of road rage, perhaps it might be best to drive one lane over so the slow mergers don’t aggravate you, at least for a while.

The Jammer guesses that it is timidity that causes drivers to enter the freeway at a slow speed. (Claycordians, what do you think?) Regardless, however, RRHWC, you are 100 percent correct. To quote the California Driver’s Handbook, “Enter the freeway at or near the speed of traffic.” Driving 40 mph during a merge is downright dangerous. As the manual points out, freeway traffic has the right of way. This actually seems weird to the Jammer, since it’s the cars entering the freeway that are most at risk, but nonetheless, that’s how it is.

More tips on merging correctly: After getting your speed up to that of the cars already on the freeway, as you prepare to slide into traffic, check your rear view mirror and your side view mirror, and crank your head around to look over your shoulder.

COMMUTER: On Interstate 80 northbound as you drive into Emeryville and then Berkeley, it seems like the far right lane keeps disappearing and you keep having to merge into traffic. When two lanes merge into one — say the far right lane merges into the lane next to it — who has the right of way?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Disappearing, this question seems to come up regularly for some reason. The last time it was asked with regard to city streets. Regardless, the common sense answer is that the driver who is farther ahead has the right of way.

The way most experienced commuters handle these merging situations is that first the car in one lane merges, then the car in the other lane, alternating back and forth.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: And now, Beloved Claycordians, because the Jammer knows you and our beloved men and women in uniform have a sense of humor, she cannot resist sharing this information with you. A website called sent the Jammer a press release informing her that in a survey of 1,000 people, the California Highway Patrol’s uniforms were dated the No. 1 most stylish in the land.

“We’d hazard a guess that it has something to do with the shades of azure blue seen on their ties, badge and the stripes running down their pants,” the press release breathlessly opined. Texas, New York, Florida and Massachusetts were the four runners-up, in that order. So, fellow Californians, another reason to be proud! (The Jammer does not in any way endorse, by the way. She just found the award amusing.)

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


1 Cowellian July 29, 2013 at 2:09 PM

If everyone stayed in their own lane until the merge point, and then alternated like Janis described, the merge would be much smoother for everyone. Instead, some people jump into the lane that’s disappearing trying to pass everyone else. Others get out of the lane that’s disappearing as soon as they can, but then try to block others from merging later. Both are road jerks.

2 Dorothy July 29, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Only Highway Patrol uniforms allowed? Seems to me that US Marine dress blues would outshine them all.

3 anonanonagain July 29, 2013 at 2:27 PM

@ Road Rage Here We Come, I believe that this is where all the trouble starts.
Inevitably to try and merge onto the freeway can be intimidating due to the aggression of drivers already on the freeway. Trying to merge safely onto the freeway can be frustrating. Some people increase their speed to keep you from entering ANY lane at all. It sometimes feels like a contest.
Civility at times has gone the wayside and insecure/stressed drivers feel slighted if you merge ahead of them. Obviously this is not the case always, but even when I try and merge at the same speed, someone decides, “oh no you don’t!!” and they act aggressive.

4 z4u2c July 29, 2013 at 2:55 PM

Lets just put it this way, whoever design the merge from 24 to 580 is &%^^%! it looks good from a birds eye view, not a drivers eye view.

5 ClayDen July 29, 2013 at 2:57 PM

@Road Rage

Janis, I think timidity has a lot to do with it. However, a lot of it is just bad drivers that shouldn’t be on the road. Sometimes, you just need to push harder on the right hand pedal, which some people are apparently afraid to do. Just think, if we had reasonable licensing requirements, there would never be any traffic, because a lot of people wouldn’t be driving. Calling it a driver’s license is a joke; it should really be called a transportation appliance operators permit. There should be a mandatory driving class that requires you to demonstrate car control in adverse situations, including recovering from a skid. It’s one thing to say “turn into the skid,” it’s another thing to actually do it and make it a natural reaction. Too many people know how to do only one thing when there is a problem: stand on the brakes. There have been several times where I have completely avoided an accident using the maneuvering capability of my car, and even the accelerator pedal. Sometimes a little trail braking while I maneuvered around the potential accident. More than once, I got a little sideways, but no paint was traded – I was at the speed limit in all cases. The class would probably run 2-3 days minimum and would cost a few hundred dollars, but it would result in increased safety and total costs would be reduced due to fewer accidents and reduced insurance costs. There should be periodic re-testing required where you have to demonstrate that you can actually DRIVE. Driving is a privilege, not a right.

6 Winston July 29, 2013 at 2:59 PM

First, I don’t see how a flashing red which mandates all drivers stop is less safe than a stop sign unless he is suggestingthat drivers won’t stop. Second, how does Kuzbari propose to reduce the number ofcrashes on Willow Pass road, which seems pretty high,especially at 6th?

7 Michelle July 29, 2013 at 2:59 PM

Just drive safely………..

8 Janis Mara July 29, 2013 at 3:08 PM

@Dorothy #2, that’s a good point! Here’s a cool video of Marines marching in their dress blues:

9 Pleasant Jenny July 29, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Totally agree with anonanonagain #3.

Also, it is a common symptom of aging of Jeeps built between ’87 – ’93 to struggle into that 4th gear. But when it does (not fast enough for many of you I am sure) it can sail along quickly with the rest of you. The one I drive is a ’92, the Old PHart has kept it beautiful inside and out. I don’t drive far and actually prefer side streets to the rage of the freeway drivers, so I try not to trigger the ragers whenever possible.

10 BagsFlyFree July 29, 2013 at 3:52 PM

I wouldn’t put Ray on such a high pedestal… This is the same guy who thinks there are street lamps on the CNWS portion of WP driving southbound towards downtown.

Why would we be asking for these much needed lights if they are already there, Doh!

BFF Out!

11 good tax payer money July 29, 2013 at 3:53 PM

What is taking a 100yrs to complete hwy4?? Its ridiculous. Also the speed limit is 65 & if you drive it you can pass the people doing 40!!

12 Smokey July 29, 2013 at 3:54 PM

If you drive 55 on the freeway, you’re holding up more traffic than the people merging at 40. Not even people towing trailers go 55.

13 Clayton Red July 29, 2013 at 4:07 PM

Slower traffic keep right !

14 Why or Why? July 29, 2013 at 4:16 PM

Driving on Galindo from Clayton to Concord Bld and wanting to turn left onto Concord Blvd. If you get a red on Clayton you can see the green on Concord Blvd to turn left. Clayton turns green and by the time you get there Concord Blvd turns red. WTH. You can go further to Willow Pass to turn left and this has the shorter left turn lane which backs up to the traffic lane for those who want to go straight. Why is it that traffic can’t flow from the green on Clayton to the left turn on Concord Blvd with two left turn lanes?

15 Janis Mara July 29, 2013 at 4:19 PM

Ahahahahaha @good taxpayer money #11, you crack me up. Maybe I’ll check in with Caltrans about the Highway 4 work schedule.

16 Grower4ever July 29, 2013 at 4:37 PM


17 Grower4ever July 29, 2013 at 4:38 PM


18 nytemuvr July 29, 2013 at 4:57 PM

Your lucky in one respect for living in CA. In the mid-west some people stop at the end of the onramp to “merge” into traffic.

19 Random Task July 29, 2013 at 5:26 PM

well the reason why 30% of the people on the road can not merge and or drive safely is because the DMV is only interested in fees and not the safety on the roads for past 25 years the DMV has been a laughing stock passing anyone who can make a full and complete stop ……that is all that is required oh that and memorizing a 9 page booklet that is available in every foreign language in the world …yet the signs on the road are English ….hmmm maybe you should be familiar with the language before you are put on the road with a 2200 lb killing machine. Nah just pay your inflated fees and good luck ……….the DMV in several cities has a large rep for passing you just for showing up …….and if you can remember about 25 years ago is when people started the phrase ( road rage ) which consists of motorists being upset that the people around them can not drive safely …..can not merge….have no simple observation skills as to vehicles around them and or behind them and do not move to allow traffic to pass because they are going under the speed limit ….same as 20 years ago when the huge Suv’s came out and soccer moms bought em up without knowing how to use the passenger side mirror …which made them unable to merge safely …which in turn made them get on the freeway and immediately move to the fast lane and sit there blocking all traffic trying to pass legally …… as they went along under the speed limit in the passing lane because they can not control the big engine in the vehicle and are scared of merging traffic because they do not know how to use their passenger mirror. Need more ……….when you pull up to a intersection that has 2 straight lanes that merge after the intersection ( cowell RD.@ Treat Blvd ) and with no other cars in either lane sit in the right lane with the left straight lane open as traffic pull up in the right lane to turn right ….so 4 cars have to wait because a non aware driver botched the awareness rule of… do be courteous and do not block traffic rule so to be courteous to others trying to actually get somewhere ……need more ….the drivers who rdie their brakes and force traffic behind them to brake and cause traffic to slow 5 to 10 mph because they are bad…non courteous …unaware….unsafe drivers inhibiting the flow of traffic which is a law by the way not enforced because drivers should know and move with the flow and not hinder traffic flows. The DMV only cares about money and throws safety out the window …..for us good…aware drivers to navigate around. If the DMV actually made people merge on the freeway to get their license 1/3 of the traffic would be gone…..Dmv lines would shrink and public transit would become profitable and road rage would go the way of the dinosaur(D.riving..I.diots..N.ot …O.bserving …S.afety…A.nd …U.nderstood …..R.oadrules. We all know this will never happen so we are forced to share the road with scared and unaware..unsafe drivers ……….yet we have to wear a seatbelt and helm on motorcycle ….obviously they know the roads are full of bad drivers who pay their fees ….so they made laws to protect us from them by increasing our chances when they plow into us ……..thanks DEMs/DMV

20 Random Task July 29, 2013 at 5:32 PM

more …you got it ….people will actually go around merges on the freeway trying to skip the long merging line then stop ON THE FREEWAY and put on their blinker so they don’t miss their merge……as well as the 70 plus who was driving along the left shoulder as a lane doing freeway speed ……680 by the way as well as more …..yet fees go up and people pay to have the privilege …yes driving is a privilege ….ask any teen driver and the will say everyone has the RIGHT to drive as long as they pay their fees ………that is wrong yet DMV does it anyways so they can collect more fees

21 Antler July 29, 2013 at 5:59 PM

#14 ~ ~ ~ You describe the problem quite accurately. Meanwhile, what is happening to those of us who have waited first in line at the red light on Concord Bouleverd westbound at the Clayton Road intersection is this: We have waited and we FINALLY get a green light. The next (and nearby) light at Concord Boulevard and East Street turns green for us at almost the same exact time…….but the intervening block is filled with all YOU GUYS who have just turned left off Clayton Road, so we can’t even go on our green light until enough of you have moved out of the way. This light-timing problem has not always been there……maybe only in the last month….is that your recollection as well? Anyway, Janis, please would you fling your body across the tracks for us yet again and see whether you can work miracles? ;-)

22 Janis Mara July 29, 2013 at 6:03 PM

@nytemuvr #18, gaak! Really? That’s terrifying!

#Grower4ever #16, ain’t it the truth!

23 Reality Says... July 29, 2013 at 6:17 PM

People who drive 55 give me road rage…and why is it always the idiots with electric or hybrids? YOU of all people should be able to go 65 with no concern on fuel.

People switching back and forth to pass you creates dangerous situations. Drive the speed limit!

24 Strad July 29, 2013 at 7:22 PM

Speed limits ! What speed limits? Nobody pays any real attention to speed limits. You just follow the traffic flow.

25 Frank July 29, 2013 at 8:17 PM

@14 & 21

These are but a couple of examples of HORRID traffic management all over the city.
The way traffic lights operate is beyond any logic.
When traveling on any major thoroughfare, why can’t there be a smooth flow without having to stop at the next light in line?
It is infuriating to wait, sometimes for a long time, finally get a green light only to have the next one a block up go red just as you arrive. This is often the result of a pedestrian wanting to cross or a vehicle from the side street turning right. Other signals are on a fixed cycle not allowing side street traffic to cross or enter, or will not allow left turns off of the main road onto a side street. never mind that there is NO oncoming traffic in sight!
Why is this behavior allowed??? How about a little coordination? I firmly believe that these conditions are a major frustration for some, judging by the number of red light bandits I see every day. To some, red lights are merely a suggestion.
Vehicle fuel mileage suffers greatly with every unnecessary stop and start. Exhaust pollution levels go up, brake wear increases causing more brake dust to get airborne. Transmission & clutch wear increase unnecessarily.
If the city was truly “Green-Minded” couldn’t it address this problem?
If traffic is computer controlled from Gasoline Alley at the Corp Yard, how hard could it be to increase the overall efficiency of operations with some sharp programming?
So PLEASE, MS. Jammer, throw yourself across those tracks & help Mr. Kuzbari “see the light”.
Thanx for listening to me while I vent my spleen.

26 The Right Way to Merge July 29, 2013 at 9:06 PM

My daughter calls it “The Zipper”.

Very simple to do. You stay in your lane and then file into the single lane going one from each lane.

This way, everyone knows their turn and there are no drivers getting over too soon slowing down that lane or drivers rolling up in the empty lane and merging in at high rates of speed.

Be kind out there people. You’ll still get there.

27 Pleasant Jenny July 29, 2013 at 9:06 PM

@ Strad #24. Agree with you there as well.

28 Ancient Mariner July 29, 2013 at 10:24 PM

Tell “The Zipper” she is correct. You speed up a little, you slow down a little, and you have a flawless merging, with a car from each side going one after another and intermeshing perfectly. I have often thought of merging as a zipper and I try to drive it that way. I wish everybody would. But psychology must be taken into account. There are some people out there who are just stupid and you have to avoid them.

29 nytemuvr July 30, 2013 at 12:35 AM

@Janis Mara #22
Used to be and what I’ve been told it is normal still, but not as prolific. People in New York and the big Eastern city’s haul butt getting on the highway, it’s normal there. Here it gives me a “legal” WOT(wide open throttle) in the old Challenger and bike. A good 10 or 15 seconds is good at my age now, instead of driving like I was 18 and everywhere I’d drive was fast…… sounds like a Cialis commercial.

30 BLINDING sign at Cal State July 30, 2013 at 7:40 AM

Every night at about 11 PM I drive past Cal State at Ayers and YV Road. The sign at the campus entrance is BLINDING..!! Does an educational institution really need a sign that looks like it belongs on some cheesey casino..??

31 Connie Dobbs July 30, 2013 at 8:44 AM

The onramps, being permanent structures, are always in the same place. How about you adjust your driving habits to accommodate the slow mergers. The other drivers do it for your fixed-income 55-mph-driving the-hell-with-the -rest-of-you ass.

32 Antler July 30, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Connie Dobbs at #31 ~ ~ ~ YES!!!

~ ~ ~ There is another aspect to this on-ramp merging scene, and locally I experience it most frequently when trying to enter I-680N from Willow Pass Road and/or trying to enter I-680N from Concord Avenue. Sometimes I am on the ramp and am excellerating rapidly to freeway speed but the driver behind me is doing the same (and is TAILGATING me). So I get up to the merge point and there is a semi truck in the slow lane (where he’s supposed to be), and the other lanes to the trucker’s left also are crowded so that the trucker cannot move over. Sometimes the “up top” run-out for those of us trying to merge is just too short for prevailing conditions, and there is literally NO WAY to merge into the “slow” lane! Several times, I’ve had to pull an evasive maneuver to the shoulder to prevent a collision. The vehicle behind me passed me and could enter the interstate because by then the semi had passed. But the “what ifs” start crashing in on me……i.e. “what if” there had been a convoy of semi’s or just some bratty driver behind the truck in a smaller vehicle but refusing to move left or to slow down? ….which would have meant that the vehicle tail-gating me would have had NO way to have avoided a collision!

Any other drivers out there ever experienced those tummy-churning “what ifs”? ….surely every driver HAS in one situation or another….feeling so weak after a close call that you pull over to the side of the street, put your head down on the steering wheel, and cry a few tears of thanksgiving before you are ready and able to continue driving? Janis, you’re doing such a great job trying to help us change some of the most dangerous locations, etc.. THANK YOU!

Drivers, NEVER tailgate when going up an interstate on-ramp, PLEASE!
Well, let’s just make that “NEVER TAILGATE”.

33 Kirkwood July 30, 2013 at 11:12 AM

I remember when all Concord signals changed to flashing yellow and red or flashing red at midnight. I also remember the sign on inbound Galindo St. @ Clayton Rd. The sign read “Signals set for 31 MPH” That meant that if you drove at 31 MPH you would hit all of the lights green. It worked.

34 Licensing too easy July 30, 2013 at 11:20 AM

I agree with Random. WAY too easy to get a license. Minimal skills test. I trained my kid for a year before she took her test. We did freeways, TONS of parking, parking garages, parallel parking, more freeways, drove in SF, mountain driving up Mt. Diablo (great because of the twisties and bicyclists on the narrow road), navigating from point A to B to C (if you can’t navigate and read signs and maps, what’s the point?) yada yada. So she goes the day for her test. Her test was 5 min long. No parking at all, no freeway. A few turns/stops through a neighborhood and back to DMV and that was it. It wasn’t a skills test whatsoever. I very much overtrained her but I’m glad I did.

35 Mimi (original) July 30, 2013 at 11:59 AM

Merging is tricky and scary for many folks, even those of us who have been driving for years and have experienced both big city and rural knotheads. If everyone on or entering the freeway would just be a little patient and understanding there would be far fewer collisions at on-ramps or freeway intersections (did anyone else see the mess at Hwy 4 West at 680 the other day? Sheesh!) Be chill out there folks!

36 Janis Mara July 30, 2013 at 2:18 PM

Aaaw, @Mimi (original) #35, I like your plea for freeway tolerance!

@Frank #25 and @Antler #21, yes, I will talk to Ray Kuzbari about this!

I just have to memorialize this post by @Connie Dobbs because it is so funny:

Connie Dobbs July 30, 2013 at 8:44 AM
The onramps, being permanent structures, are always in the same place. How about you adjust your driving habits to accommodate the slow mergers. The other drivers do it for your fixed-income 55-mph-driving the-hell-with-the -rest-of-you ass.

37 Connie Dobbs July 30, 2013 at 2:45 PM

Shucks, Janis.

38 nytemuvr July 30, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Janis, you go girl…..

39 Antler July 30, 2013 at 7:57 PM

janis at #36 ~ ~ ~ :-)

40 Joel July 30, 2013 at 8:10 PM

About right of way on freeway on ramps…when towing my travel trailer I drive at 55-60 mph as required by law. We’ve all seen people towing speed, but I also know people who’ve been ticketed for speeding while towing.

That means the #1 lane is full of traffic going 65+ going around me and I cannot enter another lane safely to accommodate slow merging traffic. I can only imagine what happens to big rigs, however they are easier to see by merging drivers than my tow vehicle and 24 foot trailer.

Many merging drivers do not LOOK BEFORE TRYING TO MERGE

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