Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Traffic Signal Outage, BART Train Operators, Forgetting Your License + Much More

October 7, 2013 14:00 pm · 15 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: The traffic signals at Garvin Avenue and 23rd Street in my Richmond neighborhood were out for, like, weeks. They finally fixed the signals but my question is, that is a busy four-way intersection and what are you supposed to do in that situation? I saw some scary close calls there. Of course, that’s not unusual because people run the north-south lights on 23rd even when they are working.


TRAFFIC JAMMER: It’s good that you shared your question, Frustrated, because from time to time, traffic lights in any city will go down, whether it’s because of the inordinately windy weather we had last week, electricity blackouts or some other reason.

When the traffic signal isn’t working, slow down as you approach the intersection and come to a complete stop when you get there. Pay attention: Are other vehicles approaching the intersection, or already stopped there? If other cars got there first, they get to leave first. Cars leave the intersection in the same order they arrived.

You ask, what if you pulled up at the same time as another car? The car furthest to the right leaves first.

And here’s something nobody ever does, but it’s really a good idea: Pay attention to the body language (so to speak) of the other cars. If one of them is edging slowly into the intersection, even if it’s not their turn, let them go. Better safe than sorry.

This also applies to the red-light runners who seem to be taking over the whole dang county. When you’re at an intersection and the light changes, beloved Claycordians, do not take your life into your hands by hitting the gas for a jackrabbit start. The number of people running red lights is truly scary these days. Look around to see if someone is running the light.

COMMUTER: Please settle an argument I am having with my wife. I maintain that the BART operators do little if anything to operate the trains. She says they stop the trains so the doors are lined up with the black areas inside the yellow squares on the platform. She says they also open the doors. I say no. What’s the deal?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Wondering, in a way, you’re both right. The system automatically lines up the BART trains by the black marks, and opens and closes the doors as well. However, it is possible for the operators to override the system.

COMMUTER: I dashed out to get half-and-half the other day without bothering to grab my license and lo and behold, the police were having one of those sobriety traffic stops near my house. I saw it too late and couldn’t figure out how to drive around it.

Thank goodness, the police let me slide, but it got me to thinking. While I’m going to be more diligent about bringing my wallet and license with me from now on, what happens if I forget it again and the police aren’t as forgiving?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: It is such a great idea, Oopsie, for everybody to memorize their driver’s license number. It’s useful not only if you forget to bring the license with you, but because there are lots of other situations where you may find yourself asked for it.

In answer to your question, the most probable outcome is getting an inexpensive fix-it ticket that would require you to show your current license to a law enforcement officer or the folks at the DMV and get signed off.

COMMUTER: I drove through the FasTrak lane the other day and it didn’t beep. Am I going to get in trouble?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: In general, you’re OK when you go through and for some reason the FasTrak transponder doesn’t get read. As we’ve discussed before in this column, the system will read your license plate and match it up with your FasTrak account on file, or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen.

However, there is a caveat. If your transponder is only beeping from time to time or has completely lost its voice, this means the batteries inside it have probably died. If this happens to you, you need to call the FasTrak service center at 877-BAY-TOLL to swap it for a new one.

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 Dave October 7, 2013 at 4:37 PM

Oopsie – your sign-on says it all.

2 Killjoy October 7, 2013 at 5:28 PM

Speaking of FasTrak…..
I drove across the Bay Bridge on the 14th of Sept. in my small pickup truck.
I didn’t have my transponder with me, but since all my vehicles are listed on my account, I drove through the FasTrak lane anyway knowing they’d take it from my account.

Lo and behold, I sold that truck on Sunday the 15th of Sept. The guy who bought it, lives in Oakland and goes to school in SF every day.
So I logged into my FasTrak account and deleted that vehicle from my account.

The FasTrak system isn’t as fast as I am. I got a toll avoidance notice in the mail. It included a photo of my truck, with the license plate, and an itemized list of the fees I owed.
$5 for the toll, and $25 for the avoidance fine. Yup. $30 for running the toll.

I called the good folks at FasTrak and explained the situation. They said that situation has happened in the past. There are only two ways to solve the issue. Put the truck back on my transponder account (uh uh) or just pay for it with a credit card (the $5, and not the fine).

So, my story ended up okay, but in the future, I know I’m going to try to make sure I have my transponder with me.

3 Dorothy October 7, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Got a cell phone with a camera? Take a picture of you license AND your license plate. Keep them in the cell but also email them to you home email addy and stick them your picture file. I haven’t had to use my license picture but I have found the license plate one handy.

4 JJ October 7, 2013 at 6:31 PM

TRAFFIC JAMMER not sure why you would post incorrect information. But BART Trains if on mainline will not close their doors automatically..

Also the comment of “little if anything” is a slap in the face. The trains do not make and break themselves automatically. The trains do not automatically add cars to themselves and move around the yards or crank the switches.
At the ends of the line the operators are driving the trains. I’m not going to post all the things they do because this would be longer than you obviously you believe.

I will say that the easiest (but potentially dangerous) part of the job would be on mainline, whereas the trains (when in ATO) (Listen to a scanner app for BART) the trains will berth themselves in a platform and open their doors. Operators are responsible for keeping an eye on the road, closing the doors, making sure they are safe as they leave, providing announcements and communications, and other safety duties. A typical “Run” is rarely without “extra” (cranking switches/reopening doors for people, and much more) operator intervention. I’m not going into the yard operators duties..

Anyway, as I know a few operators, and they do much more than even your wife believes.. But those things that get done to run a railroad are behind the scenes which most people are unaware of. It is sad to hear people dog what they do as if they do so very little, are “greedy”, and some even claim they’re “uneducated”, I’ve heard it all. Their training is very intense. I wish you could ask such things to an Operator, rather than to “Claycord” which is very very unfriendly to working class people and have negative views for jobs and duties they are unaware of. I bet if you even asked “Traffic Jammer” directly they would also admit they know nothing of what is done.

5 bluebird October 7, 2013 at 7:20 PM

Oopsie, how did you pay for the half-n-half if you forgot your wallet? I keep my cards, cash and DL in my wallet and when I forget my wallet, I am in trouble.

Can I take a picture of my cash and show it to the cashier? ;)

6 Antler October 7, 2013 at 8:00 PM

I once went neurotic for almost a whole month because I didn’t hear the “beep….beep” when going over the Benicia Bridge. Then the email notice finally came, and I actually had been charged. Bottom line…..don’t fret. Something or other will happen!

7 Teacher Wannabe October 7, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Maybe things have changed, but I did a oopsie once. Had to go to court (take time off work), show my license and pay a county fee, which was around $50 if I recall. Don’t ever remember having a fix it ticket just signed off by an officer.

8 Signal out? October 7, 2013 at 9:54 PM

Just like a 4 way stop sign. VC 21800(d)–also known as a Traffic Cop’s Dream.

9 I'm The Urban Spaceman October 7, 2013 at 11:22 PM

running a red light is nearly $500 bucks…knowledge of the law and the following of same affords one from being hassled by the man.

10 Janis Mara October 8, 2013 at 1:06 AM

@Urban Spaceman #9, ain’t it the truth!

Hey there, @Teacher Wannabe #7 – thanks for sharing your experience! For sure I’ll get back with my sources and ask about what you said. Just wondering, when did this happen?

And @JJ, #4, during a thrilling visit to BART’s Operations Control Center in downtown Oakland, which sorta felt like being on board the Starship Enterprise only more high-tech, the workers there showed me how the trains are computer-controlled. I am not familiar with some of the terms you used like “being on mainline,” so I can’t respond to those comments.

And beloved @Killjoy #2, do I follow your comment correctly and you got it straightened out and did not get dinged for more than you owed? (Though of course there’s your valuable time lost.) If not, I will be happy to talk to the FasTrak peeps on your behalf!

11 Connie Dobbs October 8, 2013 at 9:07 AM

#4 And some of them mange to do all this in their sleep. No wonder they’re too busy to clean up the pee.

12 Janis Mara October 8, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Ahahahahaha @Connie Dobbs!

13 Teacher Wannabe October 8, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Ms. Jammer, it was about 15 years ago in San Diego. As I said, things may have changed, plus different area.

14 jp5air October 8, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Did the City of Concord change the timing of the lights on Monument Boulevard? It’s taking an extremely long time to travel West/SW on Cowell to Contra Costa Boulevard between 7:30 and 8:00 AM. The main culprits seem to be the lights at Carey/Nursery and Mohr Lane. One turns green and the other turns red. Traffic is getting backed up to Erickson Road. I’ve been driving this route to take my kids to school at Sequoia ES/MS for a few years and it seem worse than ever.

15 Janis Mara October 8, 2013 at 3:51 PM

Thanks, @Teacher Wannabe #13 – will check this out for sure!

@jp5air, will check this out as well. Thanks!

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