Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Cameras in the Tunnel, Stuck in Traffic + Much More

January 6, 2014 14:00 pm · 31 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

TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Caldecott Tunnel has been on Claycordians’ minds a lot lately, what with the long-awaited fourth bore opening to great acclaim. Here’s a question that popped up in the comments on a recent column:

COMMUTER: Are there cameras in the other tunnel bores now too? Does that mean no more high RPM engine checks in the tunnels anymore? (For engine tuning changes of course, not hot-rodding).


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Yes, there are cameras in all four bores, nytemuvr. The Jammer checked with her ever-reliable source, Ivy Morrison of Caltrans, and she confirmed that every bore has one.

Meanwhile, that ever-so-prolific poster, Anon, responded to nytemuvr thusly:

COMMUTER: The California Highway Patrol has to catch them doing it– camera will do no good. And yes, people go through there at 100 mph + when they can.


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Intrigued, the Jammer decided to follow up on this comment with the CHP. Here’s Officer Daniel Hill’s response to the assertion that the CHP has to catch peeps speeding through the tunnel in person:

“I am familiar with your column, and have read it many times. I enjoy reading, as it services the area in which I live. I pay particularly close attention to your columns when they concern the CHP, and I am happy to say the information you present is very accurate!

With regard to your question, there is currently no provision of the California Vehicle Code to allow for someone to be cited for an infraction observed solely on video (with the exception of red light violations). This means, essentially, that there should be no place in the state where speed cameras are employed. I say that last part because I have seen signs that allude to “Photo-Radar Enforcement” in certain cities.

Speed enforcement in the tunnels is limited to when an officer actively observes that violation take place. Though the camera system could potentially be used to detect improper or dangerous drivers, the system is currently not set up in that manner.

That being said, the CHP continues to rely on the motoring public to help us detect dangerous or potential DUI drivers on the roadway. If one of your readers observes someone driving in an unsafe manner, or suspects the driver may be under the influence, he or she can report that driver by calling 911. Be sure to take note of the vehicle make, model, color, and license plate if possible, as well as the location and direction of travel.”

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Claycordians are outstanding at community policing, meaning keeping an eye on what goes on in their communities and communicating with law enforcement when appropriate. So keep the CHP officer’s last comment in mind, beloved readers.

COMMUTER: I was stuck in one of the Bay Area’s king-hell traffic jams the other day, and as I was inching forward in my automatic-transmission Toyota, a question occurred to me. Which is worse for the car: keeping it in drive but not putting my foot on the gas pedal, just letting the car float forward because we’re only moving at 5 mph or less … or using the gas pedal to propel the car forward, then stepping on the brake when I get too close to the car ahead?

–Damn This Traffic Jam

TRAFFIC JAMMER: DTTJ, the Jammer is willing to bet that everyone who drives anywhere in the Bay Area, not just Claycordians, feels your pain, early and often. For help with the answer, the Jammer tapped Brian Hagopian, a Las Positas College Automotive Faculty member who helps out from time to time. Here’s his response:

“Let’s have a little, very little and as basic as I can make it, automotive lesson to help you understand the answer. In a vehicle with an automatic transmission, the part that lets us be ‘lazy’ and not have to use the clutch is called the torque converter.

Ready to have your mind blown? There is NO MECHANICAL connection between the engine and rear wheels on a car with an automatic transmission. The vehicle is driven by fluid pressure. BOOM! Imagine two fans pointed at each other. Fan A is plugged in, fan B is unplugged. The air moved by fan A will cause the blades of fan B to move. Fan A is connected to the engine, fan B the rear tires. The air is actually transmission fluid.

When a car is stopped, foot on the brake, the fluid shears and heat is the result. When idling, the fluid moves fan B as much as it can (5-15mph); vehicle movement and heat is created.

When you hit the gas the same thing happens. Which is worse? Neither really, the key is to keep your transmission serviced by recommended intervals. The manufacturers have factored this into fluid life and as long as you are not abusing the system, like power braking where a person pushes on the gas and brake at the same time for an extended period (15 seconds), the transmission will be fine.

I will say that hitting the gas then braking rather than idling up to the traffic stop will cause less mpg and more brake wear. However, idling will create a gap between you and the car in front of you where 300 cars will squeeze in!”

TRAFFIC JAMMER: And we know what Captain Freeway calls those drivers: Gap-shooters! Seriously, this is an awesome question and the Jammer thanks DTTJ for sending it in.

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 Anon January 6, 2014 at 2:28 PM

Cameras? I would be concerned about the camera on Clayton Rd & The Alameda mounted on the Islamic Temple, yes it’s recording the street – Not sure for what purpose.

2 ClayDen January 6, 2014 at 2:58 PM

I hate traffic, but commuted for over 35 years (30-60 miles each way) and still do so some (I’m semi-retired). I normally drive a manual transmission, so it’s even more of a hassle. I try to minimize clutch wear, and have been successful. I got 200,000 miles on the clutch of a ’91 Mazda Protege (and 138k on the first set of front brakes, 184k on the rears). I currently have 134,000 on the original clutch of my Mazda 3 and the brakes are projected to go over 200k (they were only down 20% at 98k). I drive somewhat aggressively, but try to get the clutch fully engaged by about 1,200rpm with minimal slippage and I downshift to help slow down and save the brakes (as well as increase my driving enjoyment). I double-clutch my downshifts and am careful to match revs.

Zoom Zoom!

3 Janis Mara January 6, 2014 at 3:51 PM

Hey there, @ClayDen! For those of us who are not quite the Zoom Zoom Ace that you are, could you elaborate a bit? For example, one thing I’ve always wondered about – do you just stay in first gear during stop and go traffic, or what?

4 Janis Mara January 6, 2014 at 3:52 PM

Oh, and @Anon, I assume you mean 2836 Clayton Road in Concord – where is the camera mounted on the temple?

5 @Anon January 6, 2014 at 3:53 PM

There are thousands of security cameras around Concord. Why are you so concerned about the one on an Islamic temple? Can you say paranoid?

6 RunnerDope January 6, 2014 at 3:56 PM

“I would be concerned about the camera on Clayton Rd & The Alameda mounted on the Islamic Temple, yes it’s recording the street – Not sure for what purpose.”

BAAQD and the Muslims are teaming up to catch Spare The Air violators.

7 ClayDen January 6, 2014 at 4:16 PM


I use the appropriate gear; if I can keep it in first without going over about 3,500 rpm, I will (my redline is 6,500), otherwise I’ll go up a gear or two. If I can keep it in gear and use throttle and engine braking to accelerate and slow down, I will, as it’s easier on the throwout bearing and you have more control when you are in gear. I double clutch as it’s a habit I got into with my first car (the 850 Mini) because the synchros were shot when I bought it, and I couldn’t downshift without double-clutching. There is a bit of a trade-off, as you put more wear on the throwout bearing when you double-clutch, but less wear on the synchros. Throwout bearings are cheaper than a gearbox rebuild, so I think it’s a fair trade. I’ve never had to rebuild a gearbox.

If people aren’t sure what double-clutching is, it is where you put the clutch in, shift out of gear, let the clutch out in neutral, rev the engine to match the revs for the next lower gear you are about to downshift into, then put the clutch in, shift into the next lower gear and then release the clutch. If you do it right, it will feel seamless and is easier on the gearbox and clutch. If you do it correctly (quickly), most people won’t be aware that you’ve actuated the clutch twice during the downshift.

A variation on this is heel and toeing, where your right foot is on the brake and is “rolled over” to blip the gas while you are double-clutching, so you can be downshifting and braking at the same time. The pedals need to be located just right to be able to do this.

When I mentioned that I drive aggressively, perhaps I should have really said “in a spirited manner” as I try to be a courteous driver. However, if you’re dawdling in the fast lane and you seem clueless (i.e., you won’t move over for faster traffic), expect to see my lights flash in your rear view mirror.

8 Teacher Wannabe January 6, 2014 at 4:28 PM

I don’t understand how anyone could POSSIBLY drive 100 mph thru the tunnel. I drive both directions, morning afternoon and evening and rarely get past 50. Approaching the tunnel entrances is almost always slower.

9 Babs January 6, 2014 at 4:42 PM

In my younger days, exhusband and I went over 100 mph on a motorcycle thru the tunnel…about 2am. boy, the things we do!!!!

10 nytemuvr January 6, 2014 at 4:49 PM

Janis…my post regarding high speed runs in the tunnel was a joke. I used to do that back in the 70s and wouldn’t even consider doing something like that now. I’ve turned into a “forgetting to turn off the turn indicators” person of age now.

11 Anon January 6, 2014 at 5:18 PM

“In my younger days, exhusband and I went over 100 mph on a motorcycle thru the tunnel…about 2am. boy, the things we do!!!!”

He did not care about your safety much did he ??
One mistake– you be dead…

12 nytemuvr January 6, 2014 at 5:35 PM

@Babs #9
Doesn’t a HD sound great at full song in the tunnels?……again, “A long time ago, in a tunnel not so far away”…….

13 Janis Mara January 6, 2014 at 5:36 PM

Ahahahahaha @nytemuvr, love “forgetting to turn off the turn indicators” person of age!

@Babs, a really good place to go 100 mph on a motorcycle is the one-way tunnel in Marin County out by the Marin Headlands Visitor Center. Or so I’m told.

14 Atticus Thraxx January 6, 2014 at 5:50 PM

I envision a day, maybe soon, where the computer in your car will be required that’s right required, to send a text to CHP when you exceed some yet to be determined velocity. And if they feel the need, they will be able to take control of your car and bring you to some point for law enforcement interception.
Kinda like “Herbie the Love Bug” meets Joe Friday.

15 Dorothy January 6, 2014 at 6:28 PM

Herbie the Love Bug and Joe Friday LOL – what a combo that would be.

After reading through ClayDen I’m very happy to have automatic. My in-laws tried to teach me gear shifting on rural road but I never properly understood it all. And I still carry a tiny piece of steering wheel in my lip to prove it. Not mention a tree that had to be moved to move the car…

16 ClayDen January 6, 2014 at 7:40 PM

Automatics are soooooooo boring.

17 Connie Dobbs January 6, 2014 at 9:57 PM

#16, seconded. It’s part of the thrill of driving a jalopy. Unless there’s a CO leak, there is very little chance the average driver will fall asleep at the wheel. Old cars are always making an interesting new noise or smell. Its decay provides a gentle reminder of one’s own frailties and shortcomings. It is in this fashion we learn our limitations, as Harry Callahan has instructed we should do. Also, they’re cheaper to register and insure.

18 Janis Mara January 6, 2014 at 11:25 PM

@Dorothy #15, ow ow ow ow ow! Glad you survived!

19 nytemuvr January 6, 2014 at 11:44 PM

@Atticus Thraxx #14
and after that they do that with cars, they’ll start on humans. Then comes the day when the government puts a control microchip in every baby and the next generation will be government robots…

20 biggus thinkus January 7, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Best job of accurate instruction with reason I’ve heard anyone do in a long time. Cheers! Makes a difference for those that also love driving for the experience it can be!

21 Captain Freeway January 7, 2014 at 10:17 AM

@Atticus Thraxx/#14, That computer would hopefully also detect excessive lane changing and gap-shooting! Be safe out there, watch out for the gap-shooters and please don’t be one! CF

22 ClayDen January 7, 2014 at 10:56 AM

@biggus thinkus

Thanks! Nothing like the perfect downshift, then clipping the apex and accelerating out of the corner on that beautiful twisty road…………

Zoom Zoom!

23 Mustang Sally January 7, 2014 at 1:54 PM

I have a pretty funny tunnel story, but I think it would be censored. @ClayDen, I too am really glad you wrote that great explanation on double clutching. I think I’m going to try it. Someone explained it to me once but I didn’t get it at all.

24 Cowellian January 7, 2014 at 2:35 PM

Live a little, Sally, and tell your story. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to read it before it gets pulled.

25 Mustang Sally January 7, 2014 at 3:48 PM

Well, it was funny to us anyway. My husband, a mechanic and myself back around ’80, were following a good friend who was driving her VW bus to Kotzebue AK to make sure she got there to her new teaching job OK. Her motor sucked a rod outside Vancouver BC on a Friday pm after the nearest parts store closed, so we found a great campground and hung out till Monday am, when DH rebuilt the engine on some asphalt at the campground. When we got back on the road that pm, our bus, my mom’s really, blew up. DH was not in the mood to overhual another motor in the campground, so we looked and looked for the most economical way to get it back home. It turned out that it was behind a one way Ryder truck rental. It cost a small fortune at the time, as we were of modest means (dirt poor). So all the way back home & flat broke. And a little sad & frustated. After unhitching the bus at home, we decided to keep the Ryder truck and do some hauling a couple of days. By some lucky accident DH discovered that if he cut the motor on the truck, pumped the gas pedal a bit, then turned the ignition, there was a giant BLAM !! , and blue flames came out the muffler. Well, we were very young, and not very bright! But he did it a few times around town, and a few times going through the Caldecott. It made an ENORMOUS noise, and the blue flames lit up the whole tunnel every time, and I don’t know why, but it still cracks me up to this day.

26 Mustang Sally January 7, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Nope! I tried, Cowellian, but my story was censored, alas!

27 Mustang Sally January 7, 2014 at 4:08 PM

Whoops! There it is.

28 Cowellian January 7, 2014 at 4:49 PM

I’m trying to imagine the accidental circumstances that cause blue flames. The best I’ve ever accomplished is black smoke.

29 Don't try that with fuel injection. January 7, 2014 at 4:59 PM

Or go ahead and try it. It won’t work.

30 Mustang Sally January 7, 2014 at 5:15 PM

It really was spectacular! We were a good distance from the cars following us before he initiated the maneuver, but boy, did they give us a lot of space afterward.

31 Mustang Sally January 7, 2014 at 6:37 PM

Yeah, it was back in the day, had to have carburators for sure.

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