Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on Claycord.com.
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This Claycord.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
COMMUTER: How does the FasTrak system or bridge authority for the Benicia Bridge know if I actually have three people in my car when passing through in the carpool lane? Are there heat sensors to sense the number of persons? The bridge toll is $5, but if you use FasTrak and qualify for the carpool lane it’s only $2.50 —- but how do the authorities know you had at least 3 people in your car? (Or is it just “luck of the draw” if a person gets caught or not by CHP?) Thanks!
— Daily Bridge Crosser
TRAFFIC JAMMER: The California Highway Patrol is responsible for enforcing the law on Bay Area bridges, so the Jammer turned to CHP Officer Daniel Hill. His answer gives us a thorough education on FasTrak and how it works.
Before segueing into Officer Hill’s response, here’s the money shot, and I do mean the money shot: Violating the commuter lane plus evading the toll could net you a fine of more than $700. And now, while you’re picking your jaw up off the floor, here’s Officer Hill:
“The seven state-owned bridges and the Golden Gate Bridge all have lanes designated for high-occupancy vehicles (HOV, also known as carpools) during certain hours.
HOV hours on the state-owned bridges are 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Golden Gate Bridge HOV lanes are active from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The Golden Gate Bridge has different rules because it is not owned by the state, but rather by a private entity.
Unlike most of the Bay Area HOV lanes (except I-80 between the Carquinez Bridge and Bay Bridge), all bridge HOV lanes require three or more occupants (motorcycles and vehicles with only two seating positions and two occupants are excepted). All HOV lane users must have a FasTrak device, and will cross at a reduced toll of $2.50 ($3 for the Golden Gate Bridge).
All toll lanes are equipped with advanced camera systems to detect toll evaders. These systems are not used to detect HOV violations, as the law limits camera enforcement to red light violations and toll evasion. The cameras are very advanced, however, and capture the license plates of vehicles traversing the toll plaza at any speed.
Enforcement of HOV rules has always been the responsibility of the California Highway Patrol. Our officers routinely enforce HOV violations, both on freeways and at the bridges.
An HOV violation has one of the most expensive fines associated with it, and is at a minimum $490 anywhere in the state. You’ll often see CHP officers stationed near toll plazas, both to catch HOV violators as well as toll evaders and other scofflaws.
Since I mentioned toll evasion, it might be helpful to know that first-time toll violators can register with FasTrak and have their toll violation waived. Otherwise, toll violations are usually assessed a $25 civil penalty in addition to the unpaid toll.
However, if the toll violator is caught by the CHP, the driver will be issued a citation for that infraction with a minimum fine of $238. Combine an HOV violation with toll evasion, and that will be a very bad day for that motorist (to the tune of $728 minimum!). My advice? Better to pay the toll and use the correct lane than be caught by one of us!
COMMUTER: At 4:30 this morning the traffic light making a left turn coming off of Cowell Road going onto Ygnacio Valley Road didn’t change for over a minute and a half this morning. Usually it takes about one minute. All the other street lights coming onto Ygnacio Valley Road going toward Clayton only take 20 to 30 seconds to change. Is there any way to get this fixed?
TRAFFIC JAMMER: The horror of this reader’s commute, which clearly begins before 4:30 a.m., filled the Jammer with compassion and she hustled this question over to Concord Traffic Czar Ray Kuzbari, leaving him a voicemail message with the details of the location and the problem. With characteristic alacrity, Kuzbari dispatched a worker to the scene the very next business day. Here’s the outcome:
COMMUTER: The message you left him must have worked because the lights are changing a lot quicker now. Thank you for the follow-up.
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Faithful Claycordian, it’s the least the Jammer and the Traffic Czar (hmmm, sounds a bit like the Captain and Tennille) could do for a hardworking guy who has to get up at 0 dark thirty five days a week – and doesn’t even complain about it. Long may you run!
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Lots and lots of Claycordians weighed in on the topic of lane-splitting motorcyclists in last week’s column. RIII commented, “Think about this, you are driving on a crowded freeway and stuck in heavy traffic Your lane is stopped and you elect to change lanes and someone splitting lanes at 20 to 30 mph faster that prevailing traffic runes into you. Who is at fault? It is certainly unnerving when this person comes by at this speed and flies ‘the bird!’ at you.” @37 responded, “That problem can be avoided by checking your mirrors before changing lanes.” ClayDen added, “Checking your mirrors isn’t enough; you need your head on a swivel, as there are blind spots with every car.”
Following up on this: There are four major steps to making a lane change as safely as possible. The acronym is SMOG, so if you are cruising along on the freeway, particularly on a dark, rainy night, you can use the acronym to remind you. It stands for, “Signal, Mirror, Over the Shoulder and Go.”
The first step is to hit the turn signal. It comes first so other drivers have ample opportunity to get your message and realize what you intend to do. The more those other motorists understand what you are up to, the more likely you are to avoid a collision.
The next step is to check both your rear-view and side mirrors to see where the other vehicles on the road are with respect to yours.
Now, as ClayDen encouraged, crank your head around and look over your shoulder in the direction of the lane you plan to enter. If you’re moving to the right, check over your right shoulder for cars in your blind spot. If you’re going to the left, look over your left shoulder.
Final step: Go, and may the Force be with you.
COMMUTER: Talk about Big Brother watching you. I will turn 55 this year and AARP sent me a letter inviting me to join. Thanks for rubbing it in, AARP! In my opinion, 55 is too young to be a senior. Does this mean I have to go in to have my driver’s license renewed in person?
–Young At Heart
TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer agrees that 55 is too young to be considered a senior, and so does California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. You don’t have to renew your license in person at a DMV office until you reach the age of 70, YAH. For more information on the state’s programs for senior drivers, visit http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/driverlicense/driverlicense.htm.
Incidentally, our current governor, Jerry Brown, was born April 7, 1938, so he has to motor on down to the DMV to renew his license.
TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by Claycord.com 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 email@example.com