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.
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, beloved Claycordians! Whole lotta questions going on in this column, and since everyone enjoyed the last one so much –we’re gonna run another QUIZ, right at the end of this column. Because you are all so dang smart, we searched high and low and found a really challenging question courtesy of our beloved Claycordian law enforcement officer, Officer Leo.
But first, the questions of the day. Claycordians have shared many questions about specific traffic lights and intersections in Concord lately. One reader, SmallTownGirl, shared a meta-comment and a bit of humor, so the Jammer decided to do things a little differently and get the law enforcement perspective on the subject from our beloved resident Claycord police officer. Here’s SmallTownGirl’s note:
COMMUTER: I’ve noticed that the traffic control in Concord (and Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek) is really decades old. One must sit at a light for the duration – often at least one full minute, or more, before being allowed to make progress on a journey.
Can you enlighten us on the present state of traffic control in Concord and any expectation of modern equipment to replace the existing “timed” lights that force everyone to wait for minutes, regardless of traffic?
I’m familiar with controls that allow traffic to move based on the impact to the environment and am baffled by the archaic approach being used in Concord, and to some degree in Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill. How much longer should I keep my copy of “War and Peace” at hand before the lights function as they should in this area?
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Here are Officer Leo’s musings on the matter:
Law enforcement: One of the few jobs wherein almost everyone can tell you how to do it better. As a cousin thereof, the same could be said for traffic control and movement.
Why hasn’t traffic control (signals and whatnot) been modernized to accommodate any particular time of day or changing traffic loads? Probably because signal lights were originally installed for the safety of the intersection. Now, as a collateral asset, a series of signals can be used to effectively move traffic. Oh yeah, and traffic volume seems to grow endlessly.
Any change in programming must be studied in order to validate the proposed change. Then, the change/ improvement must be verified afterward. And any change will be undoubtedly criticized by those who thought the signals were working fine in the first place. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, changing any given intersection has a perceptible ripple effect to intersections around it.
Remember that not all lights are timed. The string of timed lights is finite. And if you’re crossing jurisdictions or near a freeway on ramp or off ramp, ownership of the signals change — and each agency has a different idea of traffic priorities. Formidable example: Monument Boulevard at Interstate 680 after school. There are three different jurisdictions that add to the daily backup there. Oh, and recent construction.
Modernization you say? That’s a grand idea. So, let’s raise taxes- the money has to come from somewhere. Enter the hullabaloo of politics discussion. Well, you voted (or didn’t) for the jokers. I’m merely an instrument of your direction.
Did you know that the timing of yellow lights is often associated with the speed limit of the street it controls? So a 35mph road will have a yellow light around 4 seconds.
(As to “War and Peace”), I prefer the many interpretations of “The Art of War.”
COMMUTER: The Caltrans website states that the HOV (commuter) lanes cannot be used by carpools pulling trailers, even if they have the required FasTrak and number of passengers. Am I reading this correctly?
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Here’s the word from California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Hill: “Vehicle Code section 22348(c) requires certain vehicles to remain in the rightmost lanes of traffic at all times, except to pass. The list of ‘certain vehicles’ includes all vehicles under tow, including semi-trucks and passenger vehicles towing a trailer.
“This is because all vehicles under tow are required to travel at a speed no greater than 55 mph, even if the speed limit is 65 or 70 for other vehicles. Most drivers in passenger vehicles who are towing are unaware of this law, despite the signs all over the freeway that say ‘All Vehicles When Towing 55 Maximum.’
“Because the HOV lanes are always in the leftmost lane (the fast lane), a vehicle under tow would be in conflict with several laws, such as the aforementioned lane restriction law as well as the “slower traffic keep right” laws.
COMMUTER: I commute 25 miles back and forth along Highway 4 between Martinez and Oakley. Along the way, there are several points where people will exit the freeway (Port Chicago and Somersville being the two of note) and get right back on again in an attempt to bypass traffic.
Both of these exits have clearly posted black-and-white regulatory signs that state the RIGHT LANE MUST EXIT. So in these types of situations, how is the word “exit,” as stated in the sign (and by vehicle code), defined? Does it mean that a vehicle simply has to exit the freeway, stop at the stop lights and then proceed back on the freeway? Or does “exit” mean that the person has to completely turn left or right onto another street before being considered ‘off the freeway’?
I do see CHP ticketing vehicles at the Port Chicago exit but that location also has a sign stating something to the effect of “No Through Traffic to Highway 4” (implying that in that location, it is illegal to enter back onto the freeway). Any clarification would be much appreciated!
– Highway to H*ll
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Since this is a highway question, the Jammer tapped Officer Hill:
The sign “Right Lane Must Exit” is one of many regulatory signs which motorists are required to obey per California Vehicle Code section 21641(a). This sign in particular requires drivers to remain in the “drop lane” and exit the freeway. The signs are typically placed at locations where suddenly merging from the exit lane would endanger other drivers on the road.
Even so, we often see motorists disobey these signs and use the lane to cut off other motorists and jump the line during period of heavy congestion. The CHP monitors problem locations where these signs are present, and enforces the requirements of the sign.
Most drivers are unaware that disobeying a regulatory sign is considered a moving violation, and carries the value of a point on a motorist’s driving record. To make things clear, the CHP considers this sign to be effective as soon as the vehicle passes it, so merging prior to the sign is considered lawful (so long as it is done safely!).
To answer your reader’s question specifically: beyond requiring the motorist to remain in the drop lane and leave the main thoroughfare of the freeway, there is no deeper legal definition of the word “exit.”
Once the exit lane drops off from the main portion of the freeway, the vehicle has “exited” the freeway and has complied with the requirements of the sign and law.
There are many types of off-ramps, including the type mentioned that have a roadway parallel to the mainline that re-enters the freeway down the line. Motorists can use these parallel roadways to leave and re-enter the freeway mainline without driving on surface streets without restriction in general. In locations where this action causes increased congestion and more aggressive driving, regulatory signs are erected reading “No Through Traffic.” In these locations, the motorist must also exit the off-ramp onto surface streets. Drivers who continue through the off-ramp and disobey the signs are subject to the same violation as above, and get the same point on their record!
Notable examples in Contra Costa County include the Port Chicago Highway exit as mentioned, as well as the SR-24 WB Orinda off-ramp. You will often see CHP officers enforcing these signs on these and other similar off-ramps. However, if the motorist gets to the bottom of the off-ramp, and makes a legal U-turn or other movement to get back onto the freeway, they are not considered through traffic and are not in violation of the sign.
The main point of these signs (and the rules of the road in general) are to make sure motorists behave in a predictable and safe manner. The CHP encourages motorists to always drive safely and obey the rules of the road. If every motorist behaves in a safe and predictable manner, we can all get to where we’re going safely.
TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer recently ran a question about how the FasTrak system knows whether or not there are the required three people in a car in the carpool lane. California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Hill answered the question with a great deal of detail and background, but some readers expressed dissatisfaction with the answer.
Noting the responses, Officer Hill sent in a follow-up answer. Here are the original question and the follow-up answer … and then, to finish up the column, another quiz, courtesy of our resident Claycordian law enforcement officer, Officer Leo.
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: Here’s Officer Hill’s response:
I apologize because I did not precisely answer your reader’s question. I am also going to include a response to some of the comments
To more precisely answer the FasTrak/HOV question: During carpool hours, vehicles traveling in the HOV lane are charged $2.50, and during other hours the lane is a normal FasTrak lane charging the standard toll. There is no advanced heat-sensing system or other means of automatic detection for HOV violators. The technology might exist somewhere, but there is no provision of California law that allows for them to be used or HOV laws to be enforced by automation.
With respect to the HOV laws, or any laws for that matter, it is up to the individual as to whether he or she chooses to live within the laws or violate them. The role of law enforcement officers has never been to guarantee obedience to the laws. Society in general creates a system of laws which we all are expected to follow, and we as peace officers are tasked with maintaining order and dealing with those who choose to violate those laws.
No matter how many officers we employ and have on the streets, we as law enforcement cannot guarantee a completely law-abiding society. We are the stewards of the law, but we cannot force someone to obey the law. The decision to do something legal or illegal rests squarely upon the shoulders of the individual.
Many people make negative comments about traffic enforcement, in many cases due to a citation they received. I cannot speak for all law enforcement agencies, but I can explain why the California Highway Patrol enforces traffic laws.
The CHP receives no direct funding from any of the citations we issue. All proceeds from traffic violation fines go directly to the city and county where the violation occurred. The CHP enforces traffic laws because we recognize that those rules keep everyone driving safely and predictably. A predictable driver is one who behaves as everyone else expects. An unpredictable driver, whether impaired, distracted, or aggressive, causes collisions because they behave in a manner that others do not expect.
A CHP officer is tasked with responding to collisions, ranging from the minor fender bender to a multiple fatality collision. We enforce traffic laws because every officer has been to a collision where someone has died.
Nearly every traffic fatality is caused by someone who did not obey the laws, whether they be driving under the influence, speeding, driving distracted, or something else. Every person who dies on our roadway is someone’s mother, father, sibling, child, or friend who will never come home again. That person will never get the chance to live his or her life to the fullest extent. The families are forever changed by the loss of their loved one, especially so because they will realize that the cause of their loss was entirely preventable.
This is why CHP Officers enforce traffic laws. We are officers, but we are also human beings with loved ones whom we cherish. We, like everyone, do not want to experience this kind of tragedy, and do not want any other family to experience the same kind of loss.
Every traffic stop we make, every citation or verbal warning we issue is our attempt to reduce the amount of people injured or killed on the road. Our goal is to ensure that everyone has a chance to come home safely, so that an Officer does not have to give a family some of the worst news possible.
This is why the officers of the California Highway Patrol do what we do.
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Thank you, Officer Hill.
And now on to this week’s quiz! Claycordians, the first four of you to give the correct answer will be featured in next week’s column. Thanks to Officer Leo for the question.
The quiz question is short but sweet. Here you go:
When is it illegal to go on a green light?
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