COMMUTER: Could you inquire about the demonstrably unsafe practice of banners being hung on the pedestrian bridge on the University Avenue overpass in the People's Republic of Berkeley?
The incredible backup that occurs daily along that stretch of highway is not bad enough, we now have to make a political pulpit of it, causing untold collisions, injuries, mechanical mayhem, flared tempers, and stretched patience.
I would cherish the idea of the messages displayed to be of a thoughtful, caring, uplifting, or supportive nature; but, N-O-O-O-O-O-O ... "Down with This, Out with That, ad nauseam..."
David Almeida, Richmond
QUEEN: Loyal Subjects, Mr. Almeida is referring to the pedestrian bridge that goes over Interstate 80 at the University Avenue exit in Berkeley. There are similar bridges over various freeways throughout the Bay Area, and folks often put up banners and signs on the sides advocating a variety of causes, from "Free Leonard Peltier" to ... well, you get the idea. Professional opinions on the practice differ.
"Certainly any signs that don't have to do with normal traffic safety and traffic flow — in other words, Caltrans signs — that are directly encroaching on the driver's line of vision are distractions. To put them over a freeway, especially one which frequently sees higher-speed bumper-to-bumper and lower speed stop-and-go traffic, can spell 'crash' with just the few seconds it takes to notice and read the signs," said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Highway Safety.
A law enforcement spokesman for the City of Berkeley, which owns and governs the University Avenue pedestrian bridge, disagreed.
"I know that different agencies have different views on the subject, but we as an organization are strongly in favor of allowing our citizens to practice their First Amendment free speech rights," said Officer Andrew Frankel of the Berkeley Police Department. "Any banner that hangs from the bridge is protected under the First Amendment and generally won't receive any action on our part. The only thing that might lead to action would be if someone hung it below the bridge so it could become a potential hazard to trucks or large vehicles."
Loyal Subjects, what do you think?
COMMUTER: Oh Great and All-Knowing, Benevolent Queen, I drive Highway 4 between Oakley and Rodeo and have a question about the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes between Pittsburg and Concord.
The times on the signs indicate Monday through Friday 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. What about holidays? Are the lanes open to all or do the restrictions still apply?
Old Country, Oakley
QUEEN: Thanks for your most excellent question, Loyal Subject. Even if it's a holiday, if you drive alone in the HOV lane on those days between those hours, you can get a ticket. So beware!
Got questions about your commute? Whether you drive, ride, bike or walk, write the Queen at The Commuter Page, c/o The Times, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her at ContraCostaTimes.com/queen-of-the-road.