Q Returning from Sacramento on Interstate 80, I often come upon heavy traffic through Berkeley. It eases after I take the turn to the Bay Bridge. Question No. 1. Why? Is there inadequate highway into Oakland? I am losing my patience.
A The stretch of I-80 from Interstate 580 to the Bay Bridge is typically the most congested in the region, no matter what time of day or what day of the week. Only Highway 1 through Santa Cruz, Highway 101 through the South Bay and Highway 4 in Contra Costa County are as bad, in my opinion. While there are no plans to widen I-80 to any significant degree, traffic officials have big plans. And this may be the biggest: the first major test of a variable speed limit -- changing the speed limit depending on the flow of traffic. Electronic signs would lower the 65 mph limit if traffic was at a crawl, and raise the lower speed when conditions ease. Traffic engineers say if drivers slow down as they approach a congested area and all stay at a constant speed, traffic will get through the jammed-up area faster.
In addition, there are plans to install ramp meters that respond to freeway traffic between Powell Street in Emeryville and Pomona Street in Crockett. Traffic signals would also be coordinated on roads lining I-80, and more ramps would get carpool lanes.
The $93 million project could be completed by early 2014.
Q Question No. 2: What, if anything, can be done about impatient drivers on I-80? Case in point: A green SUV passed me on the right shoulder and then cut in front. Then the same driver exited at University Avenue but did not turn. He kept going and re-entered my lane 10 cars ahead of me. He wasn't alone in this maneuver. I was feeling very unwilling to welcome merging motorists from the onramp because I was wondering how many of them were line-cutters, too. Can I assume that this impatient behavior, besides being rude, might also be illegal?
A It's illegal to drive on the shoulder, but it's usually not illegal to take an exit lane off a freeway and then cut back onto the highway unless there are signs prohibiting it. However, ramp meters may resolve this rude behavior.
Q Your answer about the metering light problem at the Whipple Road ramp to Interstate 880 north in Union City seemed a bit short, with no timetable to fix it. This one ramp makes a big difference, as 100 yards past it five lanes of traffic become four. With school starting and vacations ending, traffic is going to get worse. These days I get off at Whipple due to the long backups.
My question: What is the typical time to wait for a Caltrans fix? Do they see this as a priority on just a long to do list? It needs to be repaired, and I can't image it would take more than two days to fix it.
A This jumped to the top of Caltrans' priority list. Bids were turned in on Tuesday and repairs should begin soon.
Q What should a driver do about an obstruction in the middle of a lane on the freeway? Case in point was carpet padding in a pile. Luckily it wasn't in my lane. Should I have called 911?
A Anything that poses a safety risk is worth a 911 call, and carpet padding in a lane could cause a motorist to swerve or a motorcyclist to lose control.
Q Any news on Upper Park Boulevard in Oakland? The repair project was to be completed awhile back, but there hasn't been any apparent work going on for the last six months. The four-lane road has been kept to two lanes and causes serious traffic snarls every day.
A This retrofit job is almost done, and then the old lane configuration will be back in place. New bike lanes could also be added.
Q Kudos to Caltrans for giving Hayward some cultural pizazz. The recently finished portion of Foothill Boulevard at Hazel/City Center Drive has a crosswalk that shows a piano/organ keyboard design. Well done.
A Credit goes to the city, which installed the unusual design. Said Don-the-City-Traffic-Guru: "It's a new kind of crosswalk striping we are trying out that is more visible to drivers to make them more cognizant of the presence of pedestrians. We have received a lot of compliments about it."
If you've seen other out-of-the-ordinary designs, holler.
Q On a recent trip through Kansas on the interstate, I encountered a portion that was a toll road. This seems to be some double dipping, since I believe the interstates are federal and I'm sure a portion of my federal taxes go toward them. The toll, I would guess, goes to the state. Am I correct in how this works? If so, why doesn't California put a toll on its interstates? This could put a dent in the state budget deficit.
A Federal law prohibits tolling on the interstate system, with a few exceptions such as on toll bridges. But any existing turnpike that has been incorporated into the interstate system can be tolled, and the Kansas Turnpike is one of them. Revenues go back to the tolling authority, be it the state Department of Transportation or a state turnpike agency, and are used to cover the costs of financing and operating the toll road.
California law prohibits the conversion of an existing toll-free facility into a tolled facility, with the exception of the conversion of carpool lanes to carpool/toll lanes such as on I-680 down the Sunol Grade, on 237-880 in Milpitas and soon on I-580 in the Tri-Valley. Another exception: Toll lanes could be added on an interstate highway on new lanes if that road is widened.
Q I need help! I was turning left off De Anza Boulevard onto Bollinger Road in Cupertino, and then taking a right into the Trader Joe's parking lot. I wasn't going fast and even used my blinker. However, as I turned into the parking lot, I heard a screeching sound and a bicyclist ran into my right front door.
He said I clipped him and that he hurt his arm. I felt really bad and was so shocked because I had caused this damage and did not see him.
The police officer told me that it was my fault since the bicyclist has the right of way and I can't turn into the bicycle lane until I know it is clear. So I am having pangs of regret that I allowed this to happen. But mostly I am thankful that he was not more hurt.
The police officer told me that I would probably be able to take driver's school. Do you recommend driver's school?
Bike lane double-checker from now on
A Attend traffic school, says Jim-the-Roadshow-Instructor. "One of my pet peeves is bicycle lane violators," he said. "Just last week I went overboard explaining it to my class.
"First look in the rearview mirrors, then look over your shoulder when changing lanes (a bicycle lane is a lane). That ticket is worth two points; she can get rid of the ticket in school but not the accident, and maybe even three points because someone got hurt."