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WEEKEND GRIDLOCK SUNDAY DRIVE OFFERS NO RELIEF FROM FREEWAY CONGESTION.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer

Bags packed and kids with the sitter, Ernie Baluyot and his wife set out from their Palmdale home on a recent Saturday afternoon for a short getaway in Newport Beach only to come to a stop in weekend gridlock - Southern California's worst period for traffic jams.

Caltrans reports what a lot weekend drivers have been finding out: More cars are on the region's roads and highways on weekends than week days at some freeway intersections and areas that attract people on shopping, entertaining or recreational forays.

Baluyot, who knows a lot about weekday traffic congestion commuting to work 60 miles each way to Warner Center, still didn't anticipate it would take him until 2 a.m. Sunday to reach Newport Beach.

``No kids, nothing - we were celebrating her birthday,'' he said. ``We didn't let it bother us. We were still together, trying to make the best of it.''

As anyone knows who's tried to get out of town, see a show, go out to dinner or simply visit a friend, gridlock doesn't take the weekends off.

Saturday and Sunday drives can be just as unbearable - often worse - as weekday rush hour commutes, putting the brakes on the best laid weekend plans.

According to Caltrans officials, traffic counts are actually higher on Saturdays at key Los Angeles locations - near the junction of the Hollywood Freeway and the Harbor Freeway downtown, for example - than on weekdays.

A stretch of Pacific Coast Highway carries an additional 10 percent more vehicles on Saturdays than on weekdays, clear to anyone who's tried to catch a sunset in Malibu.

Near the Valley's dreaded 101/405 interchange - among the worst in the state - the Ventura Freeway actually sees nearly 5 percent fewer cars on Saturdays than during the work week but the eastbound 101 usually is bumper to bumper on weekend afternoons.

``It blows my mind, too, just like everyone else,'' said the California Highway Patrol's West Valley spokesman Officer Leland Tang. ``People don't know that there's traffic. We all want to do things, we all want to go different places.''

``On weekends, a lot of people have distorted time lines. They think, `Oh, I can get to the Hollywood Bowl from Woodland Hills in 15 minutes,'' added Tang. ``Yea, maybe in the 30s.''

The Sunday crawl

So much for the Sunday drive.

Transportation experts said recreational drivers, not workers, are the ones clogging freeways on weekends, and studies have shown more people are taking more so-called discretionary trips.

Weekend commuters tend to have less structured itineries - run an errand, meet a friend, go shopping - than 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday commuters, leaving them less inclined to take a bus or train.

Because week day traffic can be so bad, some people avoid making those trips until the weekend, one expert said.

Plus, there's untold numbers of drivers heading into L.A. from out of town, or heading out to Las Vegas, San Diego and north to Santa Barbara or beyond.

No other options

``I'm a little surprised by that one particular intersection (at the Hollywood and Harbor freeways). I wonder if some of that could be Dodger Stadium or the Rose Bowl during football season or the Coliseum,'' said Jeff Lustgarten, a spokesman for the Southern California Association of Governments. ``It's right at the nexus of several recreation centers and Staples Center.''

But another transportation expert asks how else would you go from the Valley to downtown - say to go shopping at the Flower Mart or the Garment District on a Saturday morning - except on those two freeways.

``People flock there... How do they get there? Either way you're going to go on the 110 Freeway. Add it up. There aren't that many options,'' said David Grannis, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Transportation Strike Task Force.

In fact, ridership on the MTA's bus and rail lines falls virtually in half on the weekends. Metrolink, too, has about one-third the riders on Saturdays it sees on weekends, and runs much fewer lines.

The subway was routed away from major entertainment venues like Dodger Stadium and getting to a Dodger Game from Warner Center on a Saturday afternoon takes an hour and 38 minutes taking two buses and the Red Line, according to the MTA trip planner on its Web site.

MTA officials said service is scheduled by demand, and with fewer riders on weekends fewer rides are offered.

But experts said there could be value in providing more mass transit choices for weekend hotspots - the Zoo, Griffith Park, Staples Center, for example.

They point to the MTA's popular shuttle to the Hollywood Bowl that has converted a new generation of transit riders for concert nights.

``If it takes you two hours to go from Warner Center to Dodger Stadium, we're never going to get that kind of mode,'' said Grannis. ``That's a great example - we could do more.''

Grannis suggests more routes to Dodger stadium on game days - maybe Metrolink's trains could bring in fans from the burbs, then shuttle them to Chavez Ravine.

``How about if they investigated: Is there an opportunity for weekends? Is there enough demand for place A, B or C?'' he asked.

Metrolink campaign

Metrolink in fact is in the midst of a marketing campaign promoting weekend ridership with a friends-ride-free offer that gives a free ticket for each adult roundtrip fare.

That means two riders could go from Santa Clarita to downtown L.A. for a single $8.25 adult roundtrip ticket.

``We realize there is a special market looking for this,'' said Metrolink spokeswoman Sharon Gavin.

Metrolink also runs special lines to the summer fairs in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, as well as to the California and Pomona speedways for special events, Gavin said.

``We are doing some marketing specifically toward weekend traveleres, tyring to encourage people,'' she said. ``It's a much more convenient way if you wan to go to Olvera Street, Chinatown, the Fashion District.''

Ed Scannell, the MTA spokesman, said the agency changes its line-up - as often as every six months - to meet changing use patterns. ``This system is constantly (changing) to meet the needs of people.''

But weekend drives suffer from another shortfall - a lack of CHP squads to help clear troublespots as quickly as they can during the workweek.

One single accident can spoil your entire commute - one mishap typically results in two hours of traffic.

The CHP has been able to cut accident response times from 21 minutes to 5 minutes on a five-mile stretch of the Ventura Freeway in the Valley after it unleased an army of motorcyle cops to help push traffic along during rush hour.

But the patrols are off weekends, even though some freeways - like the 405 on the Westside, a key route to LAX and beaches - are busy every day.

``If it's an efficient program, and it has showed some value in decreasing response times on freeways, perhaps it should be explored,'' said Lustgarten.

``They may seem like small steps, but these things all contribute to decreasing congestion. Our problems are too acute to lend itself to a silver bullet. You have to attack it from everyway you can.''

Weekend traffic was just what Studio City Homeowners Assocation President Tony Lucente sought to avoid recently when he took a group for one of the L.A. Conservancy's architectural walking tours downtown.

``Weekdays, the traffic patterns are more established. On weekends, it's just a shot in the dark. You don't know whether to leave a half hour early or an hour early. (With) a Dodgers game or a Lakers game, it's just really unpredictable,'' said Lucente. ``We took the subway to avoid that.''

Staying home

Los Feliz resident Liza Kelso also tries to avoid weekend traffic, after having been burned too many times trying to get a jump start her weekend only to sit in Friday night traffic.

``Traffic is just as bad on the weekends as it is during the week,'' she said. ``I think people in L.A. kind of stay in their neighborhoods on weekends, unless you've got a trip planned. You've been comuting all week, you're going to stay in your little Los Feliz, Palmdale, Santa Monica area. Maybe if traffic wasn't the issue that wouldn't be the case.''

Tang, the CHP spokesman, said drivers should plan their weekend trips as if they were headed to work.

``On Saturday and Sunday we are so caught up in what we want to do an what we want to get accomplished, we fail to allow ourselves extra time,'' he said. ``Plan your weekend activities like you plan your morning regime.''

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jun 23, 2002
Words:1449
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