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Welcome to the laboratory of Western driving.

Inevitable yet inscrutable, both complicating and simplifying, Los Angeles's freeways connect communities miles apart yet isolate neighbors from one another. Part of the daily lives of 13 million people (and thousands of visitors), they convey 18 million vehicle trips daily: trucks, motorcycles, autos, vans, and buses all enter the vast network of concrete and iron, sailing over long, flat straightaways and graceful elevated curves. When the freeway system is working, vehicles move together like migrating birds in formation, precisely spaced and alone, yet part of the mass. When the system breaks down, cars jam together, jerking, snorting, and braying like trapped animals looking for escape-in this case, the next off-ramp. It's often said that Angelenos live in their cars. Spend a bit of time on L.A. freeways and you'll get a rather intimate look at what life in the not-always-fast lane is all about. Much to the chagrin of the highway patrol, Angelenos shave, put on make-up, make deals, do lunch, sing, dance, exercise, flirt with-and sometimes shoot at-other drivers while cruising down this vast 988-mile spider web of 30 freeways that spills beyond the bounds of L.A. into Ventura, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Larry McMurtry, in his book Moving On, compared the freeways to a great river, describing a driver's reaction to his arrival in the city as, "After years on the tributaries, he had finally reached the Father of Waters, where traffic was concerned ... It was as if the whole country was emptying itself onto the freeways of Los Angeles." Just as San Francisco's great bridges transcended their roles as travel corridors and came to represent that region's spirit, L.A.'s freeways play a symbolic role in Southern California and beyond. For many years, freeways helped create the image of individual freedom, opportunity, prosperity, or just plain fun that Southern California represented in American culture: with mobility comes possibility. Not surprisingly, as traffic congestion increased, both the region's and the freeways' images suffered; the spate of "paradise lost" articles in recent years invariably focuses on traffic woes and one of their major byproducts: air pollution. The endless summer has become the endless commute. To live and drive here this summer, both locals and tourists can use a little extra help. We bring together an update on major construction, a glossary of freeway language, driving tips, and a recap of freeway history as the nation's largest and most complex system marks its 50th anniversary. Driving tips Welcome to the big leagues. We talked to the experts-the California Highway Patrol the Automobile Club of Southern California Caltrans, and traffic reporters-for tips on conquering L.A.'s own concrete jungle.

Avoid rush hour

Here, that's 6 to 10 and 3 to 7.

Check freeway conditions

Tune in radio traffic updates (see box at

far fight). They identify jams, help you

choose an alternate route.

Plan your route

Experts cite exits and interchanges as

special fright zones for newcomers-one

instant's lapse of attention and you may

find yourself six lanes out of position.

Miss your exit and it can be bye-bye

Buena Park-you're on your way to

Bellflower.

Take out a map and check over your

route; note exits ahead of the one you

want so you can get into position and

avoid overshooting or reckless lane

changes.

Know how far you're going

Get a fix on your map's scale-what

looks like a short trip may actually be 30

miles-and estimate accordingly.

Allow extra time

Add a good 25 to 50 percent extra to

your estimated travel time.

Watch out around sports events

If your route brings you near a large arena or stadium, check the newspaper for game schedules and alter your course-traffic can be especially heavy an hour before and after an event. Make sure YOU can see Do you have enough wiper fluid? The area's glaring light can make driving toward the sun blinding with a dusty, buggy windshieid. Avoid weekend getaway traffic Friday afternoons feature some of the week's heaviest traffic. It extends to the very fringes of the freeway system, as drivers head out of town. Weekend mornings can also be heavy; get on the road early. The worst of the worst The pylons march down the middle of the Harbor Freeway like an advancing army of broad-shouldered aliens. Above them, a graceful ramp dead-ends abruptly Scenes like this mark a busy summer of freeway construction. You may not always see work under way, but in some areas you'll drive in temporaily narrowed lanes with obscure boundaries that weave drunkenly. Here are areas to avoid if you can. Newspapers also have reports on construction related closures. Century Freeway (I- 105). After 11 years of construction, this state-of-the-art freeway from LAX to Norwalk will have commuter lanes and a light-rail median. Expect delays on intersecting routes-1-405, I-110, I-710,I-605. Harbor Freeway (I- 110). A $530-million project along a 19.6-mile stretch between San Pedro and downtown will be completed by 1994. Star feature will be a 10.3mile transitway for buses, vans, and carpools; this elevated section of highway will run 2.6 miles. Main alternates are Broadway northbound, Figueroa Street southbound. For updates, call (800) 540A 110. In the area, tune to 1610 AM. Breakdowns get free towing from 5:30 A.M. to 7 P.m. weekdays. Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101). In its final phase, this $76-million project should increase capacity 25 percent. For updates, call (800) 225-5847. in Orange County. Work involves 2 of the nation's 10 busiest interchanges. Some $95 million of widening and carpool lane work continues on 4 miles of 1-5 between State 55 and IA05. A $40-million project is improving 5 miles of State 55 between Newport Beach and State 73. For Orange County updates, call the Caltrans Helpline at (714) 768-4225. Tune to 530 AM for closure updates. Follow the talking signs ... Even good freeways have bad days. When traffic stops, some 40 electronic signboards along busy stretches of area freeways (including U.S. 101, I-10, and I-405) update drivers on traffic tie-ups and suggest other routes. The signs, erected in the early '70s, made their film debut in Steve Martin's L.A. Story. By 1993, 100 will be operating. HOV lanes: no singles Lanes restricted to high occupancy vehicles aid traffic flow. When the first ones opened on the Santa Mo a Freeway in 1976, they set off such a backlash that Caltrans abandoned them. But in recent years they've gained popularity. They don't convey more cars than other lanes, but they carry at least twice as many people. HOV can mean two or three people per vehicle. Be sure you qualify: fines are heavy-$246 up. A recent study looked at an 8-mile stretch of the Artesia Freeway. In an HOV lane, the trip dropped from 30 to 9 minutes; in a regular lane, to 20 due to the number of vehicles in HOV lanes. Caltrans is adding HOV lanes to existing freeways, but often by narrowing lanes. Which radio station? And what are they talking about? ignorance is hardly bliss when you're stuck in congestion that you could have avoided by understanding radio traffic reports. Somewhere in tone between sports reports and dispatches from the front, they're updated by stations' airborne reporters. Stations shown above give frequent updates. Connector road. Transition ramp or road from one freeway to another. Gaper's (or gawker's) block. Term for morbid curiosity: traffic slows as drivers ogle cars on shoulder after accident or arrest-even a car with a flat or its hood up. Freeway names. Reporters use names rather than numbers; our map gives both. Some freeways have different names on different stretches. Even more confusing, some names refer to more than one highway: San Diego Freeway-I-405,I-5; Ventura Freeway-U.S. 101, State 134; Hollywood Freeway-U.S. 101, State 170. Lane numbering. You may hear, A fender bender is blocking the number 1 lane." Numbering starts from the median lane and counts outward. Sigalert. Refers to an incident where traffic in one lane is tied up for 30 minutes or more. The term doesn't mean "signal alert"; it comes from the name of Loyd Sigmon, of KMPC, who invented the advisory practice in L.A. in 1955. Traffic advisory. Warning about congestion lasting 30 minutes or more. Traffic break. Occurs when the highway patrol slows traffic in order to remove obstructions. A gallery of public art at 55 mph It's hot. It's smoggy You're stuck on the San Diego Freeway. Then you see something colorful. You get doser Giant runners of all shapes, races, and ages. You gaze into their eyes, and you're transported to that jog you had along the ocean the other day Kent Twitchell's 1991 tribute to the L.A. Marathon (on IA05 near LAX) is among many murals you might spot along the world's largest drive-through gallery. The greatest concentration of murals, many created for the '84 Olympics, is downtown along the Hollywood and Harbor freeways. The savvy LAX shortcut To avoid the dreaded intersection of the Santa Monica and San Diego freeways en route to LAX, savvy locals cut between the two. From I-10 westbound, exit south on La Brea Avenue. Go right on Stocker Street, then left on La Cienega Boulevard. Veer fight on La Tijera Boulevard, left on Airport Boulevard to rental-car return lots. Driving L.A.'s museum pieces If you find yourself on the Pasadena or in the Cahuenga Pass section circa 1940) of the Hollywood, look for design differences compared to later freeways. An oft-told tale of the Pasadena is that planners put in extra bends to keep drivers alert. if so, it worked. Built for maximum speeds of 45 mph, the narrow lanes, tight curves, and abrupt merges and exits challenge today's higher-speed drivers. The compensation: art deco touches, banks of trailing ivy and lantana. The Hollywood looks more modem. Especially between Sunset Boulevard and Universal City, its multiple lane and streamline modeme design seem to have pointed the way to the future. L.A. entered the freeway age on December 30, 1940, as dignitaries dedicated the 8.2-mile Arroyo Seco Parkway, now the Pasadena Freeway. In a mix of tradition and brave new autopia, Chief Tahachwee (whose ancestors lived in the arroyo) and state public works director Frank W. Clark smoked a peace pipe, and the Kawie tribe ceded its rights to the gulch. By 1919, Los Angeles had the nation's highest per-capita auto ownership. During the 20s, population doubled; by the 30s, the city had begun a serious hunt for solutions to severe traffic congestion. In 1924, noted urban planner Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., advocated a parkway system-roads without signals or intersections, but connecting to other streets. The idea got a boost in 1937 when the Automobile Club of Southern California proposed a network of "motorways" that helped form the model for the city's eventual freeway plan, which foresaw a 1,500mile lattice of parallel routes 4 miles apart. Freeway construction enjoyed public support during the 60s, but the tide turned. For years, construction had followed the path of least resistance: old railroad and trolley lines and routes through poorer communities with cheaper land. As new and larger freeways began to threaten more affluent areas, opposition grew, creating struggles like the now decades-long one over the Long Beach Freeway extension through South Pasadena. Environmental mitigation costs and right-of-way acquisitions, combined with larger freeways, quadrupled costs. At the same time, gas tax revenues plunged as drivers cut back during the energy crisis of 1973. The contrast: between 1965 and 1970, the L.A. system added more than 200 miles, but in the 1980s only 24 miles. This fall in construction coincided with a dramatic increase in the amount we drive, caused by more working women, more suburban sprawl, inexpensive gasoline, and rapid population growth in distant sectors without enough nearby jobs.

If you

break down Half of freeway congestion is caused by incidents," which can range from a car with a flat tire to an overturned truck carrying 500 chickens. These quick-response features can make a difference. Use call boxes. Located at 1/4to 1 -mile intervals on the fight shoulders of most of the system's freeways, these can truly be lifesavers. Follow posted directions; when an operator answers, give the box's number (printed above the phone), describe your trouble and location. These phones cannot be used for regular calls. *Wait for towing service. Starting July 1, the CHP, Auto Club, and Caltrans are expanding free rush-hour emergency towing service. They will patrol freeways around downtown Los Angeles, and the most congested stretches of the San Diego and Ventura freeways. The service will ex d over the next Ramp meters: controlling the flow Some 720 of these stoplights are at on-ramps in L.A. County alone. Microcomputers read traffic volume, then time lights to all cars to enter with least disruption to flow. "We can hold back the traffic like a valve holds back water," says Caltrans' David Roper. If you let in a drop at a time, it can be absorbed. If you throw the valve open, you get turbulence." if you have a passenger, use the carpool lane. Usually, these have no backups. Lessons from the 1984 Olympic Of all the upsets in the 1984 Olympics, perhaps the biggest was the victory over gridlock. Officials urged employers to adjust hours to spread traffic; truckers avoided event locations, and drivers carpooled. Peak-hour traffic dropped 3 to 4 percent-enough to kick freeways into free flow. While you can lead a horde from gridlock, you can't make it stick; like water filling a void, Angelenos detecting open lanes returned to the road; by the last day of the Olympics, traffic was 7 percent above normal. Permanent changes of habit may come slowly, but these solutions are gaining ground: *Ride sharing. To lower air pollution to federal standards by 2007, a South Coast Air Quality Management District plan will force employers of over a hundred workers at one site to increase the average number of workers per vehicle-or face fines. in fact, according to Commuter Transportation Services, inc., 24 percent of commuters now frequently share rides, up from 18 percent 10 years ago.) For more on pooling, call CTS at (213) 380-7433. *Flex time. Staggered work weeks (40 hours in four days, for example) and staggered hours reduce peak traffic. Telecommuting-working from home or from satellite work centers. No free parking. Many experts believe free parking only encourages workers to drive. Studies show that fewer people will drive alone if parking cost isn't fully paid (except for van and carpools). Essential maps, guides L.A. doesn't really stand for Lost Angles-that is, if you have the fight help. Out-of-town AAA members can get maps at their home branches. The bibles of area drivers are the Thomas Guide map books ($14 to $24). Choose a single-county or a combo book-Los Angeles and Orange Counties Street Guide & Directory is especially useful; the freeway entry and exit maps are lifesavers. Two guides help you cut comers. L.A. Shortcuts, The Guidebook for Drivers Who Hate to Wait (Red Car Press, Los Angeles, 1989; $16.95) is Brian Roberts' and Richard Schwadel's irreverent and helpful list of 90 shortcuts. Some we knew; others we tried also worked well. Freeway Alternates (Gem Guides Book Co., Baldwin Park, Calif., 1990; $10.95), by David ("Dr. Roadmap") Rizzo, helps you get around Southern California without freeways. it lists 101 destinations, with routes from all four directions. Coming soon to a freeway near you Nightmare visions of L.A.'s future have featured fires, earthquakes, space aliens, and android assassins. Traffic projections may lack such apocalyptic appeal, but the statistics are ominous: given predicted growth in the next 20 years, the average freeway speed would drop from today's 35 mph to 11 mph. Automobiles already contribute 70 percent of the pollutants to the nation's most polluted air. And idling vehicles emit more pollutants than moving vehicles. Like water, freeways are a limited resource that we often treat as an unlimited one. Many experts say drivers don't pay the real costs of driving, and that habits would change with new pricing schemes. Others seek technical fixes to maximize capacity. Here are three approaches: Tollways. Vehicle identification numbers will be read electronically without slowing autos on these high-tech highways. Peak-time drivers likely will pay higher tolls, creating additional revenue for maintenance and an incentive to drive at less congested times. Southern California's first tollway will open in Orange County in 1993. Automatic vehicle control systems. Autos would travel closely at 85 mph in lanes rigged with sensors; electronic in-car systems would steer and brake. Resulting "car trains" could triple freeway capacity, but implementation will be costly and is 20 or more years away. in-car navigatoon systems. Up-to-the-minute traffic data could go onto computer maps in cars, helping drivers navigate their path of least resistance. A pilot program has computer screens in 15 cars plying the Santa Monica Freeway. 11
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:L.A. freeways
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:2833
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