An experimental car-pool lane added to the eastbound Artesia Freeway to relieve afternoon rush-hour traffic has been declared such a resounding success that plans are under way to start a similar lane for westbound morning traffic, Caltrans officials say.
The state Department of Transportation opened the eastbound lane along California 91 as a pilot project a year ago. The result, officials say, has been improved traffic flow not only for car poolers--those who ride two or more to a vehicle in the special lane--but also for those in the other lanes.
As a result of that success, "we have a project beginning to develop for the westbound lane," said David H. Roper, deputy district director of traffic operations for Caltrans.
A 25-member advisory committee, formed more than a year ago to oversee the special eastbound lane, "took no formal vote the last time it met, but the consensus was to keep it going and to implement a similar lane" in the opposite direction, Roper said.
It could take more than 18 months to approve, design, construct and implement the westbound car-pool lane, but a "conceptual plan is under way," said Isaac Michiel, Caltrans area traffic engineer.
Carries More People
Caltrans' studies of the car-pool lane show that while fewer vehicles travel in the lane, it carries more people than a standard lane.
The eastbound lane is open only from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. During the peak hours of between 3 and 7 p.m. daily, more than 10,000 people travel the special lane, contrasted with more than 8,000--often sitting in stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic--in a regular lane during the same time period, according to the latest Caltrans data, gathered in March.
During the peak period, more than 43,000 motorists and passengers use the Artesia Freeway corridor, with 24% of them using the car-pool lane, according to the data.
"During the peak hours there is still congestion, but it is better than before. We estimate that people in the regular (four) lanes are saving 10 minutes and those in the special lane are saving anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes," said Bjorn Brodahl, associate transportation engineer for Caltrans.
Caltrans has not concentrated its efforts on morning eastbound and evening westbound traffic because traffic is far heavier in the opposite directions during those hours, with motorists traveling from as far away as Sunnymead in Riverside County to major employment centers in the Westside and South Bay, said Patricia Reid, Caltrans public information officer.
Along Center Divider
Motorists can enter the lane, which is alongside the freeway's center divider, at Central Avenue in Compton, where it begins. The only other entrance is just west of Cherry Avenue, which accommodates traffic joining the Artesia Freeway from the Long Beach Freeway. The lane ends at the Interstate 605 in Cerritos, where motorists can continue on either freeway. The only other exit is at Lakewood Boulevard in Bellflower.
The car-pool lane, which was carved out of the emergency shoulder, has a double yellow line separating it from the regular lanes.
The majority of those close to the project, including motorists who drive the eight-mile trip daily in rush-hour traffic, have mostly kind things to say about the lane.
"It has been a boon. It's great. I applaud their (Caltrans') effort," said Toki Endo, project engineer for Hughes Aircraft Co. in Long Beach. Endo drives the route in a car pool with other Hughes employees to his home in Yorba Linda in Orange County, which is about a 32-mile trip one way. Endo estimates that he saves 10 to 15 minutes a day.
Jan Donselman, a facilities planner for Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, echoed Endo's endorsement.
"I'm really enthusiastic about it," said Donselman, who drives his 10-passenger van from El Segundo to the Lakewood area daily. He and his passengers save about 10 to 15 minutes each day, Donselman said.
There have been no major problems on the lane while he has been using it, Endo said.
"There was an incident where a guy got a flat tire and pulled over into the emergency lane to change it. That caused a bottleneck for a while, and we had to cautiously move around him," Endo said.
"You also feel a little strange going 55 m.p.h. while the regular traffic is traveling slower. You have to be extra careful, making sure no one cuts into the lane from regular traffic," said Clara Crepps, another Hughes Aircraft employee who lives in Yorba Linda.
Near the end of last year, Caltrans had received 137 phone calls about the lane, with 91% of the calls positive, according to a department report.
Most of the negative calls were complaints about not allowing motorcyclists to travel the lane. The department also received two letters, one with 60 signatures and the other one with 23, requesting that the lane be open for all traffic.
There has not been an increase in traffic problems, according to the California Highway Patrol.