Car-pool lanes on the Costa Mesa Freeway (California 55) are virtually as safe as regular freeway lanes and have generated a 50% increase in the formation of car pools, according to separate studies released Wednesday.
"Little if any improvement in safety conditions would result from converting the lanes to mixed-flow operations," said the final safety report from the Institute for Transportation Studies at UC Irvine.
The study, paid for by the Orange County Transportation Commission, compared accident statistics on the Costa Mesa Freeway with those on the San Diego Freeway, where restriping added new regular lanes in 1983 and 1984.
"The increase in accident rates since 1982 is due largely to increases in congestion levels," the report states. "Traffic congestion overwhelms all other factors in determining safety conditions."
The report does, however, recommend relocating some of the entrance and exit points along the car-pool lanes to minimize confusion and bottlenecks.
OCTC Executive Director Stan Oftelie said commission members will probably go along with the suggestions.
Oftelie added: "Will (the report) silence the critics who don't like (car-pool) lanes? Some people will never be satisfied, but a reasonable person would see that we have made a reasonable effort to determine that those lanes are as safe or safer than any other freeway lanes in Orange County."
Drivers for Highway Safety, a grass-roots group, has strongly criticized car-pool lanes as unsafe because there is no barrier separating them from weaving, slower vehicles in adjacent lanes.
Joe C. Catron, the group's chairman, said Wednesday he still believes that the car-pool lanes are unsafe and that the UCI findings are inaccurate.
Reserved for 2 or More
Opened in November, 1985, the car-pool lanes extend for 11.1 miles in both directions between the Riverside and San Diego freeways. The lanes are reserved for motorcycles and vehicles carrying two or more people.
The other report released Wednesday was the result of a 21-month review of the Costa Mesa Freeway project by the state Department of Transportation. It said a summer survey of lane users had shown that "50% of the car pools using the commuter lane were formed because the lane was available for them to use."
According to the Caltrans report, participants in 1,500 car pools were surveyed.
The Caltrans report also showed that, because of heavy use, users are no longer having shorter travel times as a result of the car-pool lanes.