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LIFE ON WHEELS

Taking Evasive Action: Readers Tell How to Avoid Freeways Altogether

June 15, 1989|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Freeways. You can't live with them, and you can't live without them.

Or can you?

Nearly all of us whine and moan about having to do battle every day out there in that parking lot that was originally intended to be the fast lane.

But a few county drivers cannot commiserate with the rest of us. They prefer to be conscientious objectors, sitting out the freeway war by sticking to surface streets. They shared their feelings about freeways, but asked that their last names not be used.

"I, for one, have joined a growing number of older women who will no longer drive on the freeways," writes Jane, 69, of Fullerton.

About a year ago, she decided enough was enough: "I was in the right-hand lane on the 57 (Orange) Freeway, going the speed limit, and this big truck barrels up and sits right on my bumper. He was so close all he had to do was nudge me, and I'd have gone sailing. All I could see in my rear-view mirror was the grille on that big engine."

She says she got off at the next exit and so far has not gotten back on, except as a passenger.

Aggressive trucks are one reason for Jane's decision, but she has others: "Some of these young people just cut in and out of traffic all the time. It's terrifying. And I don't think drivers are as courteous as they used to be. They're always in a hurry, but they don't have to be."

In her 40-plus years of driving, Jane has never had an accident, "and I'd like to keep it that way."

She knows that statistically freeways tend to have fewer accidents per car, per mile than do surface streets, but "I just feel safer on the surface streets," she says.

Jane admits that her three grown children and some of her friends think she's a bit odd. Isn't her mobility somewhat limited this way? Doesn't it take forever to get anywhere with all those stoplights?

"I can get around Orange County just fine . . . without using freeways," Jane says. "And stoplights are wonderful. People have to slow down because of them. I'm always anticipating the stop and go, so it doesn't bother me."

At least three of her friends decided to try her approach and were sold.

"I tell my neighbors about it; I talk to people all over," she says. "The other day I was in line at the store telling a friend how I won't drive freeways anymore, and an older lady in the next line said: 'You're right. I just quit right now.' "

Jane's husband, Richard, 73, has not come around to her way of thinking yet. "When I ride along with him, (the freeway) scares me," she says.

Both are retired now, so they do not have a daily commute, but their work with volunteer organizations requires that "we need to travel just a little bit."

Jane has her favorites among the surface streets. Near her home, she likes Bastanchury Road and State College Boulevard. If she is heading for South Coast Plaza, she uses Bristol Avenue. "And Katella is great if you're going to Long Beach."

For north-south travel, Jane prefers Brookhurst Avenue. "Don't take Euclid," she says. "Brookhurst is much easier."

Laura, 56, who lives in Tustin, has been a freeway abstainer for 10 years now. "When I first came out here in 1974," she says, "I loved the freeways. If you waited until after 9 (a.m.), you could go anywhere you wanted to. I wouldn't take anything but the freeway. But not anymore."

After returning briefly to her native Ohio, Jane moved back to Orange County in 1979--and promptly got stuck in a traffic jam. On another trip, she missed her exit and got lost, miles from where she wanted to go.

"It was such a hassle all the time, I started taking the streets instead," she says. "But now they're getting all clogged.

"People tell me I'm chicken, but that's not it. I'm not afraid to get on the freeway. I just don't like having my time tied up. When I'm on a (surface) street, I'm moving. And I look up at the freeway, and they're not. So why get on them?

"People who drive freeways don't even see anything around them. Since I haven't been on them, I know every street in Tustin and Irvine. I know my way around, I know neighborhoods, I know which streets go through and which ones don't," Laura says.

"One time I took the back roads all the way from Riverside. I saw some beautiful country.

"I don't feel like I'm crippled," Laura says. "I've had people get on the freeway at the same time I was going somewhere, and I've beaten them there, because they were tied up in a SigAlert."

Laura agrees with Jane that traffic on Brookhurst Avenue generally moves better than on Euclid Avenue, which parallels it on the east. "But I'd rather take the little streets in between them," she says.

"That's the way I do it. If 17th Street (in Santa Ana) is a main street, then I ask, which is the one beside it? Because there's usually less traffic. Instead of Garden Grove Boulevard (in Garden Grove), take Lambert Avenue, except that's not good now because there's construction. Instead of Tustin Avenue (in Orange), take Cambridge.

"I have a map of Orange County in my head," Laura says. "It just doesn't include freeways."

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