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Street Smart Tackles Life in the Fast and Extremely Slow Lanes


The future of transportation in Los Angeles has been written and it works--on paper.

The dreamers of big dreams and planners of major plans have given us a vision of a metropolis laced with slick subways and Star Trek trains, whisking us from seashore to mountainside, and your house and my house in between.

But in all likelihood, most of us will be stuck in the present for some time to come: Driving alone, bumper to bumper, breathing the exhaust fumes of that moron doing 35 m.p.h. in the fast lane as he leafs through the Thomas Bros. guide.

So the Times Valley Edition is going to have a weekly column called Street Smart that will answer your questions about traffic and transportation in the San Fernando Valley.

That's where I come in. I will take your questions and comments via phone, fax and letters and try to respond in a clear, informative and, I hope, humorous column that will appear weekly in this spot.

Despite the column's name, I am not so "street smart" that I have the answers to all your queries--shortcuts, freeway esoterica, stirring tales from the fast lane. But I do have time to dig through the bowels of Caltrans and City Hall to find that one elusive technocrat who has the answers.

As an example, you may wonder why the Winnetka Avenue off-ramps on the Simi Valley Freeway have never been opened (because some rich folks don't want traffic cutting through their horse stables); or what is the difference between a street bump and a street hump (the former is tall and thin and the latter is short and wide); or who was the genius who designed the southbound Hollywood Freeway so that it does not connect with the westbound Ventura Freeway (no one wants to take credit for that one).

Just think of me as the Dear Abby of Valley traffic.

We will also take some rail-related questions, such as why don't Metrolink trains stop at Burbank Airport (because transportation officials don't want to add a stop that would lengthen your commute). But I'll be looking mostly at freeway and surface-street problems.

You haven't sent in any questions yet, so I asked around, and here's what I got:


How come us law-abiding drivers have to smog-check our cars while all these RTD buses are allowed to belch smoke everywhere?

Ah, someone who had a bad smog-check experience. Diesel engines in vehicles owned by big fleet operators--like the RTD-- are checked and do have to meet some standards, although different from those of gasoline engines. According to state clean-air officials, diesel engines do not burn as efficiently as gasoline engines, and produce foul stuff called particulates that can lodge in your lungs and cause respiratory problems. (Doesn't this make you want to move to Wyoming?) Even diesel engines that pass their smog tests give off clouds of particulates, which are easier to see than the gases produced by gasoline engines. That's just the way diesel engines are.


Why is it that we have these elaborate electronic billboards on freeways to give us traffic advice but they rarely seem to be on, or even working?

Back in the late 1970s, when polyester jumpsuits, disco and sitting in long gasoline lines were all the rage, Caltrans put all types of information on those billboards, including temperatures, air-quality reports and, of course, road conditions. But commuters complained, saying the messages wasted electricity and traffic backed up when motorists slowed to read the messages. So now, Caltrans only uses the billboards for big deals, like when there is a huge accident ahead or an off-ramp is closed.


What are those weird cables hanging over the Simi Valley Freeway near Balboa Boulevard?

Those cables are actually a safety net to protect commuters. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has launched an $8-million project to bring more electricity to Valley residents so you can run your air conditioner all night. The project includes erecting 45 humongous towers that carry about a zillion volts of electricity. Those cables you see draped over the freeway are there to catch any high-voltage lines that may drop during construction onto the roofs of cars passing below. (Talk about a bolt from the blue.) The project is almost done and the cables will be gone in about a week.


I also want to print your opinions on transportation-related topics, such as:

* Your vote for worst stretch of freeway in the Valley (I say it's the southbound Hollywood Freeway through North Hollywood, which is so bad in the morning that motorists have to take a number to make a lane change).

* Your worst traffic nightmare (for example, getting caught in a two-hour SigAlert on the way to your wedding).

* Your commuting pet peeve. (My teeth start to grind when I'm caught behind a gravel truck that sandblasts my hood and windshield with rocks the size of hamsters.)

* Your favorite stretch of freeway. (And why you think so, since the same stretch is probably on other people's "worst" list.)

* Your solution for solving the city's traffic mess. (My personal remedy is to dynamite all freeways and replace them with canals so we can boat to work. Imagine the radio traffic reports: "Traffic is bow-to-stern today on the Hollywood River. It looks like a gondola and a hydrofoil have collided near the Ventura Boatway.")

* Your favorite shortcut. (If you are willing to let the rest of the world in on it.)

* Your weirdest commuting experience. (I once came across a traffic jam caused by a spilled load of diapers. Luckily, they were unused.)

* Or your vote for the most witty personalized license plate ("I H8 MY X" has been spotted around town. And we probably shouldn't ask what story lies behind "4BN BAD").

So let me have your questions. Here's how to do it:

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