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A Little Rush-Hour Relief : Commuting: Morning traffic on local freeways has stabilized or actually declined, Caltrans says. The recession is one factor.


THE REGION — This is of little relief to you who spend time on the freeway virtually parked behind another car, but state highway officials say that rush hours on area roads are actually shrinking in length and intensity.

Overall traffic congestion has declined on the Golden State, Glendale, Ventura and Pasadena freeways.

Call it a gift from the lingering recession, as well as the success of efforts to encourage car pools, train commuting and other traffic-reducing solutions.

"The economy has taken a decided downturn and that has had a major impact on traffic," said Charles J. O'Connell, deputy director of operations for the California Department of Transportation in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Two years ago, Caltrans officials first noticed that the rush hours, especially the morning one, had begun to shrink.

Last year, the degree of congestion throughout the county--measured by how much the average traffic speed drops under 35 m.p.h.--declined 11% compared to 1990, state highway officials said.

On the Glendale Freeway (2) at San Fernando Road, the number of vehicles daily dropped by 5.1%. On the Golden State Freeway (5) at Colorado Boulevard it increased by a bare 1.5%, with 260,000 vehicles passing that spot daily.

"This trend has continued this year," said O'Connell, citing preliminary surveys and observations by Caltrans.

Although data for the current year won't be compiled until December, Caltrans officials say their preliminary observations in 1993 indicate that traffic is decreasing or remaining fairly stable.

"There is a significant decrease in the number of cars and the congestion in the mornings," O'Connell said. Morning rush hour traffic--unlike in the afternoon when there is a bigger mix of the types of travelers--tends to be made up mostly of commuters.

In the 1980s, the morning rush ran from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., O'Connell said. Now, he said, it has shrunk by nearly an hour, ending closer to 9 a.m.

The one place in the county that is bucking the shrinking trend, however, is the corridor between Glendale and San Dimas, on the Foothill Freeway (210) and the Ventura Freeway (134).

The actual number of vehicles is increasing, morning and evening, O'Connell said. Congestion on the Foothill Freeway in the afternoon rush hours last year in the San Gabriel Valley, he said, was 50% worse than two years before.

Overall, traffic from Glendale to San Dimas has steadily increased at levels almost equal to the 1980s when the annual rate of growth of traffic was 4% to 5%.

In Glendale, on the Ventura Freeway, traffic increased by 7.2% at Brand Avenue during the two years from 1990 to 1992.

On the Foothill Freeway in Pasadena in 1990, the average daily number of vehicles was 235,000. Two years later the figure rose to 256,000, an 8.9% increase.

And just beyond the eastern end of the Foothill Freeway, along Route 30 in San Dimas and La Verne, the traffic volume, on a percentage basis, jumped to one of the highest levels in the county. There was a 17% increase in traffic in the two-year period ending last year.

"I don't have a good reason why the 210 corridor is bucking the trend," O'Connell said.

O'Connell has asked Caltrans planners to see if they can determine why. His guess is that in the past two to three years the job market along the east-west corridor served by the Foothill and Ventura freeways has remained stronger than in other parts of the county.

By contrast, along the Pomona Freeway (60) in Rosemead, traffic dropped more than 10% and on the San Gabriel River Freeway (605) in Baldwin Park the number of vehicles declined more than 4%.

In a step to alleviate traffic problems during the next two to four years, O'Connell said, Caltrans will implement a $300-million Traffic Management Program.

A freeway tow service patrol is part of the program, and so are electronic traffic message signs and ramp meters, which will be utilized more. The project also includes plans to set up radio transmitters that can broadcast traffic reports targeted for specific areas. More sensors will be embedded in roadways to monitor congestion.

The Traffic Crunch

Traffic in the Glendale area: Average daily count of vehicles

Location 1990 1992 Change Glendale Freeway at San Fernando Road 137,000 130,000 - 5.1% Golden State Freeway at Colorado Boulevard 256,000 260,000 1.6% Foothill Freeway at Lake Avenue in Pasadena 235,000 256,000 8.9% Ventura Freeway at Brand Boulevard 194,000 208,000 7.2% Pasadena Freeway North of Golden State Freeway 125,000 123,000 -1.6% At freeway's end in Pasadena 41,000 41,000 0%

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