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Street Smart

Winding Road and Speeding Drivers a Recipe for Fear

September 22, 1997|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here comes a high-speed freeway bottleneck. Clutch the wheel and pray.

You are zooming toward a merge in the rush-hour herd, and your lane is about to vanish like vapors from the tank of a V-10 Viper.

Too many cars in the next lane, no room left in yours. There's a drunk weaving 20 feet off your nose, a tandem gravel rig breathing down your neck.

Brakes or accelerator?

Turn signal or horn?

Swear like a sailor, or pray like a nun?

Then the lanes merge and adjacent cars start crowding together like evil magnetic toys, their idiot drivers trying to cut you off from pulling into their lane because heaven forbid anyone should get in front of them.

Your mind starts throwing a panicky internal sales pitch:

Why wait? Last chance! Room is going fast! No time left! Act now!

There is no correct answer: You either squeeze in amid blaring horns and glaring high-beams, or you eat the shoulder, kicking up broken glass and soda cups until some kind soul takes pity and lets you merge.

Ventura County is paved with hard-luck spots--like the westbound slow lanes of the 118 Freeway at Rocky Peak or the northbound Ventura Freeway junction with Highway 1--cruel places where all the road engineers' good intentions seemed to have petered out just when the terrain got gnarly.

The only way out is to be alert. (Remember, America needs more lerts). And don't forget to check your mirrors and blind spots. You might just survive.

Dear Street Smart:

Potrero Road, less than a mile west of South Westlake Boulevard in Thousand Oaks, was going to be straightened and widened a year and a half ago. Now, we have new developments in the area, and the traffic flow is increasing.

The posted speed limit is 45 mph (most people drive closer to 60). As northbound Potrero approaches a wash near the entrance to Lake Sherwood, it gets very narrow with one traffic lane in each direction and no bike lane.

There have been numerous accidents, and we all know that someone is going to lose their life.

Can you give us any help or shed light on the above subject?

Bob McLean

Thousand Oaks

Dear Reader:

Can we help?

The Street Smart Creed is, first, do no harm. (Yes, it is plagiarism of the Hippocratic oath for doctors, but we still haven't figured out how to buy a 38-foot sloop and a Hummer to haul it on the salary afforded to ink-stained wretches like us).

As for helping, Street Smart can neither force highway engineers to make the road safer, nor compel drivers to slow down for the curves. We can only offer information:

First, the matter of the Westlake/Potrero intersection. The fear and panic quotient shoots into the stratosphere there in the early morning hours, when the peaking flow of commuters crosses paths with a surge in the numbers of parents dropping off kids at Westlake Elementary.

Caltrans and the city of Thousand Oaks are still discussing the cost and parameters of a project to widen the intersection and make it safer, but they "agree in concept" about the need for it, says Caltrans spokesman Pat Reid.

Unfortunately, there will be a wait: No work is scheduled, and no one has fronted any money yet, she says.

As for western Potrero just past the wash, you are right. It's a jaw-clencher, particularly when drivers shred the speed limit.

Street Smart's very favorite bicycling experience is pedaling in top gear through those nasty curves, hoping to get to the top and avoid grinding his knees to hamburger against the rocky cliffs to the right before some speed demon's mirror clips him on the left.

But Thousand Oaks Traffic Engineer Jeff Knowles says that stretch of road before Lake Sherwood has not had a record of bad accidents since at least 1995.

"Most drivers discern the fact that the roadway is getting narrower and curving, and there's some grades involved," he said. "And they make the modifications to their driving habits to make sure they stay safe."

Dear Street Smart:

The new carpool lane on the westbound Ronald Reagan Freeway (118) has no breaks in it for a solid five miles, from just before the DeSoto exit until it ends a little past the Rocky Peak Road exit.

It's easy to get caught behind a slow-moving vehicle that's struggling to make it up that long grade (or just doesn't care that it's clogging traffic in what should be a fast lane). And then you're trapped, even though traffic in the regular lanes may be whizzing by.

On several occasions, I've seen cars or trucks cross the double-yellow line to escape from the carpool lane. I don't blame them. I blame Caltrans. Carpool lanes should have breaks every couple of miles, even if there's no exit coming up, just to allow reasonable traffic transitions.

That unbroken five-mile stretch makes the 118 more dangerous, not less, because vehicles in the other lanes aren't expecting cars to dart out from the carpool lane. This is an accident waiting to happen.

David Wiener

Simi Valley

Dear Reader:

You're in luck.

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