Interesting California Traffic Stories for May, 2019

Check out some of the interesting news stories and developments affecting California drivers from the past month.

California Focus: Untested traffic fixes crash and burn (Sonoma Index-Tribune)

Since the early 1970s time of ex-Gov. Jerry Brown’s first term in office, California officials from the top down have tried to coax Californians out of their cars.

It began with Brown’s installing as his highway czarina the highly touted “transportation genius” Adriana Gianturco, a Harvard Graduate School product whose first step was to turn two existing lanes of the world’s busiest roadway – the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles – over to carpools only.

This won her the determined enmity of most local motorists, who soon hounded Gianturco from office and away from California, while the lanes went back to general use and the “Giant Turkey” became a cautionary tale for bureaucrats who followed.

This 44-year-old lesson appears all but forgotten today, as state and local governments obsess over the notion that mass transit and dense development can somehow lessen traffic gridlock.

That’s one rationale behind all the bicycle lanes appearing in cities large and small today, often at the expense of traffic lanes and parking spaces. It’s also the reasoning that drives efforts to force dense housing near light rail stations and heavily used bus routes, on the presumption that new occupants will not add to traffic, using mass transit instead.

The problem: Among California cities, only San Francisco has anything like the comprehensive public transportation system needed to accomplish this. As a result, gridlock is now worse than ever in most cities, including San Francisco, where one recent study showed ride-sharing vehicles from outfits like Uber and Lyft make up 30 percent of all traffic.

Which means some residents have indeed been driven from their cars – right into other cars. There is no reduction in smog from this… [Read more…]

Why California wildfire evacuations are becoming deadly traffic jams (The Sacramento Bee)

Californians got a deadly wake-up call when more than 27,000 Paradise residents trying to escape the Camp Fire got caught in a nightmare traffic jam. The 2018 catastrophe illuminated the grim reality that road systems throughout the state are not designed to handle a sudden evacuation.

A new USA TODAY Network-California analysis reveals the extent to which a fundamental problem in Paradise — too few escape lanes for too many people in vehicles — applies to other cities and neighborhoods at great risk of wildfire across the state.

About 350,000 Californians live in areas that have both the highest wildfire risk designation, and either the same number or fewer exit routes per person as Paradise. From the mountains, lakes and forests of northern California, to the San Diego suburbs, some residents in the most fire-prone areas have far fewer evacuation routes than the vast majority of the state.

The ratio of people to exit routes doesn’t account for all the complexities of an actual evacuation, experts say, but it does serve as a shorthand for evaluating evacuation efficacy.

In the Gold Rush town of Sonora, about three and half hours southeast of the town wasted by the Camp Fire, Karl Rodefer thinks about Paradise. He worries more as the next dry season approaches. [Read more…]

Palm Springs leader eyes spot on state task force evaluating traffic deaths, speed limits (Desert Sun)

A Palm Springs councilwoman has her sights set on joining a new state task force that'll evaluate road fatalities and speed limits, and it looks like she has support from other Coachella Valley leaders.

The Coachella Valley Association of Governments' Transportation Committee is expected to sign a letter of support for Lisa Middleton to join the Zero Traffic Fatalities Task Force. Discussion is on tap for 11 a.m. Monday during the committee's monthly meeting in Palm Desert.

Assembly Bill 2363, which was introduced and approved last year, called for the development of the task force by July 1 and it would have until Jan. 1 to develop and recommend policies for reducing traffic fatalities and setting speed limits.

Task force members would include representatives from the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans and other traffic agencies and interest groups.

Middleton said she "feels very strongly" about traffic safety and her goal is to provide a local community's perspective on identifying speed limits using something other than the 85th percentile method. It essentially looks at the speed of 85 percent of drivers and allows speed limits to be rounded up or down to the nearest 5 mph. [Read more…]

Tech, Partnerships Aim to Optimize Traffic Congestion Management (Techwire)

A team comprising Caltrans, UC Berkeley and other stakeholders is tackling a pilot project that aims to reduce traffic in Southern California by targeting I-210.

The effort, among partners including the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and a program at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies, is the first phase of an Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) project: the I-210 Pilot.

Its first part includes monitoring traffic flow in four Southern California cities: Monrovia, Arcadia, Pasadena and Duarte. But the hope, said Joe Butler, program manager for California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology — the research program at UC Berkeley focused on Intelligent Transportation Systems — is that the system will officially launch in the first quarter of 2020.

“The university's goal is to improve the way in which decision-making — real-time decision-making in transportation — occurs,” Butler told Techwire, “and to do that through really bringing better decision support techniques [and] AI machine learning into the mix.”

In addition to that, said Mort Fahrtash, office chief of District Traffic Management in the Caltrans Division of Traffic Operations, there's the goal of “putting a dent in non-recurring congestion,” which includes traffic buildup due to accidents, work zones and weather. (Recurring congestion includes the a.m. and p.m. traffic peaks.). [Read more…]

Southern California gets an 'F' for air quality (ABC 7)

Southern California received a failing grade for air quality and pollution, again.

The "State of the Air" report by the American Lung Association said despite decades of clean-air progress, climate change is making it difficult to continue.

"Climate change impacts that are driving those extreme heat days, that are driving those catastrophic wildfires," said Will Barrett with the American Lung Association. "It really makes the job of the air districts in our state much more difficult cleaning up the air."

The report noted widespread ozone increases from 2015 to 2017 which were the hottest years on record in the United States.

San Bernardino, Riverside, L.A. and Orange counties all received an "F" when it came to unhealthy ozone days and particulate pollution.

Health experts say poor air quality puts everyone at greater risk for premature death and other serious health effects.

"The air is clearer, but I should point out that the incidents of childhood asthma is still increasing," said Dr. David Lo with the UCR School of Medicine/Biomedical Sciences. [Read more…]

Seven-month delay in processing traffic tickets in Santa Clara County: Roadshow (The Mercury News)

On Nov. 24, I got a really lame ticket for doing a California rolling stop at the traffic signal at El Camino Real and Kifer Road in Sunnyvale. I slowed down to like 5 mph, checked to make sure it was clear and then went. When I was pulled over the cop asked me if I knew why he stopped me and I said: “I have no clue.”

When he told me the reason I could hardly believe it. I haven’t received a traffic citation in over 30 years and this was a really lame ticket. [Read more…]

California drivers, beware: Gas prices may hit $4 for the first time since 2014 (The Sacramento Bee)

Trips to the gas station are about to get even more expensive for California drivers, according to GasBuddy.

Gas prices are spiking, and may reach as high as $4 in the coming weeks for the first time since 2014, when average prices peaked at around $4.15, according to data from the California Energy Commission.

GasBuddy, a web site that tracks gas prices nationally, said the increase has to do with ongoing refinery issues limiting supply. Refinery maintenance is slowing down production, it said.

Sacramento County prices remain near the American Automobile Association’s $3.80 state average. Stanislaus, Fresno and Merced counties are averaging slightly lower, ranging between $3.60 and $3.75 per gallon, according to AAA.

But Mono County has already hit an average of $4.48, and Humboldt, Trinity and San Luis Obispo counties are all hovering close to the $4 mark with averages around $3.90, according to AAA. [Read more…]

California Bill Would Protect Drivers From Secondhand Pot Smoke (U.S. News)

A CALIFORNIA BILL THAT would prohibit passengers from using marijuana products unless the driver is sealed off in a separate ventilated area is one step closer to passing.

Senate Bill 625, introduced by Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill in February, passed unanimously in the California Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee on Wednesday. It would require limousines, buses and cabs that allow passengers to use cannabis products to provide drivers with a sealed, separate space that is well ventilated and blocked off from secondhand smoke. The requirement only applies if the products are being smoked or vaped – not if they are being consumed orally.

The bill was passed unanimously by the California Senate Transportation Committee earlier this month. It will now go to the state Senate for a second reading.

The bill would prohibit the use of any cannabis products, smoked or taken orally, for any passengers are under the age of 21. Drivers are currently prohibited from using cannabis products and those who test positive for marijuana could lose their commercial license. [Read more…]

Real IDs: Californians will soon be required to show 2 proofs of residency to get driver’s licenses (San Francisco Chronicle)

California’s beleaguered Department of Motor Vehicles will get six more weeks to adhere to a new federal rule that will require the agency to ask Californians to show two forms of proof of residency before it can issue federally compliant Real ID driver’s licenses.

The Real IDs will be the only licenses allowing Californians to board domestic flights or enter federal buildings beginning in October 2020. Each state is required to develop and issue a Real ID under a program created by the federal government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Since it started issuing Real IDs in 2018, the DMV has only required a single document — a PG&E bill, rental agreement, school registration form or property tax bill — to prove residency. Applicants are also required to present other documents, including a certified birth certificate or passport, to establish identity.

Homeland Security had given DMV an April 10 deadline to begin asking for a second proof of residency but extended the deadline on Tuesday to May 24. [Read more…]

CA Encouraged to Ban Hands-Free Devices While Driving (NBC Los Angeles)

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials are urging California lawmakers to ban all cell phone use while driving including hands-free calling.

The NTSB says distracted driving kills thousands every year and though drivers now can’t have the phone in their hands for any reason except in emergencies, hands-free calls through a Bluetooth may be out of the question as well.

"It would be a big problem for me," said San Jose Limo driver Bryan Schwab. "We're constantly getting calls, changes of rides and information with flights."

Like Schwab, many residents use their Bluetooth for work and some may even argue they’re not much of a distraction at all.

"Car phones today are so automated you can operate them with your voice," said David Arredondo. "It doesn't make any more of a distraction than the radio."

The NTSB made the same call to states in 2011 but none responded. Now, officials think California can lead the way as it has before in traffic safety.

"What better place to start than California," said NTSB Safety Advocacy Chief Nicholas Worrel. "I did say if California will lead, NTSB will stand behind them to support any legislation." [Read more…]

California considers tougher standards for drivers who drink (ABC 30)

How much is too much?

"I'm on number two," said Mary Beth Hall from Guerneville, as she sat at the Beer Baron Bar and Kitchen in Santa Rosa.

In California, two drinks may soon be too much for most of us if lawmakers and drunk driving victims get their way.

They've proposed a bill in California's State Assembly called Liam's Law. It would impose a stricter legal alcohol limit on drivers, from .08 to .05, all prompted by the drunk driving death of a Southern California toddler in 2016.

"What feels so unjust is Liam's death was completely preventable," said his mother Mishel Elder.

But they're getting pushback.

"I think it is completely wrong," said attorney Ryan Wilber, who specializes in defending drunk drivers. [Read more…]

New Law Would Limit Access to Driver's License Records of Undocumented Immigrants (NBC San Diego)

A lawmaker is attempting to change what some call a “legal loophole” that allows immigration officials to access personal details entered in a state driver’s license program for undocumented residents.

California’s AB-60 driver license program was labeled as a solution to the state’s uninsured motorist problem. Under the law, undocumented drivers have the ability to drive legally and acquire insurance coverage.

But NBC 7 Investigates found some of those AB-60 drivers said sharing their home address with the CA Department of Motor Vehicles led immigration agents to their front door.

“They asked me, is this you?” said one driver from Escondido. The driver said when ICE agents arrested him near his home, they had a copy of his AB-60 license in-hand. [Read more…]

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