State highway officials pledged Thursday to drop plans for a Ventura Freeway “diamond lane” if San Fernando Valley-area residents and commuters oppose the car-pool lane.
Department of Transportation planners said they will take their cue from an advisory committee that will study the need for reserving an eastbound freeway lane between Woodland Hills and North Hollywood for vehicles carrying two or more people.
If the 68-member committee of business and civic leaders gives the green light, the first phase of the 13-mile, $5-million “commuter” lane would open in two years, Caltrans officials said.
As the committee met Thursday for the first time, its members seemed far from agreeing on how best to cope with traffic on the world’s busiest freeway.
Representatives of homeowner groups and residential communities seemed opposed to the diamond lane. But business leaders supported it.
Significant opposition will scuttle the diamond-lane idea, said David Roper, deputy director of Caltrans’ Los Angeles district.
“If this committee said ‘abort,’ we’ll abort. I’ll try to talk you out of it. But, if this committee wants it aborted, we’ll do it. We’re not getting into another Santa Monica Freeway situation.”
Caltrans officials concede that fierce commuter opposition and political pressure caused them to abandon their first diamond lane--set up for five months in 1976 on the Santa Monica Freeway. The lane was marked by diamonds to warn solitary drivers away.
Since then, Caltrans engineers have dropped the diamond name, if not the concept. They now refer to commuter lanes as “high-occupancy vehicle” lanes.
Experimental “HOV” lanes have recently been opened by Caltrans on the Artesia and Costa Mesa freeways in a new test of the car-pooling concept.
“You can call it a diamond lane and it won’t blow our minds,” Roper told Ventura Freeway committee members meeting at a naval reserve building at Victory and Balboa Boulevards in Encino. “We’re calling it a commuter lane. But it’s the same thing.”
Unlike the Santa Monica Freeway diamond lane, the two recent commuter lanes were created by paving new lanes on the freeways. Narrowing of existing Ventura Freeway lanes and use of the eastbound center divider area similarly will allow Caltrans to carve a new Valley lane that can be reserved for car pools, Roper said.
Existing 12-foot-wide lanes will be shrunk by one foot, he said.
Roper said committee members would not be expected to become advocates for a diamond lane, but a “conduit from the people to us.”
“From a technical standpoint, we’d prefer to see it an HOV; I’ll tell you that up front,” he said. “We feel that’s the way to go.”
Richard H. Kermode, a senior Caltrans engineer, told panel members that a diamond lane could siphon enough traffic off existing Ventura Freeway lanes to cut 10 minutes off morning trips across the Valley.
About 17% of all cars and trucks now using the freeway carry two or more people and could use the lane, which would be set off by double yellow lines and marked by special signs. Kermode said signs would close the diamond lane during non-busy times--restoring the lane as a center-divider parking area.
Committee members said they will have plenty to discuss when they divide into study groups during the next few months.
Paul Kahn, representing the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, said he is concerned that a diamond lane would have limited value in speeding movement along the freeway because traffic from the fast-growing Warner Center and West Valley areas would quickly fill it.
Colleen Hartman, a Hidden Hills City Council member, told Roper that she has ridden on diamond lanes and found “there is no way in hell” motorists can easily pull out of such lanes to exit the freeway.
Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, questioned whether a diamond lane would not benefit businesses and developers more than anyone else.
Support for the concept was offered by Capt. Richard Kerri of the California Highway Patrol. He said it is the best way to attack traffic problems because the lane can revert to a regular traffic pattern if the experiment doesn’t work.
Charles N. Wrightson, an official of Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, said any improvement to traffic flow along the Ventura Freeway corridor will benefit employees of his company.
Ron Palmer, a Litton executive who has long been involved in Valley traffic planning, said the diamond-lane concept “appears to have viability” from both an economic and a practical standpoint.
Roger Stanard, a Woodland Hills lawyer who headed his community’s Chamber of Commerce last year, said the diamond-lane idea “is a good gamble. If it doesn’t work, we still get an extra lane.”