Pool Lanes on 55 Unsafe, Critics Argue

Times Urban Affairs Writer

Critics of the car-pool lanes on the Costa Mesa Freeway on Monday disputed a UC Irvine traffic study and charged that the restricted-use lanes have led to a 37% increase in accidents over regular use.

Drivers for Highway Safety, an Irvine-based organization that contends that the ride-share lanes are poorly designed, submitted a detailed report to the Orange County Transportation Commission on Monday in support of its safety claims.

Lester P. Berriman, former director of Dresser Industries' Advanced Technology Center, said he analyzed a September, 1987, accident study for Drivers for Highway Safety. He said he found serious errors that undermine the findings in the report by UCI's Institute of Transportation Studies. The ITS study concluded that the car-pool lanes contributed to an increase in the accident rate of 2% to 11%.

According to Berriman, ITS researchers compared car-pool lane additions to installation of mixed-flow (regular traffic) lanes on a stretch of the San Diego Freeway but erroniously used only 15 to 20% of the San Diego Freeway segment that had a regular lane added to it.

Berriman said the ITS study also erroneously included a section of the Riverside Freeway for comparison, a section where there are no car-pool lanes but where the accident rate was extremely high due to unknown factors.

Berriman said the segment was 13.4 miles from the end of the Riverside Freeway's car-pool lane and thus could not have been influenced by unsafe switching from the special lane into regular traffic. Including that section of regular lanes in the ITS study, Berriman said, was done to make it seem that the sections equipped with car-pool lanes weren't any worse.

Berriman also said the ITS study failed to take into account that adding an extra lane on the Costa Mesa Freeway increased the freeway's traffic-handling capacity by 33%. Failure to consider this capacity increase, Drivers for Highway Safety officials contended, inaccurrately boosts the estimated accident rate expected if the new lane were open to all traffic.

Currently, the special lanes are available only to vehicles carrying two or more people and to motorcycles.

Bill Ward, one of Drivers' most active members, fired off a letter to Gov. George Deukmejian on Friday in which he accused ITS of deliberately biasing its accident study in favor of car-pool lanes.

ITS officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

The county Transportation Commission on Monday requested its staff to meet with Berriman and ITS researchers to see if Berriman's complaints can be resolved.

The Costa Mesa Freeway car-pool lanes opened in November, 1985.

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