With little money for improvements and with the population booming in North County, a coalition of regional leaders stressed the need to make better use of existing highways and to sell the merits of public transit to commuters.
At a North County transportation planning conference sponsored Thursday by Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), state transportation, city and county officials presented various means of reducing the number of cars on highways, such as using car pools and flexible work schedules.
“Working from 8 to 5 has always been the American Way,” said County Supervisor John MacDonald. “But, with more and more cars traveling with just one passenger, our highways are becoming more like parking lots. Management and public leaders have to have a change in attitude and allow people to shift their working hours.”
Recently, the county Board of Supervisors approved a proposal that will create staggered work hours for as many as one-fourth of the county’s 13,500 employees. The flexible schedule will allow staffers to start their eight-hour work day between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and end between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
State Department of Transportation officials hope their reversible express lanes--a new 8-mile stretch of highway on Interstate 15--will serve as an example of efficient highway use.
The two median lanes of I-15 from North City Parkway to Kearny Mesa Road will channel traffic going south in the morning and then handle traffic going north in the afternoon, said James Larson, a Caltrans spokesman.
Only car pools with two or more occupants, buses, van pools and motorcycles will be allowed to enter the express lanes, which were designed to allow commuters to bypass the most congested section of the freeway.
Larson said traffic on I-15, which has tripled in the last decade, is among the fastest-growing of the county’s freeways. Nearly 200,000 cars travel on it daily.
“Five out of six people still drive solo,” Larson said. “But they’re going to start seeing other people, those who car-pool, go zooming by on the express lanes as they sit in traffic. That may change their attitude about car pooling.”
Although many residents of major East Coast cities commute regularly to work by bus, travel by public transit is still foreign to many Southern Californians, said Richard Fifer, executive director of the North County Transit District. Such attitudes must change, he said.
North County transit officials have given free bus tickets and instructional pamphlets on how to use public transit to students who use buses for things such as educational field trips, Fifer said.
“We’re working with school children to change their attitudes about mass transit,” Fifer said. “That’s one way of attracting new riders. We’re not the solution to our traffic congestion problem. But we’re definitely a part of the solution.”