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Residents Favor Costly, Disputed Traffic Solutions : Freeway Decks, ‘Diamond’ Lanes, Light Rail Backed in Times Poll

Times Staff Writer

Most San Fernando Valley residents are so distressed about traffic congestion that they favor such controversial proposals as double-decking the Ventura Freeway, restricting a freeway lane to car pools and building a rail line through residential neighborhoods, The Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

Most of those polled said they were willing to leave their cars at home and take the train at least some of the time. A large percentage voiced a willingness to pay higher taxes for more public transportation.

“Across the board, people seem to be saying that traffic is terrible, and we want something, almost anything, done to relieve it, even if it costs money,” Times Poll Director I. A. Lewis said.

The poll, done a week ago, is the only systematic sampling of Valley opinion on transportation issues in recent years.

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It suggests that the views of the majority may differ sharply from positions taken by leaders of homeowners groups, whose opposition has made elected officials shy away from some measures.

For example, homeowner leaders oppose putting an upper deck on the Ventura Freeway or creating freeway lanes restricted to car pools and buses. But the poll found support for both.

Diamond Lane Favored

Making a new freeway lane a bus and car-pool “diamond” lane--which critics say won’t work and is unfair to those who can’t car-pool--was favored by more than half of those polled. Of those who had an opinion, 60% voiced approval.

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The restricted lanes were more popular among lower-income people than the affluent and more popular among women than men. In what may reflect the fact that the issue has been widely debated, only 12% were unsure of their preferences.

A newer idea, putting a deck on the Ventura Freeway, received a thumbs-up from nearly two-thirds of those who expressed opinions. However, fully 35% weren’t prepared to do so.

Critics say the upper deck would be a noisy eyesore and would encourage population growth. Proponents say growth is inevitable and double-decking is one way to cope with it.

Homeowner-group leaders have fiercely opposed the building of light-rail lines in residential neighborhoods, on grounds that they would bring noise and congestion. Public officials have wondered aloud whether ordinary people want modern mass transportation.

The poll appeared to dispel any doubt that most residents would like a mass-transit rail line across the Valley. Of all those polled, two-thirds were for light rail, a subway or both.

Light Rail Favored

The poll sought to measure opinion on both above-ground light rail and a subway, and light rail won 33% to 21%. Those who preferred light rail did so “even if it went through residential neighborhoods.” Those who favored the subway did so “even if it would cost substantially more.” Another 15% wanted both equally.

The poll’s Lewis called the results an “unusually strong endorsement” for a project that is “obviously going to cost tax dollars.”

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Rail transit in the Valley is a front-burner issue for the county Transportation Commission, which is building a light-rail network with money from a 0.5% sales tax approved by county voters in 1980.

Hearings on Valley route selection last year became a forum for homeowner-group attacks on the intrusion of rail lines into specific neighborhoods. Virtually no one except business leaders spoke in favor of light rail. Members of the Transportation Commission said in effect that if the Valley didn’t want light rail, plenty of other places did.

It then temporarily turned the route question over to the Los Angeles City Council, which in turn bucked it to a citizens panel. Over the objections of homeowner groups in the affected neighborhoods, the panel sent back three proposed routes. The council forwarded them without a recommendation to the Transportation Commission along with yet another idea: extend the new Metro Rail subway from North Hollywood west across the Valley, eliminating the neighbors’ objections by placing the trains underground in residential neighborhoods.

There the issue has stood since last month. The commission is studying options and plans to pick a course of action by the end of 1989.

The poll found no clear favorite among the three proposed light-rail routes. One is a freight right of way that parallels Chandler and Victory boulevards and Topham Street between North Hollywood and Warner Center. Another is an elevated line along the Ventura Freeway from Universal City to Warner Center. A third, which has little appeal to transit planners, would parallel San Fernando Road starting in Sylmar.

Gerald A. Silver, an Encino homeowner leader, said he wasn’t surprised at majority support for projects that his organizations oppose.

“It’s very easy for the rest of the Valley that doesn’t live near the freeway to say double-deck it or build a rail line on it,” Silver said.

Homeowner groups, he said, are working to “stop the tyranny of the majority.”

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He said that homeowner leaders, unlike the public at large, “study and analyze these projects, and we therefore become aware of the environmental and financial impacts they carry.”

Silver heads Homeowners of Encino and Valleywide coalitions against freeway double-decking and light rail in neighborhoods.

A local official said the poll showed that “homeowner groups represent a very small segment of their communities” when they oppose transportation projects.

“It stands to reason” that Valley people think traffic jams are serious, said David R. Miller, who represents the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley on transportation. “You can’t go anywhere in the Valley anymore without encountering one long logjam. Of course people want something done about it.”

The poll found that a large number of people think traffic congestion is a serious problem. Asked to rate it, 43% said it was “very serious” and 29% said it is “somewhat serious.” Of interviewees who commute to work, one in five said traffic on the trip is “extremely congested.” An equal number rated it as “very congested.” In all, three-fourths of those polled said their commuting trips are extremely, very or somewhat congested.

The poll found that not only are Valley residents ready to embrace transportation projects, but many apparently are willing to pay for them.

The idea of another 0.5% sales tax increase, which the Transportation Commission is thinking of putting before voters, commanded the support of 48% of those responding, with 43% opposed. Elimination of those not sure or unwilling to answer left 53% in favor--close to the 54% countywide majority that approved the tax in 1980.

The Valley results differ slightly from those of a countywide poll taken recently on behalf of the Transportation Commission. Conducted by the Wirthlin Group and limited to registered voters, it showed opinion about evenly divided on another tax increase.

Even more discouraging to transit planners was the fact that 66% of those polled by Wirthlin agreed with the statement that most transportation problems could be solved “if government agencies used the funds they already have more efficiently.”

Valley residents seem ready not only to pay for but to ride a train. Three-fourths of those polled said they are.

If the one-way fare were about $1 and the train were faster than a car, one-third of the interviewees said they would ride it often. An even larger group said they would ride it once in a while. Only 22% ruled out riding a train.

Poll Director Lewis cautioned that, in answering the ridership question, most people probably assumed that any train built would be along the route closest to them. But he noted that there seemed to be “pro-train sentiment.”

Transit planners said they would be pleased if the proposed cross-Valley rail line and the two planned Valley stops for the downtown-to-North Hollywood Metro Rail subway together draw about 50,000 riders a day. Planners have not made ridership projections for specific routes.

The Times polled 616 adult Valley residents by telephone on Oct. 16. On any question there was a possibility of an error of 5 percentage points in either direction.

POLL AT A GLANCE Valley residents hate traffic. Many would willingly pay for relief. ‘For you personally, how serious a problem is traffic congestion in the San Fernando Valley?’ Serious 72% Not Serious 27% Don’t Know 1% ‘Would you support another half-percent sales tax increase for public transportation at this time or not?’ Yes 48% No 43% Don’t Know 9% They lean toward two controversial ideas for easing freeway congestion. ‘Do you favor or oppose double-decking the Ventura Freeway?’ Favor 41% Oppose 24% Haven’t heard enough 28% Not Sure 7% ‘Do you favor or oppose reserving one lane on a freeway for buses and car pools?’ Favor 53% Oppose 35% Haven’t heard enough 7% Not Sure 5% They want a rail line, though they don’t agree on what kind and where. ‘Would you prefer light rail, even if it went through residential neighborhoods, or an extension of the Metro Rail subway, even if it would cost substantially more to build?’ Light Rail 33% Subway 21% Either 15% Neither 12% Haven’t Heard Enough 15% Not Sure 4% ‘Three light-rail routes are under consideration. . . . Which do you prefer?’ Chandler-Victory-Topham 31% Ventura Freeway 27% San Fernando Road 24% None 7% Not sure 11% These are responses to a telephone survey of 616 San Fernando Valley residents by the Los Angeles Times Poll on Oct. 15


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