Time Shift Puts a Whammy on Traffic Rhythm

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It is a phenomenon that occurs every year, and no one seems to know why: On Sunday, clocks were moved back an hour as daylight-saving time ended, and on Monday morning Southern Californians found themselves locked in horrendous traffic jams.

"It happens every year," said radio announcer Bill Keene, who for 14 years has reported traffic conditions in the Southland. "You can always count on some of the heaviest traffic of the year with the time change, more so with this change than with the one in the spring. I can't tell you why, but it happens."

"This morning it was a particularly brutal day from the time I got in (at 5 a.m.) There were constant complaints of bumper to bumper traffic. That's unusual, even for a Monday."

California Highway Patrol offices in San Juan Capistrano and Santa Ana also reported unusually heavy traffic during both the monday morning and evening commute hours.

"It was extremely busy," CHP Officer Angel Johnson said.

Johnson said afternoon tie-ups began as early as 3 p.m., when motorists apparently left work earlier to beat the sundown. The interchange for the Orange and Garden Grove freeways, for instance, was bumper to bumper almost two hours before normal congestion was expected.

CHP Lt. Michael Bair said commuters headed to South County were affected the most because they had the farthest to drive. "By the time they got down here, it was dark," he said.

But, Bair added, the earlier traffic snarls should disappear within a week as commuters grow accustomed to the early nightfall.

"I think that any time there's a change, there's an adjustment period," Bair said. "But it normally doesn't take commuters too long to adjust."

Caltrans reported that the homebound commute all over the Southland began haltingly a half-hour earlier than usual.

Still, there were fewer accidents in Orange County as a result of the heavy traffic. "People are more cautious in the dark," Johnson said. "They tend to drive a little slower."

Chaytor Mason, a USC psychologist, said there are slight adjustments to make on the first day of returning to a workaday world after the clock is turned back an hour.

"It's not really too bad--one hour. But if you want to nit-pick, it is a little different," he said. "There is some problem in that we do use different cues in the daytime than we do in the dark, so it may take a little time to shift over."

Joyce Klinke, a Huntington Beach fifth-grade teacher, was one of thousands of workers who reacted to one unmistakable cue: The bright morning sun pouring in through bedroom windows.

"I got to school an hour earlier, because I left earlier," she said after spending the day calming down an overly active class Monday.

Klinke said her "kids were out of sync" because many of them went to bed earlier the night before and were more energetic during the school day.

"I think everybody goes through an adjustment period," she said. "They have to rethink their schedules. Kids too."

But if the time change seemed a problem to commuters, it was a boom to many retailers who operate stores in area malls, where holiday spending was spurred by the early darkness.

"It was extremely busy," said Maura Eggan, a spokeswoman for the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. "It always gets like this at the malls."

Eggan said the early dusk makes people realize that the holiday season has come and puts them in the shopping mood.

Besides, she said, malls are a warm, bright alternative to the cold, dark world outside.

"During the summer, people stay outside a lot in Southern California," she said. "But when the sun goes down early, they come to shop. It's about the only thing they can do."

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