Los Angeles transportation officials Thursday initiated a program to reverse a traffic lane on Sepulveda Boulevard each afternoon, speeding the flow of commuters homeward bound from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley.
But they barred vehicles carrying only the driver from using it.
One normally southbound lane was reversed for a mile between Mountaingate and Mulholland drives, creating a temporary third northbound lane between 3 and 7 p.m. The switch will go into effect each weekday afternoon.
"It's a great idea. It's simple and logical, and I can't tell you why no one has thought of it before," said Nick Patsaouras, board president of the Rapid Transit District, at a news conference kicking off the change.
"When you go home, Sepulveda is a parking lot, but you look over and see the other side is empty."
The new high-occupancy vehicle lane is open only to buses and cars with two or more riders. It is "the same concept" as the diamond lanes that were abandoned on some Los Angeles-area freeways after stirring controversies in the late 1970s, Patsaouras said, "except in those areas you took away one lane from the normal flow of traffic. Here we are adding a new lane without taking anything away from commuters."
Ed Rowe, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said that about 320,000 vehicles go through the Sepulveda Pass daily, on either the San Diego Freeway or Sepulveda Boulevard.
About 6,000 vehicles drive north through the targeted section of Sepulveda Boulevard each day between 3 and 7 p.m., Rowe said, and transportation officials hope an additional 1,000 will use the new lane.
The program's cost of $200,000 a year will be taken from the city's share of income from the extra half-cent sales tax that county voters approved last November.
If the reverse lane is successful, the program will be expanded to morning hours, with a northbound lane converted to southbound use by car-pools and buses from 6 to 10 a.m.
The lane changes may someday be extended all the way from Sunset Boulevard to Ventura Boulevard, Councilman Marvin Braude said.
Braude called the lane change an economical way of experimenting with new solutions to the Valley's traffic woes. "Maybe it will work, and maybe it won't. But it doesn't really cost much, and you don't have to rip up the street," Braude said.
Patsaouras said the RTD and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission are conducting a study of the feasibility of converting several Valley bus lines to electric power. The four lines tentatively identified for conversion were the 92-93, serving Glendale, Burbank and San Fernando; the 180-181, serving Hollywood, Glendale and Pasadena; the 420-560, serving Van Nuys, Panorama City, Westwood and LAX; and the 424, the Ventura Boulevard-Warner Center express.