Better Signing Called for on Streets Leading to Freeways

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

Some of your answers have you sounding just like the Caltrans bureaucrats. I'm referring to a recent letter describing how poor the on-ramp direction (left lane or right lane) information is. You simply quote the "party line" as stated by the PR person. But it doesn't take much driving around in California to see real deficiencies in all aspects of signing. They should be blasted, and it seems as though you are not a strong conduit.

But on to my question: So many cars have window tinting so heavy that one cannot see the driver's face, thus denying eye contact, which is really important in making crucial driving decisions. I see no evidence of enforcement by any agency. I am wondering if it is even illegal, now. Why isn't something being done about it?

Donald Rowan, Placentia

OK, two-for-one day. Let's take on the freeway on-ramp signs first.

Street Smart dealt with the sign issue last month, but after having received some new information--as well as your letter and another letter from Mission Viejo resident Dwight L. Turner--the subject warrants another go. Turner succinctly summarizes the problem:

"When approaching a freeway on a surface street, we need better signs indicating bear left or right to enter freeway ramps. On busy streets, signs should be posted at least 1,000 feet before reaching freeways to allow adequate time to change lanes, if necessary."

In the column last month, Caltrans spokesman Albert Miranda advised the existing signage should provide motorists with "ample warning." If not, Miranda said, motorists could call Caltrans and the agency would fix reported problems.

But after the column appeared, Orange County Transportation Authority spokeswoman Mona Ziada called to let Street Smart know about a program in which 120 signs have recently been erected throughout the county. The new signs will total 133 when work finishes over the next two months.

The signs clearly indicate which lanes lead to the proper freeway ramps. Working with individual cities, OCTA targeted key areas for the new signs and provided funds for them to be installed.

Motorists previously frustrated will probably find the new signs to be a relief. More signs may appear if demand revives the program next year, Ziada said.

But what about Caltrans? Isn't it supposed to make sure signs are already posted well in advance?

As it turns out, Caltrans is only responsible for a certain area around the freeway right of way, Ziada said. Beyond that area, responsibility for extended warning falls to local agencies.

Likewise, Caltrans spokesman Miranda said growth and congestion in some areas may mean that existing Caltrans signs at the freeways no longer provide early enough warning. New signs further back from freeways are fine with Caltrans if other agencies can find the funding, he said.

In the end, the phone remains the motorist's friend. The OCTA sign project came out of a public suggestion contest held two years ago. Further phone calls to cities, Caltrans or other local agencies may alert them to other problems that need correcting.

Onward to window tinting:

Applying tinting film to windows is not against the law, but there are severe restrictions over which windows may be treated after a car has left the factory, according to California Highway Patrol officer Angel Johnson. Specifically:

* Only a small band along the top of the windshield may be tinted, Johnson said. Generally, tinting must be above the small arrows that are marked along either side of the window, and all windshields should have these marks, Johnson said.

* Any window behind the driver's back may be tinted, but only if the car has a right-side mirror in addition to the required left-side mirror.

* Those with medical excuses may put up screens on front windows, but they must be removable and taken down at night.

* Cars with factory-tinted windows are legal because the tinting is within the glass and not darker than allowed by law. Most tinting citations are issued for illegally applied tinting film , Johnson said.

Preserving eye contact is one of the primary reasons tinting of front windows is illegal, Johnson said.

"It's pretty vital that you make eye contract with the person near you," Johnson said about cars and pedestrians at intersections. With dark tinting, "it's virtually impossible," she noted.

As for enforcement, the CHP already issues nearly 1,000 tickets a month, on average, Johnson said. "Obviously, we are out there enforcing the law," she said.

Many tickets are written when cars are stopped for other traffic violations, Johnson said. Officers try to see inside cars that they approach. If they cannot, it alerts them to look for illegally applied tinting film, Johnson said.

Installers also risk a ticket for illegal application, but the CHP hasn't the resources to investigate places, Johnson said. Although installers can be cited, correcting the problem remains the driver's responsibility, Johnson said.

To avoid tickets, car owners should avoid being taken in by a sales pitch at auto tinting places, Johnson said. Motorists should insist on having tinting applied only where allowed, Johnson said.

"I hear it all the time: 'But the place where I had it tinted said it was OK, as long as I had it really light,' " Johnson said.

Dear Street Smart:

Many residents have a great deal of trouble at the intersection of Riverdale Avenue and Glassell Street in Orange.

If you are in the shopping center on the northeast corner, you can only exit north onto Glassell. To go any other direction, you must drive across the Santa Ana River, make a U-turn at Frontera Street, the proceed back to the intersection.

Rue Smith, Orange

Apparently, there is an island painted with double-white lines that's causing your problem there, according to Orange Traffic Engineer Bernie Dennis.

"It's not intended to be a barrier," Dennis said. "This is the first that we've heard that it has caused problems."

To clear up any confusion, workers will alter the striping this week to make it clear that the median can be traversed. After that, you should be able to go south, then head any direction without making an extensive detour.

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