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On San Gabriel Freeways, Rush Hours Aren’t As Rushed Anymore : Traffic: Commute time and congestion in the morning and afternoon has been decreasing. You can thank the recession.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The freeways of the San Gabriel Valley may seem jammed for much of the day, but state highway officials say that rush hours are actually shrinking in length and intensity.

From the San Bernardino Freeway (10) in the east to the Pasadena Freeway (110) in the west, overall traffic congestion has decreased.

Call it a gift from the lingering recession, as well as the success of efforts to encourage car pools, train commuting and other traffic-reducing solutions.

“The economy has taken a decided downturn and that has had a major impact on traffic,” said Charles J. O’Connell, deputy director of operations for the California Department of Transportation in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

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Two years ago, Caltrans officials first noticed that the rush hours, especially morning ones, had begun to shrink.

Last year, congestion throughout the county, measured by how much the average traffic speed drops under 35 m.p.h., declined 11% compared to 1990, state highway officials said.

Congestion on many San Gabriel Valley freeways decreased even more. There was a 23% drop in the congestion of Los Angeles-bound traffic in the mornings.

“This trend has continued this year,” said O’Connell, citing preliminary surveys and observations by Caltrans.

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Although data for the current year will not be compiled until December, Caltrans officials say their preliminary observations indicate that traffic is decreasing or remaining fairly stable in 1993.

“There is a significant decrease in the number of cars and the congestion in the mornings,” O’Connell said. The morning rush hour--unlike the afternoon when there is a bigger mix of the types of travelers--tends to consist primarily of commuters.

In the 1980s, the morning rush ran from 6 to 10 a.m. Now, O’Connell said, it has shrunk by nearly an hour, ending closer to 9 a.m.

The one place in the county that is bucking the trend, however, is the corridor between Glendale and San Dimas on the Foothill Freeway (210) and the Ventura Freeway (134). The number of vehicles is increasing, morning and evening, O’Connell said. Congestion in the afternoon rush hour last year, he said, was 50% worse than two years earlier.

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Overall, traffic between Glendale and San Dimas has increased steadily at levels about equal to the 1980s, when the annual rate of growth was 4% to 5%.

In 1990, the average number of vehicles traveling the Foothill Freeway in Pasadena each day was 235,000. Two years, later the figure rose to 256,000, an 8.2% increase.

And just beyond the eastern end of the Foothill Freeway, along Route 30 in San Dimas and La Verne, the traffic, on a percentage basis, jumped to one of the highest levels in the county. There was a 17% increase in traffic in the two-year period ending last year.

Likewise, during the same period on the Ventura Freeway in the Glendale area, the average daily traffic total rose from 201,000 to 228,000--an 11.8% jump.

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“I don’t have a good reason why the 210 corridor is bucking the trend,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell has asked Caltrans planners to see if they can determine why. His guess is that the job market along the east-west corridor served by the Foothill and Ventura freeways has remained stronger than in other parts of the county.

By contrast, along the Pomona Freeway (60) in Rosemead, traffic dropped by more than 10%, and on the San Gabriel River Freeway (605) in Baldwin Park, the number of vehicles declined by more than 4%.

In a step to alleviate traffic problems on the San Bernardino and Foothill freeways, Caltrans plans to expand the high-occupancy vehicle lanes. One lane used for buses, vans and car pools, according to Caltrans, equals 2 1/2 lanes of normal traffic, thus reducing congestion.

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During the next two to four years, O’Connell said, Caltrans will implement its $300-million Traffic Management Program to make freeways more efficient.

A freeway tow service patrol is part of the program, and so are electronic traffic message signs and ramp meters, which will be utilized more. The project also includes plans to set up radio transmitters that can broadcast traffic reports targeted for specific areas. More sensors will be embedded in roadways to monitor congestion.


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