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Carpool plan only a partial fix for the 405

Times Staff Writer

Let’s begin this week’s soiree in the Sepulveda Pass, the scene of so much motoring misery on the 405 Freeway.

The southbound stretch has had a carpool lane since 2002 -- giving an edge to altruistic commuters heading from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside or beyond.

The northbound side, however, lacks a carpool lane, making the afternoon commute one big scrum for those returning to the Valley. If I had to make that drive every day, I’m pretty sure I would get home one day and chain-saw my car in half. But that’s just me.

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Area politicians in 2005 made a big to-do about rounding up money for the northbound carpool lane, and Caltrans last month finally announced details of the $950-million project.

The Sage’s favorite part of this project is that for all the money and work and traffic, one of the primary flaws of the 405 will not be fixed. There are five southbound lanes that climb the pass from the Valley. At the top, just beyond the Mulholland Drive overpass, those five lanes squeeze down to four lanes, creating a classic choke point.

“How can you say you’re fixing the pass when you’re not even solving the problem?” asks Wayne Williams, a member of the board of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. .

The problem, in a nutshell, is that any plan to widen the 405 would require Caltrans to acquire and tear down homes.

The current plan requires two in Sherman Oaks to be removed and another four to lose some of their yards and be vacated. An earlier version of the plan, which was roundly opposed, would have taken 40 homes in the Brentwood area.

In essence, Caltrans had to decide between adding the northbound carpool lane or a southbound general purpose lane. The carpool lane won and the bet here is that one day it will probably be a toll lane, given the rate at which carpool lanes are filling up.

Construction is expected to begin in spring of next year and take four years to complete. Bon appetit!

Justice for Jane

Just as the Jane Chronicles began, they have ended.

Attentive readers will recall last Monday’s tale, in which Jane was ticketed for an expired meter in one city, though she says she and her vehicle were more than 100 miles away in the burg where she lives.

Now comes word from the city of Los Angeles that Jane is correct. The city -- in an unusually quick display of doing the right thing -- waived her ticket and effectively conceded that Jane was in Santa Barbara on the day her car was allegedly parked illegally on an industrial stretch of Pico Boulevard near downtown.

“Because the vehicle identification number provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles does not match the information on the citation, the citation is dismissed,” wrote city bureaucrats.

“I’m just glad I saved $40 and my immaculate reputation,” Jane joked in an e-mail, writing on the condition that we not use her last name.

But the story doesn’t end here. Many readers e-mailed similar tales of woe, most of which ended with money leaving their wallets. More soon.

No place to park it

After paying $3.59 a gallon recently, the Sage decided to go on a gas diet. So, I rode my bike to the Allen Street Gold Line station in Pasadena last Monday, only to find the bike rack filled.

It’s bad enough that there’s no vehicle parking at Allen and two other stations in Pasadena. Now, even bike parking is hard to come by. So, we called the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and asked why there wasn’t a second bike rack -- which doesn’t seem too onerous a request, considering the Gold Line cost only $859 million to build.

Rick Jager, an MTA spokesman, said Pasadena told the MTA it was trying to find a location for the rack. That was two years ago.

Upon hearing that, the Sage became moderately apoplectic. Two years? To install a bike rack at a station where there appears to be plenty of sidewalk space? Is this not the free world’s capital of traffic?

To quote Charlie Brown, “Aaargh!”

So, the Sage dialed up Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, who did some research and explained that there isn’t any more room on the sidewalk because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also said Pasadena has been working with Caltrans to install bike lockers on nearby property.

“The complications of public decision-making can be frustrating, but it is wonderfully rewarding when the right result is achieved,” Bogaard said Friday, adding that he was prepared to “up the ante” and try to get a new bike rack.

Good to hear the pols are frustrated too.

Watch out for wildlife

And finally . . . the 405 carpool lane project also calls for a $455,000 pedestrian path and wildlife crossing on the bridge that carries Skirball Center Drive over the freeway.

Don’t laugh. There’s evidence that wildlife already scoot under 405 overpasses, and biogeographically inclined readers know that such crossings are increasingly popular around the world as a way to connect habitat and allow wildlife populations to mix. That leads to nice, healthy gene pools, which the Sage endorses.

No one has done a better job than Banff National Park in Canada, which has numerous , including two wildlife-only bridges over the Trans-Canada Highway. Among the regular customers is Mr. Grizz.

And that’s what gets us about the 405 bridge. It feels cheap. The wildlife crossing would be 10 feet wide and separated from traffic by a short wall. The only plus is that wildlife -- including mule deer and bobcats -- would probably use the bridge only at night, when we hope cars aren’t around.

It’s better than nothing at all, says Paul Edelman, deputy director of natural resources for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. “No wildlife crossing in Southern California is perfect,” he said. “But it gives us something across the freeway, and getting a good piece of infrastructure is worth its weight in gold.”

Next week: Rancho Palos Verdes’ mean streets.

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Want to bend the Road Sage’s ear about your commute or smack him with a (cyber) two-by-four? E-mail steve.hymon@latimes.com


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