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Westside driving: 10 miles in 60 minutes

Don’t tell Cathy Glueck about traffic on Los Angeles’ Westside.

Zigzagging along surface streets in her heavy-duty Ford Flex, which she affectionately calls her “schlepper-mobile,” she’s become adept at finding the fastest routes to shuttle her children to evening sports practice from their home in Beverlywood.

If Pico Boulevard is too crowded, which it usually is, she’ll snake along winding side streets through Cheviot Hills and work her way to Sawtelle and Olympic boulevards to leave her 15-year-old daughter at soccer practice.

Then she’ll circle back, eyeing the flow of cars along the way, as she looks for the best route to cut across Culver City to reach Jefferson Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, where her 7-year-old daughter has gymnastics practice.

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Total time to traverse the 10 or so miles: 60 minutes, if she’s lucky.

For Glueck, who jokes that she operates a taxi service, more time on the road means less time to take care of everything else.

“There’s always so many things to do,” she said. “That loss of freedom is real for me.”

In Southern California, the automobile has long been synonymous with freedom. Need to go to the store? Jump in the car. Meeting friends for dinner? Not a problem.

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But that’s not easy to do in Westside communities, where drivers face some of the worst traffic conditions in the nation. As a result, people take longer routes, change routines, limit family outings or don’t drive at all during certain times of the day.

For years, Los Angeles transportation officials have tried to get ahead of the problem by collecting traffic data at hundreds of intersections.

But they admit that they’re not equipped to deeply analyze it because they lack enough staff.

The data do confirm, however, that Westside traffic is constantly changing. For example, last spring and summer -- with gasoline prices hovering around $4 a gallon -- traffic volumes saw double-digit drops as fewer people chose to drive. Then, as prices declined to around $2.28 a gallon, traffic volumes swung back up.

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So now that summer gas prices are slowly rising again, life may become at least a little easier for parents like Glueck and fellow Beverlywood resident Jana Richland, who refuse to let jammed streets block opportunities for their children.

“It is definitely on the forefront of my consciousness,” Richland said of her efforts to cope with traffic.

To beat the congestion, she said, she’ll be changing the time of her 3-year-old daughter’s afternoon swim lesson next month at the Westside Jewish Center pool.

The problem: The lesson is 15 minutes, but it takes Richland 20 minutes to get to the center in traffic and 20 minutes to get home.

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“There’s no way I’m going to do that,” she said.

Experts said more drivers are becoming “direct copers” like Richmond and Glueck, varying driving patterns or daily schedules because of snarled roadways.

“Direct copers are going to say, ‘What is the most logical way of dealing with this?’ ” said Dwight A. Hennessy, a psychology professor at Buffalo State College in New York who has studied the ways driving affects motorists.

But as people take proactive measures and seek other routes, Hennessy said, traffic spreads to roads that used to be relatively open.

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One bad spot that Richland tries to avoid is San Vicente and La Cienega boulevards, a crossroad near the Beverly Center mall and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

During a traffic count taken on a Thursday last August, 17,695 vehicles were driven on San Vicente. That figure increased 118% -- with 38,611 vehicles counted -- on a Monday this April.

In Santa Monica, traffic at the city’s 20 busiest morning and evening intersections increased 7% from 2002 to 2007, a Times review of city records shows.

Earlier this year, Santa Monica resident Nancy Geshke tried a different way to beat morning traffic while trying to do a good turn for the environment. She left her car parked and began riding her bike to school with her 8-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

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As they pedaled past Santa Monica College and across Pico Boulevard, cars zoomed by or darted in and out of parking lots, Geshke said. They tried two other routes. Same thing.

“It was like taking your life in your own hands,” she said. “With kids, it’s too scary.”

Now she takes them in the car. A nonprofit consultant who works from home, Geshke tries to limit her driving to late morning and early afternoon. “Any time after 3 o’clock,” she said, “it’s a nightmare.”

Indeed, evening rush hour traffic counts were 9% higher at Santa Monica’s 20 busiest intersections than those sampled during morning hours in 2007, according to the most recent data available. (City officials say the difference is probably largely the result of motorists leaving for work at staggered hours but arriving home more closely together.)

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Evening traffic has become so bad, Geshke said, that she rarely takes her children to eat burgers at one of their favorite hangouts. The restaurant is on Ocean Park Avenue, a busy evening artery for drivers heading east to a nearby 10 Freeway onramp on Centinela Avenue.

“It became like a disaster to get there,” said Geshke, who lives less than two miles away.

Glueck, the Beverlywood mother who shuttles her children across the Westside, said her 7-year-old daughter “has spent most of her afternoon life in the back seat of my car.”

On a recent evening, things were going well after she left her older daughter at soccer practice in the Sawtelle neighborhood, Glueck said.

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Her next stop was gymnastics class near Baldwin Hills.

She often heads south on Palms Boulevard to navigate through Culver City. But cars were moving at a decent pace along Sawtelle.

So she stayed where she was.

She got trapped in traffic at Venice Boulevard.

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Congestion at that intersection, next to a busy offramp and onramp for the 405 Freeway, can vary widely from day to day.

In a count taken in April by Los Angeles’ transportation agency, 30,414 vehicles drove Sawtelle. That was a 34.8% increase over a count taken a year earlier.

Glueck vowed she would never drive that way again. But she’s been on the Westside long enough to know that the next street might not be any better. “I try to think how much time I need, but it’s never enough,” she said.

“It’s my Achilles’ heel.”

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robert.lopez@latimes.com


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