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California

With less freeway traffic due to coronavirus, there’s more speeding and that worries CHP

110 Freeway in Torrance
A sign on the northbound 110 Freeway in Torrance promotes social isolation amid the coronavirus outbreak.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

With the majority of Californians being urged to stay home as much as possible amid the coronavirus outbreak, life is changing rapidly across the state.

Many places are less crowded, including the notoriously clogged freeways. Traffic conditions are so light, in fact, speeding during rush hour is now possible.

On the other hand, some locations are far more crowded. Try getting into to your local Costco at opening time, for example.

Here are some scenes from Southern California over the last day:

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Fewer cars, more speeders

From his position monitoring traffic from a San Diego County dispatch center, California Highway Patrol Officer Jim Bettencourt said he’s noticed a change since Thursday afternoon, when the commute time saw almost no slowdowns. Same thing Friday. And this week as well, even with the rain.

He described peak commute times, with bumper-to-bumper traffic on San Diego County freeways, as typically from 6:30 to 9 each weekday morning and from 3 to 6 each evening. But far fewer cars have been on the roads lately.

And there’s a downside to wide-open freeways and higher speeds, Bettencourt said. Over the weekend, two drivers died in high-speed collisions on the 5 and 15 freeways.

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“With no traffic, people are pushing the envelope a little more. The crashes are a little more dynamic, fewer fender-benders,” he said. “Almost every one has an ambulance responding.

“I go on Twitter, asking people to slow down. Everyone’s anxiety is high” because of the global pandemic and how it is affecting their lives.

“With few vehicles on the roadways, a lot of drivers begin to speed,” said CHP Officer Salvador Castro, who patrols the central San Diego area. “Our officers are out there proactively in view to slow down speeding drivers. We are also looking for impaired drivers and reckless drivers.”

He urged people to slow down, keep a greater distance between cars on rainy roads, and to not stop along freeway shoulders where traffic passing at higher speeds poses a greater danger to a parked car or a pedestrian.

CHP Officer Mark Latulippe said traffic this week in his north county patrol area has looked more like a holiday or weekend. He said officers are still writing tickets, but they are being more careful to direct motorists to wider freeway shoulders or offramps.

Costco in Hawthorne
Dustin Chupurdy brought a chair to be comfortable while waiting in line early Wednesday morning at Costco in Hawthorne.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Long Costco lines

As people waited for the Costco in Hawthorne to open, the sun rose gradually, glinting off the train of carts that circled the cavernous warehouse, off the tired people clinging to them and trying to keep away from each other. Soon, the line would start to creep into the store.

“You know other people are doing it,” said Stefan Cabezas, who lined up at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, 2 ½ hours before the store opened, “so you’re doing it as a precaution.”

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“I see people grabbing five, 10 boxes of pasta off a shelf,” said Monica De Cuir, who took her place in line around the same time, “and I think, ‘I need pasta.’ And I have to stop myself and think, ‘No, I don’t.’ ”

Cabezas and De Cuir were not the first to arrive at the store Wednesday morning, nor were they close to being the first. Ben and Mariam Cole claimed their spot by the door at 2:55 a.m., Ben Cole said. He had come to the store three days earlier at 4 a.m.

“We thought we’d at least be No. 5,” Cole said. “We were No. 20.” By the time they got in, the store was out of baby wipes they needed for their youngest son, who is 2, he said.

“You can say, ‘You don’t have to worry,’ ” Cole said of the admonishing from public officials against standing in lines, and of their assurances that essentials are in good supply. “But when I get to the store and there’s no toilet paper, there’s no hand sanitizer and cleaning materials, what am I supposed to do?”

Main Beach in Laguna Beach
People walk along the beach near Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

A lonely beach walk

In Huntington Beach, Sandy Lopez cut a lonely figure along the boardwalk, where Wednesday, before cooking dinner with family members at home in Santa Ana, she sneaked out, escaping to the ocean for a long-awaited walk.

“I need space to think, you know. The world is racing by, and I’m confused with so many people saying do this, do that, don’t do this or that,” said the office clerk, whose hours at a real estate business have been reduced.

“Information is changing every day, and I want to be by myself to think through it. First, we heard that Orange County has a curfew. But I found out I misheard that, but there could be a curfew — maybe, next week. Who can predict? I don’t know where it’s safe to go, so I thought, let’s just go to the beach.”

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Lopez, 29, stood yards away from the famed Surf City Pier, about to snap some selfies to share with East Coast friends. “They’re stuck, too, but at least I have access to the water,” she said.

Lopez lives with her parents and a younger sibling. While her mother and diabetic father must remain indoors under medical advice, she and her sister plan to take turns standing in line weekly for groceries. They are eating more soup, less fried food and trying to stay away from too many sweets — all for the sake of their health.

She isn’t a cook but has started to watch the Food Channel to find tips and inspiration for quick meals. Her mom usually takes care of kitchen stuff, she said, adding: “I am so used to just driving a few blocks to the taqueria to grab some snacks — but again, I don’t know where it’s safe.”

Times staff writers Do and Ormseth reported from Los Angeles and San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Repard from San Diego.

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