Slow traffic ahead on I-80


If you regularly creep along the Eastshore Freeway during your rush hour commute, you’ve had plenty of time to contemplate global warming, the fallacy of supply-side economics, and, on really bad days, perhaps even Zeno’s paradoxes.

All that wasted time boils down to one basic problem: Too many cars and not enough road.

Any way you slice it, the slow-motion parade on I-80 between the Bay Bridge and I-580 forms one of the biggest arguments for BART, ferries and public transit in the East Bay.

Since so many citizens rely upon this stretch of freeway, a series of expensive efforts to improve traffic flow during peak times have been attempted over the years.

With each widening, car pool lane, or set of metering lights, ever-increasing volume just serves to counteract any expansion or traffic management scheme. The brake lights in front of you pretty much spell out the problem: This isn’t working.

Perhaps since everything else has already been attempted, the latest try at ameliorating bogged-down traffic along I-80 is to actually slow it down, from a legal perspective.

The Merc’s Mr. Roadshow — heroic traffic sub-superhero Gary Richards — reports the state plans to implement dynamic speed limits along the Eastshore Freeway.

When traffic is flowing smoothly, the posted speed limit would be 65 miles per hour. When traffic chokes, electronic signs would lower the speed limit to a positively Nixonian 55 miles per hour.

Even though congestion would likely reduce speeds below any posted limit, the thinking is a lower speed limit will slow the flow of traffic entering the jam, thus allowing slow stretches to clear faster.

Mr. Roadshow also reports $93 million will be spent to add carpool lanes to more on-ramps, re-synchronize signal light timing on feeder streets, and install more sets of metering lights.

Will it work? Quick prediction: No. Longer prediction: We hope so. Actual prediction: How the hell should we know?

What we have observed through decades of contemplating traffic management schemes while in traffic jams is that speeding drivers barreling into the back of traffic jams simply doesn’t help.

We’ve seen enough rear-end wrecks near the tail of snarled traffic to know that steady, measured speeds are not only safer, but also help control and eventually ease the flow of traffic.

One other big thing that helps in a traffic jam occurs between the ears: simple relaxation. Let things roll off your back. It doesn’t matter how slow the lady in front of you is going if the 875 cars in front of her are slowed down too.

So take ten deep breaths, put on your favorite song, and get home when you get home. Your family will still be waiting and will still love you. If they’re not — or they don’t — you’ve got a bigger problem no speed limit will fix.

Jesse Garnier
Jesse Garnier is the editor and founder of SFBay. A Mission District native, he also teaches journalism as associate professor at San Francisco State University.

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