Rush-hour jam turns into a rush; With redesign, speed becomes the problem on Mountain Road; Reversible-lane system; Police, residents agree changes have helped traffic flow


The cars are moving again on Mountain Road -- but some drivers say they're moving too fast.

Nearly three months after the debut of a reversible-lane system to ease traffic congestion during morning and evening rush hours on Pasadena's bustling dead-end road, motorists say long backups have generally been eliminated.

Now, the main complaint is speeding. The limit is 40 mph.

"Everyone seems to think that it's relieving the traffic congestion, but as a result of things moving smoother, people are now speeding," said Carolyn Roeding, president of the Greater Pasadena Council.

Mountain Road's 1.6-mile reversible-lane system, between Route 100 and South Carolina Avenue -- which opened for the morning rush hour July 11 -- is similar to one on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge's three-lane span.

From 6: 30 a.m. to 9 a.m., the center lane -- created through widening the road and adapting turn lanes -- is reserved for westbound vehicles. During the evening rush, from 3: 30 p.m. to 7 p.m., the lane handles eastbound traffic. For the rest of the day, it becomes a two-way turn lane.

Improvements in traffic flow associated with the reversible lane were emphasized last month when power failures caused by Hurricane Floyd turned off the reversible-lane signal lights for 48 hours. Once again, rush-hour traffic was confined to one lane.

"It really showed the congestion," said area resident Carol Hall.

"That Friday night everybody was late getting to a fund-raiser dance" at the Long Point Community Hall, she said.

State and county officials decided to try the reversible-lane system on Mountain Road after debating for years how to handle traffic problems on the one road leading on and off the peninsula's eastern end.

As development boomed there over the past two decades, the traffic backups -- some as long as three miles -- became notorious. Construction of a Mountain Road bypass and widening the road have also been heatedly discussed as solutions.

With the exception of increased speeding, county police say, the reversible-lane system is working well. Most drivers have adjusted to the new traffic pattern, and no serious accidents have occurred because of the changes, police said.

"I live down in that community, and I've never seen the traffic flow as smoothly in 19 years," said Lt. Ken G. Schlein of the county's Eastern District police station.

Before the reversible-lane system, Schlein said, his four-mile drive to work could take as long as half an hour. Now it's 15 minutes.

"I'm due at work at 8 a.m., and I'd have to leave home at 7: 20," he said.

Schlein said police have been using radar enforcement to address the speeding problem.

"Any time you make improvements to a road you're going to have higher speeds," he said. "If Mountain Road is widened to five lanes, you're going to have even more of a problem."

Statistics indicate a slight decline in the accident rate.

This year, in the more than six months before the reversible lane opened, there were 94 accidents on Mountain Road from Route 100 to Gibson Island, including 20 involving injuries, Schlein said.

In the nearly three months since, 42 accidents have occurred, including 10 with injuries.

"The good sign is there has not been an increase" in accidents, Schlein said.

Nevertheless, Hall said, she remains concerned about speeding.

"In the center lane, they're doing 50 and 55 miles per hour," she said.

The State Highway Administration is studying the effects of the reversible lane on Mountain Road and expects to complete its evaluation by spring.

"This study will do more than just observe," said Sandra Dobson, an SHA spokeswoman. "We'll talk to folks and get their reactions to using the system, and whether it's comfortable or confusing."

SHA officials said they will consider using the reversible lane at times other than rush hours, such as special events including school graduations and holiday activities.

"If event organizers let us know what traffic they anticipate," said Paul Armstrong, an SHA district engineer, "we'll be glad to take a look at activating the new lane."

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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