Why’s that Metro bus impeding traffic in the left lane at Highway 17, Highway 9 interchange, reader asks

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I want to shed light on a daily situation and ask, ‘is it standard operating procedure?’ On a daily basis the Santa Cruz Metro Highway 17 buses will enter the fast lane immediately after the left into downtown Los Gatos at the bottom of the hill on 17 north. They remain in the fast lane at 50 mph thru that corridor and past Lark Avenue, eventually re-entering a slower lane near Campbell Avenue. This slows all cars and creates an extreme hazard when frustrated drivers slowed by the bus veer around and past. The buses leave dozens of cars behind them in a line up where if the bus driver were in the slow lane traffic would flow. Is there not a law about such large, slow vehicles blocking the flow of traffic in the fast lane? The speed limit is 50 mph until the bottom of the hill, 55 mph through the corridor, and 65 mph once you get to Lark. They impede that every day. I seem to believe the law has something to do with yielding the fast lane to traffic if you cannot maintain the flow of traffic and/or posted speed. I am not sure if you reply to these emails or post them in the blog so please let me know where I might see a response. It is my belief the bus should never be in the fast lane but I am not sure of that particular law being on the books. Regards, John Love, Capitola A: What you perceive as a bus driver creating a bottleneck on Highway 17 at Highway 9 in Los Gatos may actually be the bus driver’s attempt at avoiding one, said an official at the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transportation District. “The Highway 17/9 interchange in Los Gatos is a short ramp cloverleaf design,” said Ciro Aguirre, Metro’s operations manager. “This particular on-ramp off-ramp configuration creates a hazardous ‘bottleneck’ situation. Metro operators will change to the No.1 (left) lane as they approach this interchange because traffic entering the freeway is very slow due to the short ramp. Drivers attempting to access the freeway from this on-ramp do not have the distance necessary to increase speed in order to merge without interfering with freeway traffic flow. Drivers trying to exit Highway 17 at Highway 9 also add to the problem, Aguirre said, “resulting in instances of confusion as one driver attempts to determine what the other will do.” This includes the reduction of driver speed as they attempt to access the off-ramp and the slow acceleration of those trying to get onto the freeway, he added. Metro’s bus drivers “are trained to identify and mitigate potentially dangerous situations by planning ahead, and not insisting on the right-of-way,” Aguirre continued. “The change of lanes from lane No. 2 (the right lane) to lane No.1 (the left lane) is a safety precaution taken in anticipation of this problem area. Since an operator will not know what they will face upon reaching this particular interchange area.” Aguirre added that section 21654 of the California Vehicle Code allows commercial vehicles to use the left lane when overtaking or passing slower moving vehicles. Having been a Highway 17 Express rider for several years and following Highway 17 buses when the opportunity arises, Aguirre said he has not observed anything out of the ordinary. But Metro supervisors will be vigilant in reviewing Metro’s travel through the area and will take the appropriate action “if merited.” If you or any other motorist witness a bus traveling in the left lane for “an excessive distance” at 50 mph, feel free to report the incident to Metro via its Web site at www.scmtd.com or by calling the Customer Service Department at 425-8600, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Aquirre said. Make sure to include the date, time, location, direction, bus number and the traffic violation that occurred. Pedestrian safety study Pedestrians, particularly in South County, need to take responsibility for their own safety with it comes to crossing the road. That’s according to a recent survey by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. This past fall, the agency, working with its Community Traffic Safety Coalition, South County Bike-Pedestrian Work Group, as well as Mission: Pedestrian and the Watsonville Public Works Department, observed 1,708 pedestrians countywide. Six observers took note of pedestrian habits, including, whether they look both directions before stepping crossing the street, aggressively entered the roadway without indicating to motorists their intent to cross and obeyed traffic signals. Drivers’ actions were noted, too, such as whether they yielded to waiting pedestrians, including at signalized and non-signalized intersections. Among the key findings: • Nine out of 10 North/Mid-County pedestrians entered the roadway with care compared with seven out of 10 pedestrians in Watsonville. • Fifty nine percent of teens countywide entered the roadway with care. • More than four out of five pedestrians countywide waited for the walk signal before crossing, regardless of age. • One in four pedestrians countywide who indicated a desire to cross had to wait for one or more motorists to pass before they could cross safely. The study results indicate there’s a need for changes in pedestrian and motorist behavior, the agency concluded. Armed with a $224,009 grant from the Office of Traffic Safety, the agency plans to continue to work to increase traffic safety education and awareness for bicycle and pedestrian safety, as well as motorist education and traffic calming.
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