Friday, April 4, 2014

SoCal Traffic Expert: Traffic Tips for San Fernando Valley Freeways

Despite lots of expansion of lanes and interchanges, traffic patterns in the San Fernando Valley have stayed pretty much the same over the last 20-30 years. The 5/170 interchange is one of the biggest improvements in traffic flow in the Valley in decades, and is one of the few freeway interchanges that still have room to expand. Most others are built up in the middle of commercial/residential districts, or sandwiched in between mountains like the Newhall and Sepulveda Passes.

Ventura Fwy (101/134)

The easiest estimate for any prime traffic time for travel on the 101 (Ventura Fwy) along the Valley floor (usually considered from Thousand Oaks to Sherman Oaks) is an hour. Add a half hour for rides extending into Studio City or Burbank, or for special holidays or Fridays.
The 101 has no carpool lane its entire stretch, yet the 134 does for its entire stretch through Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.

The East/Southbound ride usually has a slow pocket through Calabasas (about Lost Hills to Las Virgenes) and then slows again through Woodland Hills toward the 405, usually starting at around Topanga but can extend further back on particularly tough days. Continuing east, like clockwork traffic usually jams before Van Nuys Bl through Coldwater Canyon, and then on the 134 portion approaching Forest Lawn through the merge with the 5.

The west/northbound Ventura Fwy is quickly starting to resemble the Eastbound side symmetrically. In morning rush hour, the 134 portion west gets some choppy slowing through Downtown Glendale to the 5, then about Hollywood way through the 170, and usually it stays slow through the 405 until Balboa before you gain an extra lane and traffic flows again. Usually the ride stays free until Newbury Park and the merge with the 23 (Ventura county).

Ronald Reagan Fwy (118 – Formerly “Simi Valley Fwy”)

The 118 is one of the few freeways in Southern California that can boast decent speeds many times of the day, but rush hours can get messy for sure. It helps that it has a minimum of 5 lanes in many spots and a carpool lane that stretches the entire stretch through Simi and the San Fernando Valleys.

The eastbound commute sometimes catches sun glare, especially approaching the Santa Susana Pass. Rarely does traffic slow again until Reseda Bl, and especially in busy morning commutes, stays very heavy onto the 5. The eastbound side can get heavy in afternoon commutes approaching the 210 as well, as this serves as a great alternate to the 405 into the Newhall Pass, barring a huge closure when everyone will use this route.

Westbound commute is rarely problematic. Morning commutes can bunch up near the 405, ant afternoon commutes can catch slowing through Reseda Bl, but even this is rare.

San Diego Fwy (405)

The 405 is one of the busiest and most frustrating freeways in the country to drive on. While the stretch of the 405 in the valley is not always as troublesome as points further south, the commute into and out of the Sepulveda Pass is rarely an easy one. In morning drive, the 405 Southbound can sometimes be troublesome as far north as the 118, and usually is a grind most of the way to the West side. 

 Northbound lanes are usually wide open in AM drive, as are Southbound lanes in PM drive (through the valley stretch). In PM drive, Northbound traffic usually breaks up coming down the hill toward the 101 but usually has heavy volume all the way up to Nordhoff. Almost guaranteed anytime after 3pm, traffic grinds to a halt near San Fernando Mission Bl up to the merge with the 5. Fridays are especially worse.

Hollywood Fwy (170)

The 170 is one of the smallest length freeways in the entire state. It technically continues onto Highland Avenue in Hollywood, which is only relevant in that Highland Ave onramp to the north 170 joins on the left side. Other than that, that fact is meaningless for practical purposes.
The 170 has a carpool lane its entire length and a speed limit of 65. In my entire traffic career, I always seem to remember getting an inordinate amount of reports of vehicles over the side of the road near Victory Bl. There is a curve in the road there, and I suspect that drivers especially when drunk or distracted, take the turn too fast.

The 5/170 interchange has gone through phases of being bad to really bad. Until the most recent construction project, at its junction the 170 would narrow 2 lanes into the 5 feed. In 2013, Caltrans completed a new section of transition road from the 170 where it ends and merges with the 5, expanding to 3 rather than the former 2 lanes with no HOV. This has helped alleviate traffic but as with every interchange in Southern California, no matter how many lanes are added, traffic is inevitable when one freeway ends and merges with another. Therefore, the Northbound 170 still slows (although not as bad as it used to years ago) from before Sheldon St through the merge with the 5 and usually eases up after Osborne.

Glendale Fwy (2)

Generally the Glendale Freeway is a great alternate to dealing with the Golden State or Hollywood freeways. But because it runs due north/south for most of its stretch, the challenge is getting back to points west. Usually the biggest traffic jam on the 2 is during morning drive the closer you get to the 5 merge. Sometimes southbound traffic can load up as far back as the 134.

Foothill Fwy (210)

The stretch of the 210 in the San Fernando Valley (most of it along the northern edge, through the Verdugo Pass) is one of the most accessible and least used secrets/alternates to the crowded valley freeways. It serves as a straight (and usually wide open) shot for commuters from Santa Clarita/Simi Valleys to Pasadena. The 210 for this stretch rarely ever has traffic during morning drive. In PM drive, it is common to see a slow stretch in Westbound lanes from the 118 to the 5. On Fridays, holidays, and rain days, this traffic can be especially thick and only on rare occasions stretches east of the 118.

In ten years of reporting traffic, the only time I recall there being a significant traffic jam on the 210 was during brush fire events. When brush fires burn along the side of the freeway, fire crews usually shut down one or several of the right lanes so commuters won’t be injured by flames or flying embers. On particular occasions, all lanes have been shut down, and when this happens on this stretch of the 210, it puts extra pressure on all other routes between Pasadena and the Newhall Pass, including the 170, 5, Foothill Bl, and San Fernando Road. Again, this type of event is extremely rare, so this stretch of the 210 is usually a good bet for a wide open commute.

Golden State Fwy (5)
And more to come in future blog entries....

Contact your Socal Traffic Expert
Randy Keith

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