Q: Why doesn't the state Department of Transportation open the car-pool lanes to general traffic during off-peak hours along Interstate...

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Q: Why doesn’t the state Department of Transportation open the car-pool lanes to general traffic during off-peak hours along Interstate 405? It seems this would alleviate some congestion, and I know California does this.

A: The state already is experimenting with opening up the high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes to all drivers during certain times of day. In 2003, the state began allowing solo drivers into Eastside HOV lanes (including I-405, I-90, the east side of Highway 520 and Highway 167) from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, said Charles Prestrud, a transportation planner in DOT’s urban planning office.

It’s not clear whether this will become permanent. The experiment follows a 2002 DOT study that found HOV lane traffic volumes were growing rapidly, and that allowing solo drivers into the lanes during the day in some locations might overcrowd them and reduce their benefit of faster and more reliable trips.

The state is monitoring the experiment, and will use the results to evaluate whether to modify HOV policies.

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Q: What does “slow” mean? I’ve encountered this sign in many locations, and in every location it appears to mean something different. After 25 years of driving, I find the sliding scale of “slow” confusing. Why don’t construction sites simply have posted speed limits? How else can everyone know what is expected, accepted and enforceable?

A: You are on the mark that “slow” means different things to different people in different places. We asked Sgt. Steve Babb of the state patrol, Sgt. John Urquhart of the King County Sheriff’s Department and Officer Michael Chiu of Bellevue Police Department to elaborate.

All agree you should go slower than the posted speed limit in construction zones and watch the flagger to see if you should go even slower.

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One reason construction sites don’t post speed limits is because roadway conditions, the number of workers and what they’re doing changes throughout the day. A speed deemed safe while workers use steamrollers yards from traffic may be too risky when workers install reflectors a couple of feet from passing cars.

“I would guess if you get a smile from the flagger, you’re going the right speed. That’s the right ‘slow.’ If he yells at you when you go by, you’re going too darn fast,” Urquhart said.

Also, Urquhart pointed out, the only enforceable speed signs are white with black lettering. But that’s no excuse to ignore the flagger and whiz on through. Besides the risk that you might hurt someone, you could net fines for negligent driving. And any type of infraction doubles in a construction zone where workers are present, Chiu said.

Winter Wonderland

The weather outside is frightful (or utterly delightful, if you love snow sports). Either way, it’s time to prepare for winter driving conditions. Visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter/ for some handy suggestions. A few of the tips: Avoid quickly cutting in front of trucks, which are heavier than cars and can’t stop as quickly. Don’t pump anti-lock brakes to stop. Instead, “stomp and steer.” And watch for slippery bridge decks, since bridges tend to ice up before roads.

To sign up for e-mail updates about all manner of storms, emergencies and traffic alerts, visit www.rpin.org, the regional public information network hosted by King County.

Early warning

Interstate 90: Only one lane will be open in either direction of I-90 just east of Snoqualmie Pass this weekend as crews continue rockslide repairs. The DOT suggests Highway 2 (Stevens Pass), Highway 12 (White Pass) or I-84 as alternate routes.

Bellevue: Watch for lane closures from 9:45-10:45 a.m. Saturday during the Crossroads Cultural and Youth Parade. Westbound Northeast Eighth Street will close from 156th Avenue Northeast to 164th Avenue Northeast. Northbound 156th Avenue Northeast will close from Northeast Eighth Street to Northeast 10th Street. Also, 164th Avenue Northeast will close in both directions between Northeast Eighth to Northeast 12th streets.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com