As students gather their supplies in preparation for the beginning of another school year next week, Newport Beach police are busy ramping up safety measures around local campuses.
Though the police have long had a presence on campuses in the form of school resource, motorcycle and patrol officers, families will notice beginning Tuesday some extra attention on bicycle and pedestrian safety and traffic enforcement, according to Lt. Tom Fischbacher.
"Newport Beach in particular wants to really focus on some bicycle and pedestrian safety and some general safe driving habits for parents, because it takes all of those components to make a safe environment," Fischbacher said.
Police volunteers in reflective vests will be placed around Newport Beach schools to remind students and parents how to be safe on their way to and from the classroom. The volunteers will reinforce the importance of properly wearing a helmet and where it is safest to ride bicycles in the school areas.
Volunteers also will emphasize using caution when riding on the sidewalk, where cyclists usually are encouraged not to ride.
Fischbacher said drivers often don't expect bicyclists to be on the sidewalk, and statistics show that can lead to accidents. About 76% of bicyclists involved in crashes stemming from a bike entering the street from a sidewalk are children, according to national data compiled by the Newport Beach Police Department.
Officials also are encouraging parents to determine whether their young children are capable of riding a bike to school alone or rather should be in groups or with adult supervision. The Police Department suggests that children younger than age 10 not ride bicycles alone.
"Generally, children at this age lack the experience and capacity to negotiate traffic without guidance and supervision," according to a flier about bike safety being distributed to students and parents.
The volunteers, who are part of the department's Volunteers in Policing program, will be onsite for at least the first week of school, distributing information and keeping an eye out for potential hazards. However, they could remain on certain campuses longer if needed, Fischbacher said.
Patrol officers will be monitoring traffic to ensure that parents and students are obeying speed limits in school zones and not using their cellphones while driving.
"None of us start our day with the intent to get into an accident, but it's that one moment of inattention or drift, whether there's a bike lane or not," Fischbacher said. "The life-changing consequences of something like that is immeasurable."
The ramped-up effort comes after an 8-year-old bicyclist was struck and killed by a trash truck while riding home from school in Newport Heights in May. The tragedy is still fresh in the minds of parents, students and police officers and provided a catalyst for the department's safety measures, Fischbacher said.
City officials also have been coming up with ideas to try to improve safety around schools, specifically in Newport Heights. The City Council recently agreed to place stop signs on four cul-de-sacs — Gary Place, Powell Place, Aldean Place and Michael Place — at their intersections with 15th Street near Newport Heights Elementary and Newport Harbor High schools.
Other changes, such as adding bike lanes and "sharrows" and removing some street parking to enhance visibility, could soon be in the works.
"I want to get through a school year without any accidents related to schools," Fischbacher said. "We can do this, but everybody has to play their part together. I know the community is motivated in that regard, and I'm excited to see what comes of that."