Newport Beach eyes possible improvements to Balboa oceanfront boardwalk

Houses face the boardwalk on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. In an ongoing effort, the City Council considered possible improvements there at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
(Hillary Davis)

Still working to respond to the concerns of residents living along a nearly three-mile-long oceanfront boardwalk on the Balboa Peninsula, the Newport Beach City Council further studied possible improvements there during its regular meeting Tuesday.

City staff provided the update at the request of the council, which last September voted to increase the maximum fines and impose a speed limit of 8 mph in the stretch between 36th Street and E Street.

Issues on the boardwalk date back years, with residents raising concerns about speeding along the pathway, the proliferation of electric bikes and other motorized vehicles and other unsafe conduct.

Staff members told the council there were no complaints during the September testing of rumble strips installed on the Castaways Park trail. They added that the strips, however, did not consistently slow cyclists and that the noise the strips generate when wheels come into contact with them could be disruptive to neighbors if they were to be installed on the boardwalk.

The council asked staff to investigate the possibility of implementing pedestrian-only weekends from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, but residents did not seem in favor of that direction.

City staff advised the council that the city’s Oceanfront Boardwalk Ambassadors program currently being piloted has so far met with generally positive responses from the community. In it, two teams of two people patrol the boardwalk during the day.

This ambassador program is separate from the Oceanfront Boardwalk Improvement project, which was deferred along with other capital projects when the City Council — faced with an expected $33.2-million gap due to economic uncertainties during the pandemic — approved the budget for the current fiscal year. Deferred capital projects made up for about $21 million of the solution adopted in June.

Suggested improvements to the area include possibly separating pedestrian and wheeled travelers by widening the boardwalk and revitalizing McFadden Plaza while maintaining parking lot useage.

John Pope, a spokesman for Newport Beach, said that about $350,000 was initially budgeted for consultants for the Oceanfront Boardwalk Improvement project, which was supposed to begin at the start of last summer until its deferral. That project funding will be considered in June by the City Council for inclusion in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

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