Banning cars won’t help, councilman says

Be they pedestrians or joggers, dog walkers or bird watchers, bicyclists or skaters, everyone wants continued access to Back Bay Drive.

So do motorists.

But a Newport Beach subcommittee says vehicles put everyone at risk and perhaps should be banned — much to the chagrin of a city councilman overseeing the panel’s work.

The recommendation, drafted by two members of the Newport Beach Bicycle Master Plan Oversight Committee, comes in response to a letter from the Newport Bay Conservancy expressing concern that the road is unsafe.

Forming a subcommittee April 7, Frank Peters and John Heffernan took up the task of reviewing the issues. They held two public meetings at the Civic Center, received additional comment via email and letters, and hosted a Saturday morning bike ride on the road.

Ultimately, the two concluded that a pilot program to ban cars should be conducted in June, July and August.

“Trail harmony must accommodate everyone, but not necessarily every individual preference,” Peters and Heffernan wrote in the report, posted Saturday on the blog “This trail screams out for a new treatment, one that restricts vehicular traffic. Where else in the city could you possibly propose changes that would benefit so many?”

While Peters said he hoped the solution would “whet everybody’s appetite for some kind of change,” Councilman Tony Petros, who chairs the Bicycle Master Plan Oversight Committee, called the conclusions an “overreach.”

The conservancy, which leads periodic walking tours, had originally raised concerns about high-speed cyclists and pedestrians in the area, Petros explained. In his view, removing cars would not improve that situation.

“The cars aren’t the problem. The cars abide by the law,” he said. “And the issue is still outstanding. The conservancy’s concern of pedestrians and bicycles has not been addressed.”

Motorists have been restricted to northbound travel on the 3-mile roadway.

At least 10 feet of roadway where cars drive now could be delineated for new, varied uses, the report continued.

The path allows users to enjoy nature and marks an important link to larger bike networks.

“We’ve got to try something different,” Peters said. “Bicycle advocacy is disruptive to the status quo. You can’t take space on the roadway and paint a bike lane without taking it away from who? Cars.”

But the scope of the suggestion can’t be simply “folded into the Bike Master Plan,” Petros said.

To remove cars altogether could involve clearance from larger agencies, such as the California Coastal Commission or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The councilman also doesn’t see any rationale for making such a move.

The committee, charged with providing input to consultants as they develop a bike master plan for the city, will discuss the proposal at its next meeting, June 2. If the committee accepts the report, Petros said he will bring it to another city group, such as the City Council, for outside review.

“It is so far afield of the original intent of the bicycle master plan, and has such far reaching implications, that it deserves outside consideration by others, and even then I would not support it,” he said.

Other improvements proposed by the subcommittee include adding a facility for drinking water and restrooms, installing picnic tables near the road and posting signage about proper pathway uses.

The committee meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the Civic Center Community Room, 100 Civic Center Drive.