Speed limits may increase

Even as Newport Beach City Council members resist the notion of raising speed limits, state laws may require them to.

In Tuesday's council's study session, Public Works Director Stephen Badum and Police Chief Jay Johnson explained that the the state's vehicle code requires speed limits to be reviewed every five to 10 years.

If they are not reviewed, those streets are considered speed traps by law and police can't ticket people for speeding.

The city reviewed 98 sections of Newport Beach streets, from main thoroughfares — like Jamboree Road and MacArthur Boulevard — to streets in residential areas — like Vista del Oro and Medina Way.

City engineers studied driving speeds on all street segments. State law mandates that the speed must be rounded up or down to how drivers in the 85th percentile — meaning 85% of the speed that people drive, or below that speed — travel on that road.

Exceptions can be made for pedestrian- or bicycle-heavy areas, among other reasons.

Badum recommended that 36 segments increase their speed limits by 5 mph, 61 stay the same, and one segment — East Coast Highway between Poppy Avenue and Cameo Shores Drive – be increased from 35 mph to 45 mph.

The logic in the 10 mph increase in speed is that that strip of highway eastbound leads to a less populated part of the city, and westbound it's too drastic a drop in speed for drivers to slow down that quickly from the zone near Newport Coast Drive.

Council members expressed reservations at the changes, and resentment that the state can mandate the city's speed limits.

"Every time we raise the speed limit, the cushion rises," Councilwoman Nancy Gardner said. "So if we raise it to 35, we are actually raising it to 40."

Councilman Mike Henn questioned some of the findings, such as the suggestion that the speed increased to 30 mph on Via Lido between Central and Lafayette avenues.

Officials suggested that the speed limit be increased to 55 mph on Jamboree and MacArthur. The city is also looking to increase the speed limit on Spyglass Hill Road, a street popular with bicyclists in the morning where a fatal bicycle crash occurred earlier this year.

City staff will come back to the City Council on Jan. 11 with a proposed ordinance to update speed limits.

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