Group talks traffic safety at Harbor

NEWPORT BEACH — Following a crash that critically injured a teenager last week, school and city officials are working on traffic safety fixes at Newport Harbor High School.

They plan to teach pedestrians and drivers to pay closer attention, herd cars to zones designated for drop-off and parking, and install lights and other crossing aids at the intersection where Crystal Morales was hit.

On Dec. 6, an allegedly intoxicated driver struck Morales, 17, as she was walking across Irvine Avenue at Margaret Drive.

While most in the community are outraged that this woman allegedly drove impaired, there seems to be an equally strong resentment that the traffic conditions at Harbor are unnecessarily dangerous.

"It was bound to happen, whether she was impaired or not. Someone was going to get hit in that crosswalk," said Cynthia Gallagher, who has two sons at Harbor.

Students stream in and out of the campus from many points each day, often crossing streets and into residential neighborhoods instead of one of the school's two parking lots.

To tame the often-chaotic street scene around Harbor, representatives from different groups met at the school Tuesday and exchanged ideas.

They included parents, Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff, representatives from the city Public Works Department, City Councilman Rush Hill, Harbor Principal Michael Vossen, Newport-Mesa Unified School District representatives and police traffic officers.

"This truly is a tragedy for the Newport Beach community, for the Harbor High family, but have some comfort in the fact that that group has come together and is moving forward," Hill said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

One of the ideas the group settled on is to install flashing beacons on both sides of Irvine Avenue at Margaret. The lights, expected to cost $20,000, would be activated by pedestrians who pressed a button before crossing.

City Traffic Engineer Tony Brine hopes to install them by the end of January.

Also, the city is planning to designate more Irvine Avenue curb space for drop-off and pickup. Signs and paint would set aside a lane between 15th Street and Margaret. Today, parents sometimes pull into red zones.

Meanwhile, school officials are working on an educational program for students and parents to teach them about basic traffic safety: look both ways, where to drop off, where to park and so forth.

"There's a perception that when you're in the crosswalk, you're safe," said PTA President Lisa Boler. "We just need to be more aware."

School officials also plan to get more students to park in the lot on 16th Street, near the football stadium, to lessen the number of cars parking in the neighborhood near Margaret.

Police, for their part, have been acting as temporary crossing guards, and have been strictly enforcing traffic rules since the crash.

They plan to place a radar trailer on Irvine Avenue to give drivers their speed in blinking lights, Brine said.

Until the crosswalk flashing lights are installed, police plan to keep up their heightened presence there, according to Newport-Mesa Unified spokeswoman Laura Boss.

There was some talk of permanent crossing guards, but the idea seemed to be nixed at the meeting.

High school students would probably avoid the guarded intersection and jaywalk, and they come and go at all hours, making a crossing guard investment ineffective, Boler suggested.

Parents and students have been aware of traffic issues around Harbor for many years.

While solutions were floated in the past, this time appeared different, Boler said: "Everybody seemed very committed to the issue."

Twitter: @mreicher

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