Bicycle safety discussed

Less than a mile from where a woman died in a cycling accident last month, resident group Speak Up Newport met to discuss the future of and progress made in bicycle safety in Newport Beach.

Addressing the residents who attended the meeting at the Newport Beach Yacht Club Wednesday evening, were City Council candidate Tony Petros and Police Chief Jay Johnson who spoke of lesser-known rules of the road for motorists and cyclists. About 50 people were in attendance, according to George Schroeder, who is on the group's board of directors.

"What I find is that many of the issues relating to cycling and motorists can't be engineered away," Petros said of his work planning and engineering for bicyclist safety in Malibu. "We can't engineer away DUI. We can't engineer away rage and anger. That's where education and enforcement comes in."

Part of the safety is educating those on the road and encouraging more people to cycle around town to raise awareness about riding a bike, Petros said.

"If we can get folks out of their car, it has many many benefits," among them health, he said.

Johnson said some people are still unaware of rules that allow cyclists to take over a lane, including when a road is too narrow or unsafe for a cyclist and motorist to travel side-by-side.

The Newport Beach Police Department is looking to move into a data-driven approach to crime and safety and tracks the speed of motorist using signs that flash the speed limit and how fast drivers are actually traveling, Johnson said. The signs, he said, don't keep track of license plates numbers.

The new system would allow police officers to track where crime and traffic-related incidents occur. Johnson said there is often a correlation between the two, and the new approach would allow officers to more efficiently target problem areas.

Despite the two fatalities in September, Johnson said the city is moving toward fewer cycling accidents. This year, Newport Beach saw a 21% reduction in accidents and 10% reduction of accidents that caused injury, he said.

Maps of areas targeted for clearer signage hung on the walls of the meeting room. Among hot spot areas set for improvement are the exit of the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway where it meets Newport Coast Drive. Currently, cyclists have to crane their necks to see if a motorist is zooming off the highway, but the city is working with the California Department of Transportation for signs that raise awareness of both motorists and cyclists, Petros said.

One area that already received improved signage and clearer lanes is Avocado Avenue near MacArthur Boulevard, where a sweeping right lane allows drivers to make right turns quickly, Petros said. The signage and bike lane created a clear line of sight so motorists can more easily spot those on bicycles, Petros said.

"Cyclists are here to stay," he said. "There is no reason why they can't be on the road. State law permits them to be there. Cyclists will be there and we need to make that accommodation."

Near the yacht club is Bayside Drive and East Coast Highway where 29-year-old Sarah Leaf died when she was struck and run over by a truck on Sept. 14. A ghost bike memorial sits in the shrubbery at the intersection.

The next Speak Up Newport meeting is expected to be held Nov. 14 and discuss the Banning Ranch project.

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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