Officials, residents talk bike safety funds

Newport Beach cycling activists were cautioned against letting approximately $300,000 in Bicycle Safety Improvement Funds burn a hole in their proverbial pockets during a Citizens Bicycle Safety Committee meeting Monday.

The money was generated through fundraising efforts tied to an October memorial ride for two cyclists killed in Newport, with three-to-one city matching.

“That’s a lot of money,” Councilman Tony Petros told the small group gathered in the central library’s Friends Room. “Unfortunately, when you get to capital improvement projects, it’s a teardrop in the ocean.”

Petros, an incoming council member who likely will take over for Councilwoman Nancy Gardner in heading up bike safety improvement planning this year, said that if the city can achieve “two out of 15" projects on a list of possible improvements, that would be an accomplishment.

That list, compiled with input from community members by memorial ride organizer April Morris, includes a number of problem areas for cyclists, and features suggestions like creating safe routes from Newport Harbor High School to the peninsula, and increasing public educational outreach.

Still, committee and audience members were upbeat about the possibilities.

Morris said she’d spoken with city staffers, and reported that some of the projects were already in the works.

Furthermore, Petros and Gardner said, developing a broader bike master plan will be a high priority for the council this year.

Such a plan, senior city civil engineer Brad Sommers said, would ensure that whatever improvements are made would efficiently incorporate improvements the city has already made, such as sharrows on Coast Highway. Sharrows are arrows and bike icons painted onto roadways to remind drivers and cyclists to share lanes.

While it’s tough to quantify the extent to which improvements have impacted bike safety, Newport Beach Police Lt. Jeff Lu said the total number of bike accidents decreased in 2012.

In 2012, he said in a brief run-down of accident statistics, there were 106 bike-involved collisions in Newport, down about 7, or 6%, from 2011.

Of those 106, 54 involved cyclists and moving motor vehicles. The other 52 were mostly crashes involving multiple bikes or stationary objects.

He said the number of collisions involving moving vehicles was down by about 11% from 61 in 2011.

“Any time we can avoid a bike and a car hitting is a good thing,” Lu said.

Police were able to determine who was at fault in 100 of last year’s crashes. In 76 of those, he said, the cyclist’s actions were found to have contributed to the crash; however, that’s including solo bike crashes, and bike-versus-bike collisions.

Overall, he said, those percentages generally tended to line up with trends over the last several years.

Citizen committee member Frank Peters pointed out, “We don’t know what the overall increase in cyclists was.”

If there are more cyclists on the road and crashes are going down, he reasoned, improvements might be making an impact.

After the meeting, Morris added that while city-matched funds are capped, residents can still donate to the Bike Safety Improvement fund by making purchases through the Newport portal.

Twitter: @jillcowan