Council looks to slow traffic

Newport Beach council members directed staff Tuesday to take steps to reclassify a short stretch of Tustin Avenue in order to lower the speed limit by 5 mph.

Members also agreed to explore with the community additional measures to slow traffic, which neighbors called a danger to pedestrians.

Two stop signs bookend the quarter-mile stretch of roadway between Santiago Drive and 23rd street, but drivers still commonly exceed the 30 mph speed limit, residents told the council.

Nearby homeowners pleaded with council members to address the public-safety issue they and their children faced before it was too late.

Inevitably, a reckless motorist will injure or kill a walker, biker or kid from the nearby school, they warned.

Twelve houses face the street, by the city staff's count, and several cul-de-sacs branch from it.

"Understanding speed limits are always very complex," said Dave Webb, the city's public works director. "They're also very emotional usually when you get into neighborhoods. People view this differently whether you live in front of it or you're cruising through another neighborhood."

One man said he must wear a reflective vest when he walks his dog. A woman said she lives there so she can spend time outside. Another man pointed to an aerial photo of the block and said he couldn't understand how the council could consider the area anything but residential.

Current California Road System maps, which are used to determine federal funding for roadways, classify the street as a "collector," meaning it gathers traffic from "local," or residential, roads and funnels them to larger ones.

Solutions to reducing Tustin Avenue's speed limit to 25 mph would include requesting a change in classification from the California Department of Transportation.

"This is these folks' neighborhood; this is where they live; they have to live with the traffic and speeds out there," Councilman Ed Selich said. "Things kind of get confusing. I pretty much fall on the side of helping out the neighborhood and looking to deal with the regulations that we have in a way that helps the neighborhood."

Councilwoman Nancy Gardner pointed out that the city completed a speed-limit review on all city streets a few years ago, which had left the council grumbling about various specific areas.

Lowering the speed limit also doesn't guarantee a change in behavior, she noted.

Police cannot be on every street corner at once, said Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, and so-called speed-calming measures often prove better in theory than in practice, others stipulated.

Speed bumps slow down fire engines responding to emergencies, Mayor Rush Hill said.

No one wants a traffic light installed in front of their house, he added, but perhaps new sidewalks or trees would help.

"Traffic engineering is voodoo," Councilman Tony Petros said in response to Selich's earlier evaluation of traffic engineering as an art as much as a science.

Having built his career in the field of traffic management, Petros asserted, "Nothing will change."

Petros offered that 70% of traffic devices installed have been removed by the people who wanted them.

And so the council promised to evaluate the issue further.

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