Commentary: Let’s focus on safety of Back Bay Drive, not restricting use

Recently the Daily Pilot published a commentary regarding traffic along Back Bay Drive (“Close Back Bay Drive to vehicular traffic,” April 22).

Its author used a set of statistics and personal observations to conclude that Back Bay Drive should be closed to vehicles. The idea of completely restricting vehicular traffic on that roadway is not new. Newport Beach has records of requests and accident record reviews going back to 1977. Many times consideration was given to prohibiting vehicles, but ultimately the decision has always been to keep full access for all users.

In the commentary, a listing of accident data was used to support the contributor’s proposal. Much of that data is from a remote source called TIMS, or Transportation Injury Mapping System. The TIMS website clearly states that the data, information and documents are informational only and are not to be relied upon in any way since the data may be false, out-of-date or otherwise unreliable.

In reviewing real accident data, Newport Beach staff uses more accurate local records kept by our Police Department.

City records reveal three bicycle-involved fatal or severe-injury collisions between 2004 and 2013 on or near Back Bay Drive. No motor vehicles were involved in any of the three collisions, which occurred between Shellmaker Road and Eastbluff. Citywide, bicycle-related fatalities have amounted to no more than two per year for a number of years.

Yes, that is two too many. However, Newport Beach has fewer of these tragic events than many of our neighboring communities, while being at the epicenter of many cyclists’ favorite routes.

Our Bicycle Master Plan Committee recently created a working group to investigate Back Bay Drive and recommend ways to improve safety. We look forward to the results of that review.

Back Bay Drive has many users, including motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, bird-watchers and joggers. All share a road that is limited in size. Caution and respect are mandatory here.

The Upper Newport Bay belongs to all of us and should be enjoyed regardless of how a person gets there. For many residents and visitors, an automobile is the only way to access Back Bay Drive.

The city will be reviewing all possible safety improvements for all modes of travel. However, no one should be denied the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the Upper Bay without overwhelming evidence that others would be harmed by their presence.

TONY PETROS is a Newport Beach city councilman.