Commentary: Mariners’ Mile proposal is example of groupthink gone wrong

As seen in 2000, traffic travels along the roughly 1-mile section of West Coast Highway in Newport Beach known as Mariners' Mile.
As seen in 2000, traffic travels along the roughly 1-mile section of West Coast Highway in Newport Beach known as Mariners’ Mile.
(File photo / Daily Pilot)

What the city has planned for Mariners’ Mile flies in the face of new research for pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. The revitalization effort encourages responsible development projects combining multiple lots.

This redevelopment of property would mean a big stimulus for the economy of Newport Beach, yet at the same time it would also discourage transportation policies and traffic engineering practices that promote increased traffic volumes and speeds. Increased volumes and speeds would discourage a family friendly destination and a village-like feel in the heart of our town.

It is engineering malpractice to try to convince property owners, local merchants and residents that when it comes to our road that the city assumes to know more than we do. Essentially, the city would be turning Coast Highway into a “Stroad,” part street, part road. A “Stroad” is unsafe, unattractive and bad for local economies.

A “Stroad” is a hybrid that could create a dangerous environment, mixing a high-speed highway with pedestrians, bicyclists and turning traffic. High-speed automobiles and pedestrians shouldn’t be in the same place; the result is an expensive highway that moves cars too fast to support productive private sector enterprises. In turn, this could ultimately lead to a declining tax base. If we want to build places that are financially productive, we need to eliminate “stroads.”

California coastal towns are now adopting two sweeping initiatives to decrease traffic lanes and increase bike lanes in an attempt to reduce vehicle speeds and collisions. These plans call for reducing traffic deaths and improving transit and bike infrastructure across the city. The focus is building strong neighborhoods and social cohesion. Why not adopt this same model for Mariners’ Mile?

If the city continues to pursue the expansion of PCH along with the revitalization efforts of Mariners’ Mile, they are guilty of engaging in a process of groupthink gone wrong. Encouraging the best form of development for Mariners’ Mile needs to come from the highest level of leadership and filter all the way down the chain. Change needs to come from the elected officials, who are making safety their first priority before those of speed and travel time. Most importantly, any change should include the valuable and constant input of its residents.

When children can’t ride their bikes to and from school, junior guards and summer camps because the traffic speed is too dangerous, the engineering profession is not acting responsibly. It’s time to stand up and demand change.

Newport Beach resident PEGGY V. PALMER is a member of the Coalition to Protect Mariners’ Mile.