Divided Opinions on Pedestrian, Bike Safety in Newport Heights

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Newport Beach City Council members, city staff, and residents discussed pedestrian and bicycle safety and access within the Newport Heights area for more than two hours this week, in an ongoing conversation that has the neighborhood split.

There have been several discussions on the issue in the past, including a traffic study in 2018, extensive public outreach, numerous recommendations, and some improvements installed over the past few years.

It’s an important issue and worth discussing again, as there doesn’t seem to be a consensus yet and they are always open to ideas, Mayor Pro Tem Brad Avery said.

“(This and previous discussions aim to) try to… come up with some solutions to make our streets safer, which I know everybody wants to do, but everybody is not aligned and we have different opinions on how to get there and those meetings are sometimes tense,” Avery said. “We definitely want to hear from the community on this.”

There have been contrasting desires from the community, Principal Civil Engineer Brad Sommers noted.

Some want to improve walkability and cycling within Newport Heights. Others are concerned about losing street parking and “urbanizing” the neighborhood with addition of sidewalks and/or bike lanes.

The split among the residents was evident again on Tuesday during public comment.

Many urged Council to look for active transportation options for pedestrians and cyclists. Sharrows are not safe, several agreed. Bike lanes and/or sidewalks are a better solution for certain areas.

Resident Peter Boyd urged the Council to plan for the future. There will be more traffic and more people, and everyone will want a safe situation. It’s common sense to include sidewalks around schools in the future, he said, and he’d like them elsewhere as well.

“Consider doing what you can to make this a safe neighborhood for everybody, bicyclists, pedestrians, adults, children, dogs, all of them,” Boyd said.

On the other side, many residents thought sidewalks in some areas are not feasible and will be too expensive. There was a lot of concern about the proposals for Clay Street.

Kate Malouf, a 13-year resident of Newport Heights whose three kids attended Newport Heights Elementary, said her children walked or rode their bikes when they reached an age that it was safe to do so. They never had an incident and followed the rules of the road, she added.

The added crossing guards in the area have been a welcomed addition, she said. She also thanked the city for installing the sharrows and signage on Clay Street.

The actions are working, along with school and police bike safety presentations and ongoing conversations with students, she explained.

Many are frustrated that the traffic keeps coming back up, she said. There are a number of other issues the city should now focus on instead of bringing this back to the table.

“A very small group of people whose position and desire is to put sidewalks in our neighborhood, I understand,” Malouf said. “But before we go spending money that is not in our current city budget, I would like us to explore reasonable options.”

She suggested trying directional time restrictions on Clay and Beacon streets.

Others said the sidewalk situation on Cliff Drive needs to be fixed and the speed limit needs to be enforced.

Councilwoman Diane Dixon also echoed a resident suggestion of parent volunteers helping direct kids during school traveling hours.

“Let’s get the neighborhood involved,” she said.

Try some of the “non-structural” changes first, Dixon said.

“It really comes down to the roadways, the users, what we have there, and how we accommodate those different uses,” Sommers said.

Sharrows, or shared lane markings, increase awareness and have no impact on parking, Sommers noted. But that means there is no dedicated path for cyclists, he pointed out.

An on-street bike lane provides a dedicated path for cyclists and the function is widely understood by roadway users. Although it does require removing or restricting street parking, Sommers noted.

A protected bike lane provides a raised buffer between the cyclists and cars. It may also require parking removal or roadway widening. This plan also means additional maintenance and sweeping, Sommers added. It also doesn’t provide a sidewalk for pedestrians.

Staff had a few points for Council to consider for future conversations on the issue: Possibly designating Clay and Beacon streets, and Tustin Avenue as “significant link” streets; adding sidewalks to Beacon Street, between Irvine and Fullerton avenues; and constructing a 10-foot sidewalk on Cliff Drive, between Riverside and Irvine avenues.

Significant link streets will improve sidewalk network within the neighborhood and provides a gradual implementation through private redeveloped property. Although it may create a “disjointed” sidewalk path.

Council members requested a detailed synopsis of what a plan for significant link streets would look like and associated costs, a map of the crossing guards and their operating hours, looking into Clay Street as one-way, designating some areas as safety streets, and traffic calming measures on Cliff Drive.

There have been a number of improvements made in the area over the past several years.

“We feel we actually pay quite a bit of attention to (the neighborhood),” Sommers said.

It’s an older community with unique characteristics and has the influence of nearby schools, he explained.

In October, Council formally requested a future item to discuss possible installation of protected bike lanes and other pedestrian facilities within Newport Heights.

Completed improvements include: Added Crossing Guards at key intersections, enhanced crosswalk/school signage and markings, flashing pedestrian beacon at Margaret Drive, traffic Calming devices on Cliff Drive and 15 Street, new sidewalk links on Irvine Avenue and 15th Street, and more. The bike lane improvements on Clay Street and new loading zone parking restrictions on Beacon Street were contested by some residents, staff noted.

She understands the sentiment of not wanting to change the neighborhood, but, as Council members, they have to look forward, Councilwoman Joy Brenner said.

Understanding that some development will come in the future — as limited as possible, but it will come — she wants to make sure those streets are as safe as possible, she added.

“We have the responsibility of planning for the future,” Brenner said.

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