Lively Forum on Traffic Safety in Newport Heights

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City Councilman Brad Avery speaks with residents after the Newport Heights traffic safety town hall on Wednesday.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

A lively discussion about traffic safety had residents split about potential street improvements at a forum this week.

About 80 people packed into Newport Theatre Arts Center on Cliff Drive Wednesday night for the town hall.

The discussion focused on streets in the Newport Heights and Cliffhaven neighborhoods, in City Council districts 2 and 3, represented by Brad Avery and Marshall “Duffy” Duffield respectively. Avery hosted the meeting and was on hand to answer questions and gather feedback.

The purpose of the meeting was to hear input from the community, Avery said. He wanted a free-flowing conversation with residents about concerns, ideas, and potential solutions, he added.

“We just want to get them down on paper,” Avery noted, “to make things better for everyone.”

Avery polled the audience a few times during the discussion, asking by a show of hands if they thought traffic was too fast, if the speeding has gotten worse, whether they would object to more traffic calming measures, if adding sidewalks are a good idea, and if they would like more enforcement. The crowd was fairly evenly divided on most topics.

“Once again, the heights are split,” Avery said. “We can make changes if the community comes together and feels strongly, we just have to have consensus.”

Change will happen incrementally, he added, as they gather more community input and get a sense of what most residents want.

The difference of opinion continued on specific ideas mentioned during the forum.

As one resident said there should be more stop signs on Clay Street, another quietly commented that any more would be too many. Another local said flashing lights on stop signs would be a good idea, but a few others pointed out that the lights would impact the neighbors and they wouldn’t want them next to their own house. A few others stated that sidewalks would help, but several responded “not my street.”

City Councilman Brad Avery speaks about Newport Heights traffic safety as City Manager Grace Leung listens at town hall on Wednesday.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

The only issue that all residents in attendance seemed to agree on was that more police enforcement is needed.

Drivers need to follow the rules already in place, several residents concurred. Many pointed out that people often drive right through the stop signs.

Ignoring stop signs, unfortunately, has been happening for years, Newport Beach Police Department Lieutenant Joe Cartwright commented.

“I can sense the frustration that you all have,” Cartwright said. “You don’t have to convince me that people don’t stop at stop signs, you don’t need to convince me that we need more traffic enforcement. You’re not going to hear any argument from me. We agree.”

After 20 years as a police officer, he has yet to find that “sweet spot” that gets people to follow the rules, Cartwright said.

There are several areas throughout the city that need attention, Cartwright noted. Although residents may not see them out there all the time, they are making an effort in the Newport Heights and Cliffhaven neighborhoods, said Cartwright, who took over the traffic division in April.

“(The neighborhood) is a priority to us,” Cartwright said. “We’re really trying to put an emphasis here.”

City Traffic Engineer Tony Brine presented a number of traffic calming measures already being implemented or currently being considered.

Staff approached City Council last August with the traffic study, which focused on schools in the neighborhood. Since then, staff has implemented some of the recommended improvements around Newport Heights Elementary, Ensign Intermediate, and Newport Harbor High schools, Brine explained.

Around the elementary school, two crossing guards have been added, Brine confirmed.

“I think it’s been a big help for the kids that bike and walk to school,” he commented.

Other improvements around Newport Heights Elementary: Established a pick-up and drop-off zone, which staff thinks is working well; posted “no pedestrian crossing” signs in midblock; installed a new stop sign at Broad Street and Catalina Drive intersection; and have ongoing meetings with the school district regarding improvements.

City Traffic Engineer Tony Brine talks about traffic calming measures in Newport Heights at a town hall on Wednesday.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

Newport-Mesa Unified School District is in the middle of redesigning the parking lot as well, which would completely change the traffic circulation, Brine added.

Around Ensign Intermediate School, improvements include: Crossing guard added at Irvine Avenue and Coral Place; pick-up and drop-off zone established, along with signage; and in the process of getting signs made to change the parking time restrictions on Irvine Avenue, so on the early Wednesdays it keeps the bike lane open for the kids.

Staff met with Clay Street residents in December and discussed a few ideas, including adding bike lanes and/or parking restrictions for certain times during the day.

Staff also is proposing to install the shared-lane sharrow markings, the bicycle icon with directional arrows painted on the street, with a green background, Brine explained.

“It would be a cautionary message to motorists to watch out, that there are bicyclists on the street,” Brine said.

Around the high school, staff plans to prepare and present plans to NMUSD about redesigning the 15th Street parking lot to make it more efficient.

“Get that parking onto the school campus and out of the neighborhood,” Brine said.

Staff also plans to or is already in the process of replacing and upgrading signage and fill in missing segments of the sidewalk.

Council policy L-26 details traffic management for the city and provides guidelines.

Possible traffic calming measures, as outlined by L-26, include: Road narrowing or chokers, neighborhood traffic circles, raised medians, speed cushions (like speed bumps, but with open slots to allow large emergency vehicles to drive over unaffected), and radar speed feedback.

Lieutenant Dave Miner also spoke during the meeting, going over recent crime stats.

He pointed out that crime is down in the area and arrests are up compared to the five-year average. Although auto theft is up slightly, often because people leave their keys or the remote entry key fob device in their car, Miner explained.

The most common crime in Newport Heights is theft from motor vehicles, he noted, and about 80 percent of those are from unlocked cars.

Both Cartwright and Miner agreed that they are adequately staffed, but more officers would be even better. Avery pointed out that the proposed budget, which is going through the vetting process right now, includes a recommendation for two more motor officers.

A bicyclist and a car share the road in Newport Beach.
— NB File Photo/Lawrence Sherwin ©
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