Study to Review Safety of Balboa Peninsula Crosswalks

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Newport Beach City Council approved a new study this week that looks to answer the question: How dangerous is it for a pedestrian to cross Balboa Boulevard and what can be done to improve safety?

Newport Beach City Council unanimously approved an $83,930 contract for a consultant to conduct the Balboa Peninsula Crosswalk Crossing Study. The Council voted 6-0 supporting an agreement with Fullerton-based Albert Grover and Associates for the project. Councilman Keith Curry was absent.

Mayor Diane Dixon pulled the item from the consent calendar for discussion.

“This is very important and I’m very pleased to see this project going forward,’ Dixon said.

The study will review 37 pedestrian crosswalks along the Balboa Peninsula between Coast Highway and Peninsula Point. Potential safety hazards and possible improvements will be identified and included in the report.

There have been numerous requests from local residents over the years to take a closer look at the crosswalks on the Peninsula, said Public Works Director Dave Webb.

“There is a lot of traffic, a lot of pedestrians,” Webb said.

The Balboa Peninsula is a popular tourist area, city staff notes in their report on the item. The area experiences large seasonal increases in visitors, creating high demands on the roadway, parking and pedestrian/bicycle facilities, the report explains.

The nature of the Peninsula, with the bay on one side and the ocean on the other, results in people parking on both sides and walking across Balboa Boulevard.

All of the current crosswalks meet the legal and state standards, Webb pointed out.

“But there may be a way to heighten and enhance some of them,” he added.

Some solutions may include better lighting, striping, new or better signage, or traffic control measures. Flashing in-ground lights may not be the appropriate solution, but they will definitely be considered, Webb noted.

Every crosswalk included in the study will be evaluated for possible safety concerns. The consultant will make recommendations if and how the city can enhance each crosswalk. At some locations they won’t be able to do much, Webb added.

“I want to make sure we manage expectations,” Webb said. “Some of those things we can’t control.”

There are also enforcement issues, he added.

Data will be collected, partly through video cameras, to include pedestrian counts, traffic volumes, accident history, existing signage, lighting and striping. The study will also review and consider accident reports, added City Traffic Engineer Tony Brine, who will oversee the study.

“We take all of those into consideration,” Webb said.

Out of the 37 crosswalks the project will study, 36 of them are what is referred to as “uncontrolled,’ meaning there is no stop sign or lights. The crosswalk at 38th Street is considered “controlled” because of the flashing red light, and is also included in the study.

Crosswalks at signals are at their “maximum extent” and don’t need to be reviewed, Webb explained.

To accommodate the high number of pedestrians, there are approximately 45 total marked crosswalk locations crossing Newport Boulevard and Balboa Boulevard at a mix of controlled and uncontrolled locations.

Resident Chris Benson explained some of the problems he has seen, particularly in the area near Marina Park.

“You’d see  accidents all the time,” in that area, Benson said. “You’d see it every weekend, especially in the summer.”

People would be crossing, one car might stop but then a second vehicle wouldn’t stop and the pedestrian would get hit, Benson said.

“It’s the second car that doesn’t see why the first is stopping,” he said.

Dixon asked about taking into account the vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the Lido Village area because of the expected increased activity due to the new retail. That area is being looked at separately from this report, Brine answered. Pedestrian counts and traffic volumes are already be collected for that area, he added.

When reviewing crosswalks and potential improvements, special emphasis will be given to the uniqueness of the peninsula, city staff noted in the report.

“This includes special considerations such as the scenic nature of the area, heavy multi-modal use, limited right of way, high density and close proximity of homes, businesses, parks and schools, and potential adverse effects to other roadway users,” the report reads.

The study will also “strive to balance the needs of the community and potential crosswalk enhancements.” As an example provided in the report, staff noted that parking on the Peninsula is often over capacity and that a red curb (for increased crosswalk visibility) may reduce the amount of on-street parking. Traffic signals may create a more comfortable crossing for pedestrians, but installation of several signals could significantly impact the movement of traffic along the peninsula as well as expand existing operation and maintenance cost, staff explains in the report.

Dixon also asked Public Works Director Dave Webb to clarify what is being done during this phase and what people can expect to see in the future.

The effort has already started, he noted. The city has already conducted summer pedestrian counts across the crosswalks and Tuesday’s action hired a consultant to conduct winter pedestrian counts, Webb explained.

The study should be completed near the end of the year, at which time the city will look into implementation of the suggested enhancements.

There will be some community outreach meetings during the preparation of the study, Brine said.

A report of the final findings will be presented at a future City Council meeting.

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