Earlier this month I got in touch with two of the more visible people involved in instigating, creating and producing last October’s Newport Beach Memorial Ride.
April Morris and Frank Peters were agreeable to answering my questions, and what started out as an email conversation also became a podcast via Frank’s Corona del Mar Cyclist blog.
With March around the corner, and with it the deadline for the City of Newport Beach’s matching fund for donations approaching, it’s a good time to bring the event, and more importantly the reason for the event, back into mind.
1. Now that the main events (the Ride and the Auction) have passed, is there any sustainability to the objectives of the Newport Beach Memorial Ride, or to the event itself?
AM: Stay tuned. I can envision a Long Beach to San Clemente Ride, embracing all of the cities that have adopted and are conscientiously pursuing a bike master plan.
FP: The Memorial Ride showed our elected officials exactly how important bike safety is. If the City goes ahead with a Bicycle Master Plan then many of the most glaring issues relating to bike safety will be addressed.
2. Frank, you’ve been involved as a cycling activist in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach for several years, and for April bicycle activism is relatively new. What inspires you?
FP: I started riding for health reasons, then I discovered what a beautiful place NB is to ride. My activism comes from seeing the dangerous conditions that keep more people from riding.
AM: I like creating win-win situations. Cycling – cities – communities all focused on safety. I will do what I can to avoid another death on PCH.
3. The original reporting about the choke points and safety hazards of concern to the City of Newport Beach and its local cycling community seemed focused on areas around City Hall and along the Peninsula. Arguably, these are not at the top of the list for the riders who transition through Newport Beach and Corona del Mar along PCH and the Newport Coast area. which happen to be where Sarah Leaf and Kit Campion were killed, and Betty Bustrum seriously injured. How do you expect the City and Safety Committee will prioritize its recommendations?
FP: First, the emphasis will be on making improvements to the intersection where Sarah was killed. At the same time, designs are being considered for where Betty was injured. [ed note: PCH at Bayside and Dover] Both hazards will be addressed directly. Both locations require the City to coordinate with Caltrans; it’s happening, but it takes awhile.
Yes, cyclists pass through the City on Coast Hwy, but the peninsula is where we have the most people on bikes – it has the highest mode share, as we call it. Improvements made here will have a big impact on the most bike riders. NBPD made a presentation to the Bike Safety Committee some months ago and identified the 3 most dangerous intersections for cyclists.
When you plot them on a map you can clearly see: all three intersections are where bike riders from say, Newport Harbor High School, must travel on their way to the beach. The three are 32nd St at Newport Blvd, Via Lido at Newport Blvd and Riverside Dr at Coast Hwy. Some of my advocate friends have coined the expression, Safe Routes to the Beach. Focusing on the challenges along this route is something the City can and will address in the Bicycle Master Plan.
4. Aside from the City’s concerns and commitments, do any California or OC entities have a voice in what may go on? What would be the benefits and pitfalls of their involvement?
FP: I sense you’re fishing for commentary on Caltrans and OCTA. Let me start by saying that although Caltrans is a big statewide bureaucracy, all the meetings I have been in with them they are completely cooperative, even sympathetic to cyclists needs. For example, I met with Caltrans, the City of Seal Beach together with several Long Beach bike advocates regarding hazards through Seal Beach. Several of the Caltrans managers in attendance were also bike riders and personally interested in improving conditions. They went out of their way to explain the process so we could get the improvements we felt were needed on this key stretch of roadway.
OCTA, on the other hand, will work with local advocates to put on a super bike rally to support Bike to Work Month, coming up in May. Meanwhile they are paving the planet, widening roadways and committing most of their resources to moving cars as fast as possible. In another context, I have received copies of OCTA letters to the City threatening loss of Measure M funding for experiments NB has done in the way of traffic calming on Coast Hwy in CdM. Their mission is to keep cars moving and maintaining Levels of Service that thwart local advocacy projects where NB and other cities are attempting to slow down traffic for the benefits of improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists and to improve the livability of our neighborhoods.
That half-cent Measure M funding will continue for the next 30 years and I’m afraid that unless there’s an unlikely reexamination of the automobile’s impact on our quality of life, Newport Beach and Orange County are doomed to a dismal transportation future.
All the funding that goes to widening roads and adding lanes removes any incentive for people to commute in any more healthy way; worse, the wider roads lead to increased traffic speeds which further discourage parents from letting their kids to ride their bikes to school, or anywhere else.
The more OCTA paves the planet the more people feel they must drive their car, even is it’s just across the street, or 6-lane arterial, to buy a gallon of milk. OCTA’s total emphasis on the single-passenger automobile will eventually have a big negative economic impact on Orange County, as many other cities like Los Angeles and Long Beach, not to mention Denver, Minneapolis and Portland, recognize that future economic competitiveness requires offering people transportation choices. In Orange County today, we have few transportation choices and OCTA’s relentless efforts to move more cars more quickly means that our economic future is at risk. Ditto our quality of life.
5. April, you noted in an email that “The City of Newport Beach agreed to fund and prepare a Bicycle Master Plan. This is a huge step forward. Instead of piecemeal improvements (which will still happen until the plan is ready) we will have a comprehensive master plan that will get acted upon.” Any idea who or what entities will be involved in drafting this? Will there be public input?
AM: We’ve had ten great ideas from those individuals who participated in the Memorial Ride and/or contributed to the cause. Those ideas have been shared with Public Works in Newport Beach and many have potential solutions identified and scheduled by the City. Because of the way the adoption of a master plan works, there will be many opportunities for public input.
6. Frank, you’ve long been at the point on things cycling and Newport Beach politics. Is there any possibility that the Bicycle Safety Committee meetings can take place at a time where people who work “normal” hours can attend?
FP: All year long I argued in my distinguished peevish tone of voice, to get the Bike Safety Cmte Chair to place items on the monthly agendas. I was rebuffed each time. The single time I was able to get an item placed on the agenda was the issue of when our meetings should take place. I, too, sensed that a later meeting was likely to attract a larger audience, but picture the scene: when this issue did come up, of course those that might wish for a later meeting weren’t present to support the concept, only those who preferred the status quo were present, so my agenda item went nowhere.
What I have observed is an overwhelming sensitivity to staff time. Public Works, the City Manager and several police officers are typically present. I do not know if they are paid overtime for the time they spend at the meetings, so it’s only conjecture that the costs of staff time completely outweigh the possibility of encouraging greater citizen participation in the meetings.
Much like a City Council meeting, I felt the best time would be a 7pm start.
7. I’ll ask what will be an unpopular question, coning from a rider: are cyclists as much in need of “Share the Road” education as motorists?
AM: Yes, they are. Pardon the pun but it is a two way street. Cyclists need to ride in a safe and respectful manner – and drivers need to do the same. Same road, same rules, same rights. Having said that, there needs to be an increased focus to educate everyone who uses the roads – motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, of the rules.
FP: Ok, Peter. You’ve just done a Journalism 101 faux pas: there are two sides to every story. Yeah, does your boss make you do this? [ed. note: No.]
First, “Share the Road” sucks. It’s an attempt to invite better roadway manners without upsetting the motoring public with a less ambiguous sign: Bikes Many Use Full Lane.
STR is ambiguous because cyclists feel that their lives are in jeopardy, so please use a little patience, while to motorists, STR means ‘get the hell out of my way’. NB placed STR signs on Bayside Drive as they installed Sharrows last year; as a result, Bayside Drive in my opinion, is the most hostile roadway in all of Newport Beach.
BMUFL has no such ambiguity and to their credit, Public Works went with BMUFL signs on Coast Hwy through CdM when they installed Sharrows there.
For my next wise crack, I’ll often say that once you fix drunk driving, distracted driving and belligerent driving then I’ll fix what some categorize as “Bad Bicyclist Behavior”. And I’ll employ the same education techniques you use for motorists.
Now that I’ve blown off some steam, yes, I see lots of cyclists doing absolutely stupid things on very busy roads. But keep this in mind, a motorist, it’s often said encounters a dangerous roadway condition about one every five days, for cyclists, we encounter dangerous drivers doing life threatening behaviors every 5 hours.
In other cities what I’ve heard they discover as they build safe infrastructure for cycling is that eventually, as more people come out on bikes, there’s a social influence on all bike riders to conform to reasonable behavior.
Bunch of b.s., I can hear some readers mumbling.
But I can tell you this: that when I recently visited the Netherlands and spent 8 days examining their superior bike infrastructure that keeps bikes away from cars, I saw no bad bicyclist behavior. Coincidence?
8. Frank, I hear that the City Council is calling for a Comprehensive Parking Plan for the peninsula – what’s your take on this? Are there any broader ramifications?
FP: Everyone wants more parking, but there’s a problem: more parking attracts more cars which leads to more comprehensive parking plans for more parking. How do we get out of this loop?
Carmaggedon taught us that widening freeways reduces gridlock, but only for about 4 years. At that point traffic jams are right back where they were before we spent a billion dollars, yet now we’re faced with the need for more expensive traffic lanes.
You can see this happening with OCTA’s plans to widen the 405, the new San Juan Capistrano interchange and soon a major road widening on Newport Blvd from 19th Street to the peninsula.
This endless loop is called Induced Demand. Every traffic engineer knows of this tautology, that more capacity brings more cars, which requires more capacity, but this endless cycle brings endless contracts for planners and traffic engineers. It’s nutty.
Instead, leave the roads and freeways as they are. When they reach capacity, eventually drivers will seek out and demand alternatives. Whether it’s light rail or bike lanes, few will abandon the comfort of the single-family car so long as OCTA keeps pouring billions into maintaining the status quo.
A broader questoion: Won’t global warming compel us to make changes in how we drive?
I always thought so, but last week I was, ah, relieved to hear of an alternative plan. City Councilwoman Nancy Gardner has been talking up an engineering solution to global warming’s worst problems for Newport Beach. The threat of rising sea levels means that low-level areas like Balboa Island could suffer as sea levels rise.
According to Gardner, now we can breath easier as a proposal has been put forward to place dikes, like the Dutch use, to control these higher sea levels and keep Balboa Island afloat.
So maybe there’s no reason to panic; we can all keep driving our SUVs without concern. A mere quarter of a billion dollars, plus or minus $50 million, will make all those pesky global warming problems just float away.