Safety Compromised on San Joaquin Hills Drive

San Joaquin Hills Drive in Newport Beach is a major thoroughfare for motorists and cyclists alike.  Just below the intersection of Spyglass Hill, motorists picking up students at Harbor Day school park on the inland side of the road.

This is a signed NO PARKING zone; as is the entire length of San Joaquin Hills Drive from Jamboree to Newport Coast Drive.  The posted speed limit is 55 MPH at this point.

Cyclists descending San Joaquin Hills Drive at this point have just left the dedicated bike lane which extends from Newport Coast Drive to Spyglass Hill and are faced with as many as 75 cars pulling over, parking, loading students and pulling back on to this high speed street.  All in apparent violation of the NO PARKING signs.

Watch this video of a cyclist passing the pickup zone at about 2:30 pm today:

As you can imagine, a car pulling out or a car door opening in front of the cyclist would be catastrophic.

We were told at tonight’s meeting of the City of Newport Beach’s Bicycle Safety Committee that the City has granted a Conditional Use Permit for this use of the road, and that one of the conditions of the permit is that drivers are not supposed to get out of their cars, but as you can see here, this requirement is not being strictly observed which adds the dooring hazard for passing cyclists on top of the danger posed by cars leaving the road to park and re-entering the road after picking up students.

The Bicycle Safety Committee explained that the Conditional Use Permit was granted to mitigate congestion in front of the school on Pacific View Drive.  This is understandable; however, the result is an erosion of safety on San Joaquin Hills Drive.  It seems only a matter of time before the high speeds of motorists, the daily parade of seventy-five plus cars picking up kids from school and hapless cyclists trying to navigate the unexpected and unpredictable maze ends in tragedy.

I’m aware it is not just a balance of convenience against safety, as I know pushing those seventy-five plus cars back on to Pacific View Drive would also decrease safety somewhat — albeit at much lower speeds and without compromising cyclists.

I suggested the Conditional Use Permit effectively extended the presence of Harbor Day School to San Joaquin Hills Drive and merited the installation of SCHOOL – SPEED LIMIT 25 WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT signs.  This seems like an appropriate safety upgrade which would mitigate some of the hazard.  Such signage would slow passing traffic and warn cyclists of the hazard.  The Bicycle Safety Committee agreed to follow up on this option.

Aside from the actual hazard posed by the cars here, there is the fact that motorists are being trained to ignore the posted NO PARKING signs on San Joaquin Hills Drive.  We were told that technically, in the opinion of the City, because people are (ostensibly) waiting in their cars, they are not “parking” but are only “stopping”.  I suspect this difference is lost on many if not most participants and observers and that they learn to understand that NO PARKING signs are not going to be enforced anywhere on San Joaquin Hills Drive.  Including in the bike lanes.

Along those lines I suggested that if parking is necessary, then it should be made ‘legal’ from the public’s point-of-view and appropriate adjustments to signage, road striping and speed limits be made.

In passing, it is hard to avoid the observation that if more kids – and their parents – felt safe riding bikes to school, there might not be any need for this Conditional Use Permit at all.

For broader coverage of last night’s meeting of the City of Newport Beach Bicycle Safety Committee see CoronadelMarToday.

Comments

comments

David Huntsman

Husband, father, cyclist, lawyer

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. While we are waiting for policy makers to bring safe balanced mobility to our streets, and for all street users to (ostensibly) respect one another, lets keep our wits when we ride. A cyclist doing 45 in a descent would never pass a stationary telephone pole within inches, so why play chicken with a stationary parked car? Don’t leave your brains at the office.

  2. Yes Les – we all have to be careful.

    But, you know, even if this was a temporary construction site then there would be warning signs.

    How can there be no warning at all for what is, essentially, an ongoing event?

    As shocking as it is to see him pass by at that speed, the cyclist in the video is just about doing the safest thing legally possible aside from dismounting. He is out of door range, but out of the traffic lane (where cars are going even faster than him – sometimes much faster). If he rides closer to the parked cars, the greater the dooring hazard and the less likely he is to avoid a car pulling out. If he rides much slower than the passing cars, he increases the closing speed of passing cars which decreases (1) motorists’ time to react and (2) the survivability of a collision.

    It is an unnatural, unexpected and unmitigated hazard for the cyclist who is simply riding within the limits of road conditions one would normally anticipate. (There are 55 MPH speed limits signs and NO PARKING signs from the top of the hill to this point and beyond and most of the time, this area is free from cars. I can’t think of another street with a 55 MPH speed limit that allows on-street parking.)

    It’s hard to imagine that, when the Conditional Use Permit was issued, this kind of hazard was clear to the decision makers.

    At the end of the day, this isn’t even about cyclists. Drivers (car and bike) are going too fast there and the speed limit should be 25MPH when children are present. Safety shouldn’t be a “hope-for-the-best” situation.

  3. The problem here is a mix of hazards, but it all comes back to the parking. Drivers run the red light on Spyglass, and roll right into the path of vehicles they either didn’t see, or which were going a lot faster than they thought.

    And there we are on our bicycles, while they’re all swerving to avoid each other.

    While we all work on the parking issue, some enforcement against red light running and speeding would go a long way toward making this area safer.

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