I’ve just asked the Newport Beach Police Department to provide traffic accident and traffic violation data for the last several years.
I’m looking for numbers and descriptions of car vs. bicycle accidents, as well as enforcement details of certain California Vehicle Code and Newport Beach Municipal Code sections that motorists might think of as “No Harm, No Foul” violations. But as I explain below, they are not.
With that in mind, I have asked if the Newport Beach Police Department could provide the following:
- Historical motor vehicle vs. bicycle accident data in Newport Beach
In addition, I have asked if the Department could provide “ticketing” numbers or some other tabulation of motor vehicle code violations / infractions in Newport Beach for the last three years. The specific violations I am curious about are:
- Traffic tickets issued for violations of California Vehicle Code sections:
-21209: Driving in a bike lane
-21211: Stopping in a bike lane
-21703: Following too closely
-23123: Using a handheld phone while driving
-23123.5: Texting while driving
- Traffic tickets issued for violations of Newport Beach Municipal Code section 12.56.060 – parking in a bike lane
Not knowing how records of these traffic tickets would be kept, I understand that data may not be readily available in the format requested and so I have asked whether I need to clarify the request, and have asked the Department to let me know if there is other data that may be helpful to the effort (which I describe below).
BACKGROUND FOR REQUEST
One of the concerns raised at the January 9 meeting of the Newport Beach Bicycle Safety Committee was motorists speeding around schools, especially in apparent violation of the “25MPH When Children are Present” signs on Newport Coast Drive. The possibility of citing motorists for other violations was discussed, as it may not be lawful to stop them for violating those signs. I am in favor of doing so, especially insofar as the “other violations” may be ones that would also raise the profile of cyclists in the eyes of motorists on Newport Beach roads.
As a regular cyclist, as a husband of a cyclist, and as a father of a young cyclist, I am troubled by the danger we face on Newport Beach roads. It is simply not right that if you live in Newport Coast, for example, the only roads through town are high-speed arterials where speeding (or parked!) motorists routinely encroach on the bike lane. And, to add insult to injury, it is illegal for even a very young child to ride a bicycle on the adjacent sidewalk there.
The problem with the high-speed arterials is not just that motorists drive so fast; it’s also that they use the entire road – including bike lanes and shoulders – to do so. Motorists drive as if they are not anticipating the possibility of a cyclist on the road (or shoulder). Keep in mind that the original Cycling Safety Task Force and the recent Bicycle Safety Committee were convened because of motorists hitting cyclists on Newport Beach roads where the motorists weren’t expecting cyclists to be. Yet, the cyclists were where they were supposed to be.
So, it has always been apparent to me and other experienced cyclists thinking about the conflict that the problem is motorists not expecting cyclists to be there. Which means the solution is to get motorists to expect cyclists to be there, and drive accordingly.
One way to get motorists to anticipate the presence of cyclists would be to ticket motorists for those habitual traffic violations that most endanger cyclists. It seems a little harsh, in a vacuum, as so many of these are what motorists conceive of as “no harm – no foul” infractions. But they are not. As you will see, going through my list, these are the violations that erode the status of cyclists in the eyes and driving habits of motorists.
These violations include:
- DRIVING A MOTOR VEHICLE IN A BIKE LANE
Motorists crossing over the solid white stripe into the bike lane are in violation of VC 21209.
- STOPPING OR PARKING A MOTOR VEHICLE IN A BIKE LANE
Motorists stopping in the bike lane (which they do to take pictures or make phone calls, attend to gardening services, look up directions or enjoy the view) are in violation of VC 21209, VC 21211 (I understand this code section is considered by some to only apply to Class 1 bike lanes; I read it to be vague but still applicable to other than Class 1 bike lanes) and Newport Beach Municipal Code section 12.56.060.
- FOLLOWING TOO CLOSELY / UNSAFE PASSING
Especially on the Coast Highway through Corona del Mar, any vehicle which follows closely behind a cyclist is in violation of VC 21703. I experience this every time I ride through the village, and it is truly unnerving. Of course, if drivers came to understand they cannot follow closely behind a cyclist on the Coast Highway (or anywhere) they would have to understand it is unsafe to pass them without changing lanes. If you see a cyclist ride in to town on the Coast Highway, a traffic officer will be able to write a ticket to a motorist for following too closely (and probably unsafe passing) within the first block. It’s just that predictable an occurrence. And, it is the reason cyclists ride in danger in the “door zone” on the Coast Highway…
- USING A HANDHELD PHONE WHILE DRIVING
As was echoed by a member of our City Council in its meeting of January 10, it is commonplace to see motorists with phones to their ears while behind the wheel of a car in Newport Beach. I see it all the time while driving and cycling. Even before I see the phone to the ear, or the eyes looking down at a below-window level cell phone, I see the car crossing over the lane lines when the road curves or, at a signal-controlled intersection, failing to “go” when the light turns green. These motorists are in violation of VC 23123 (talking) or VC 23125.5 (texting).
SUMMARY / GOALS
All of these violations are habitual with motorists in Newport Beach, and they are the motorist violations that erode the thin margin of safety cyclists have on our high-speed rights-of-way.
If we could see how many times motorist is ticketed for these “No Harm, No Foul” infractions, say for hanging the right side of the car into the bike lane driving up San Joaquin Hills Drive, or for following a cyclist too closely on Newport Coast Drive, it would tell us something. If it turns out that traffic officers are already writing a lot of tickets for these infractions, it might suggest there is work to be done elsewhere. But if there currently isn’t substantial ticketing of these infractions, then we might be on to something that could be investigated as an avenue toward increasing the profile of cyclists on the road in Newport Beach.
 As far back as data is available.
 My son, who is nine years old and a budding road cyclist, is specifically concerned about the cars parking and then picking up school children on the east side of San Joaquin Hills Drive between Spyglass Hill Road and Marguerite Avenue in the afternoons. It is not a bike lane, but it is where the bike lane running the length of San Joaquin Hills Drive deposits a cyclist on the downhill side. There are as many as a hundred drivers lining up there, picking up children and then, with the afternoon sun in their eyes, merging back into the traffic lanes across the shoulder where cyclists ride. It is a tragedy waiting to happen.
 It is possible that the “25MPH When Children are Present” signs in place near Newport Coast Elementary School, for reasons that are not entirely clear, may not be enforceable.
 For example, I know many otherwise responsible Newport Beach residents who, seriously, did not know before I told them that they are not allowed to drive or park on the sides of San Joaquin Hills and Newport Coast Drives. Several honestly were not aware those roads are lined by bike lanes. After all, there are only a few very small “Bike Lane” and “No Parking” signs that can’t be read at the freeway speeds at which motorists travel on those roads. Additionally, cyclists who know Newport Beach roads do not have faith that the bike lanes are safe. They anticipate debris in them (leftover from landscaping trucks) and therefore ride outside them. Cyclists who are less familiar with Newport Beach bike lanes ride through the hazards, risking a crash.
 These violations erode the status of cyclists in the eyes and driving habits of motorists because they send a message to other motorists that bicycles don’t belong there. After all, if gardening trucks are parked in bike lanes all day, people driving by will tend to forget that it is a dedicated bike lane (as opposed to a “service” lane).