Hit the Ground Spinning

At last night’s City Council meeting 13 candidates were nominated for the Citizens Bicycle Safety Committee; 7 will be chosen at a subsequent session. The Committee will meet by the first Monday of April, if not sooner. In the meantime there’s a lot these candidates can do to become prepared. Don’t just show up for the first meeting thinking you’ll learn as you go — the issues are too important and government already moves slow enough, so do your part to get up to speed.

Last weekend Mayor Gardner told me she thinks the Committee should get appointed and commence their meetings, then quickly move to a Complete Streets model. What’s the difference between a Bike Safety Committee and a Complete Streets one? First, this approach could double the constituents — after all, we’re all pedestrians part of the time, but more to the point, improving conditions for pedestrians benefits cyclists, too, because slowing traffic and increasing safety are what we both want.

Which would you rather use when crossing Coast Hwy?

What are Complete Streets issues? It’s really all about planning our cities so that roadways are designed to accommodate all users: bicyclists, yes, but public transportation riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. Ok, so how does this apply here in Newport Beach? Let’s consider crosswalks. Which would you rather see painted on the route your child takes to the park, or to school? For too long we’ve let traffic engineers build roadways so cars can move fast; the Complete Streets movement is out to balance the scales. Where to start? Let’s consider Newport Harbor High School, the scene of a tragic accident last year.

More parking is not the answer. Timing traffic lights, ditto, and one-way streets in the Flower streets of Corona del Mar — these concepts will make life more unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists while encouraging more automobile use. “Carrots and sticks,” as SRAM’s Randy Neufeld shared on cdmCyclist, means “you have to make driving harder (sticks) and biking easier (carrots).” Yet the way we design roadways and strip malls, even high school parking lots, is all about making driving convenient. This must change or at the end of your term you’ll feel more or less like everyone on the last Committee, with little to show for your time.

Let’s go for a ride. No, not organize a ride, that’s a good way to spin your wheels — I’m talking about riding the hot spots that the 2009 Bike Safety Task Force identified. Let’s get our hands dirty, so to speak and visit in person, on a bike, the challenges cyclists face every day. Let’s visit the peninsula — it’s where we enjoy the highest mode share in all of Newport Beach. What can we do to increase this even more? It won’t be hard to imagine if we get out there and ride the peninsula. You’ve got to be screaming down San Joaquin Hills Drive to really appreciate the problems with landscape trucks parking in the bike lane — it’s not the same as sitting in a meeting talking about the matter.

Then let’s do a road trip! Long Beach is only 20 miles away, but infinitely farther ahead in bike safety. Don’t be thinking we can’t learn from others — bike advocacy’s watchword is Plagiarize. Let’s ride the Sharrows on 2nd Street, experience those cycle tracks on Broadway and whip around the 17 new traffic circles. You’ll see how their ‘experiments’ got them started; we can borrow the best of their ideas and implement them with some assurance they’ll benefit our local cyclists.

Take heart. Yes, it’s a big job to improve cycling safety in a built-out city like Newport Beach, but so many other cities have tried and succeeded wildly. Plan a trip to San Francisco and you’ll see bikes all over the city. Even Los Angeles is getting its act together on cycling safety. It’s doable and if we can get things rolling in the right direction you’ll have a lifelong memory of your proud contribution to it.

Feed your head. That’s what Alice said. So catch up and watch the video short Road Diet; it was shown in January at the last meeting. You’ll want to know what it means and what it can do for cyclists and pedestrians.

Moving Beyond the Automobile: Road Diets from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Develop priorities and dream big. Stay focused on the tough issues like infrastructure improvements and stay away from feel-good stuff like Bike to Work Day. If we improve the infrastructure people will start biking to work; you won’t need a brass band to get the concept across. Dream real big, like what to do with the old city hall? Some local developers will soon advocate a different plan — lots of new condos on the site. But take a moment to consider how this might be a once-in-a-century opportunity to offer transportation choices to our fellow residents and visitors from out of town. And don’t wait to long, because once the condo plan gets started it’ll be hard as hell to get our City Council thinking about a bunch of nutty bike-share ideas. Get out in front of this and show some vision.

Good luck and enjoy the ride.

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Frank Peters

listen to my podcast shows at cdmCyclist.com