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The free right turn from E. Coast Hwy onto MacArthur in CdM

The free right turn from Coast Hwy onto MacArthur in CdM
This high-speed exit ramp is hazardous to pedestrians and cyclists — Let’s keep it closed

Welcome back to the new series, the Bootleg Bicycle Master Plan. This is where we’ll introduce concepts for making the city safer for cyclists, but in some cases we have doubts that these proposals will ever make it into the final draft of the official Bicycle Master Plan. A defeatist attitude? Some will think so, but we’re living in an automobile-saturated society and change comes slowly, especially when it relates to taking roadway space away from cars to the betterment of cyclists and pedestrians.

I can’t sleep, my mind is racing. It’s 2:15am and here I am attempting to pull a few coherent thoughts together on free right turns and the hazard they pose to cyclists and pedestrians.

To lay the groundwork I must follow the threads that keep bringing me all the way back to 1992 when I was on my way home from a business trip rehearsing the speech I would deliver to my wife. It went something like,

Honey, I want to move to New York City.

Probably just like if you tried this line on your spouse, I was greeted with some modest skepticism. Was I kidding? Obviously, no. My wife was used to my spontaneity, my impetuous nature, but this time I was serious. And we would move to NYC.

At the time I was running a software company. My clients were major Wall Street firms, or they would be if I moved to New York to demonstrate my commitment to serving their significant needs. But my company was little, maybe less than 10 employees at that time — this would be a bold move of no little risk.

We sold our house in Costa Mesa and put all our furniture in storage. The next week we rented an apartment overlooking the East River on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. What a rush!

Yes, it was very exciting, until that first morning as I made the subway commute to my office in the World Financial Center downtown. This intra-borough commute took over an hour; I was unpleasantly surprised.

There would be other surprises and quirks. Getting used to New York was a process, like moving anywhere new. But some things stood out to this relocated Californian — especially the no right turns on red lights. What was this about? California had recently passed a law making it the default behavior for motorists at intersections. Why was NYC not with it?

It wouldn’t take long before I learned it would be slaughter to allow cars turning right on red in the metropolis — there are too many pedestrians to do this safely.

Meanwhile, we’re not settled even two weeks in Manhattan – our furniture is still in storage in California – when the phone rings…

It was a baby calling. Not exactly, but the promise of a baby, one that was looking for adoptive parents. We had just about given up on expanding our family. We had a four year-old boy and hoped for another child, but our years of patiently waiting yielded nothing until this phone call from the adoption attorney, who wanted to know,

What’s this 212 area code?

I remember mumbling something like, “Oh, we’re just visiting – we’ll be back next weekend.” And we were.

Adopting a baby in California meant keeping him in California, at least until the adoption was finalized by the courts. We could take him back to New York, but not for more than 30 days. Even before he was born we were house hunting, this time in Newport Beach.

And speaking of first impressions — Wow! What great infrastructure! I could exit the 73 Fwy and sail along on MacArthur practically the whole way home. It wasn’t NYC, but it had its fine qualities, too. So we found ourselves in Harbor View in a beautiful house with a brand new baby.

Which I guess is my way of saying that I drive a car, too. Less and less often, but I still do and so I appreciate the efficiency of our local roadways. When I’m in the car I’m just like everyone else — I want to get where I’m going as quickly as possible.

But now that I spend more time on a bike than driving a car, just like that newbie in NYC, I see the quirks. Today I’m focusing on the free right turns that are found on Coast Hwy at Dover, at Jamboree, MacArthur and Newport Coast Drive. There’s a doozie of a free right turn on San Joaquin Hills Drive onto Jamboree, too. These freeway-grade exit ramps allow cars to sail through the intersection without even having to tap the brakes. It’s great; until you’re on a bike or on foot.

The free right turn at MacArthur and Coast Hwy in CdM

The free right turn at MacArthur and Coast Hwy in CdM

Last month Debra H. Deem died as she rode her bike at Coast Hwy at Newport Coast Drive. The official police report hasn’t been made public and no one in the department has said a word to me about the details of the collision, but my friends have passed along the stories they have heard. My sources say she was killed as she attempted to continue straight on Coast Hwy, past the free right turn, but a vehicle turning right at high speed hit her.

It’s a dangerous intersection, one of the worst of the free right turns because the cars are moving at high speeds at that point along Coast Hwy. It’s dangerous mostly because we engineered it to be a high-speed exit ramp.

It’s a wonder we don’t have more collisions at these free right turns. They are accidents waiting to happen. But every time the Bike Safety Committee would name them as hazards, they’d simply go into our final report and as you can see, no action has been taken.

None that is, until the new water main which is coming down MacArthur closed the free right turn at Coast Hwy. I didn’t realize this until about 1:30am, but this is a great little experiment that’s occurring. Is anybody monitoring the traffic patterns?

What’s happening today, because the free right turn is closed due to construction, traffic wishing to turn onto MacArthur must make the right turn at the light. And if there’s traffic ahead of them they must wait to make the turn. If there are pedestrians in the crosswalk, they have a fighting chance of making it across the street in one piece — try that at the free right turn crosswalk!

So back to the Bootleg Bicycle Master Plan: let’s keep this free right turn closed permanently.

It’s a simple improvement.

If it had been implemented at Newport Coast Drive, would there have been one less fatality?

How bad will traffic be impacted? How much will motorists squawk?

How long will it take OCTA to threaten the withholding of Measure M funding for other ‘legitimate’ projects pending in the City?

Not long, that’s for sure, because today what rules the roadways is the dictate of Levels of Service. Do something to increase safety and at the same time enhance viability for pedestrian access — that means nothing compared to making cars wait in traffic for an extra 30 seconds. It’s why we’re living in an institutionalized, automobile-saturated society and we can’t break out, because sales tax revenue is collected via Measure M and doled out for transportation projects across the county, and the only thing you have to do to keep the pork flowing is to maintain your Levels of Service.

Meanwhile we have dangerous conditions on some of the most popular cycling routes in the city.

So today’s installment of the Bootleg Bicycle Master Plan is to keep the MacArthur free right turn permanently closed and then go about closing off the high-speed exit ramps at the other locations along Coast Hwy.

This is a test. Do we really care enough about pedestrian and cyclist safety to remediate this dangerous condition, or will we shrug our collective shoulders and defer to the status quo?




Frank Peters

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