Safety Committee Sets Aside Agenda, Hears Passionate Pleas From Huge Crowd

posted: September 17th, 2012 10:22 pm | 8Comments

UPDATED to clarify a speaker’s comments. UPDATED with memorial information for Sarah Leaf.

A special meeting of the Citizens Bicycle Safety Committee turned into a sometimes emotional public discussion of bicycle safety in Newport Beach in the wake of two cycling fatalities over the weekend.

Committee member Frank Peters began the meeting with a plea to listen to the standing-room crowd of about 150 people who filled the Friends Room of the Central Library, urging the committee to set aside a planned discussion of bike share programs in order to listen to the people who gathered after the deaths of Sarah Leaf on Friday and Catherine Ritz on Saturday. At times, Peters fought tears as he asked for the committee to listen to the cycling community who crowded the room.

(To read tributes to the women, both killed when trucks hit them while cycling, read the Daily Pilot stories here and here.)

Peters’ motion died for a lack of a second, but Mayor Nancy Gardner then announced that the companies who were scheduled to offer bike share program information had asked to postpone their presentations because of the crowd that gathered to express outrage over the deaths of the two women on Friday and Saturday.

Gardner then adjourned the official meeting and turned the gathering over to public comment, and more than 20 people took turns describing the hazards of cycling in Newport Beach, offering suggestions to improve safety and asking that the deaths of Leaf and Ritz not be in vain.

“If eight of our children had died in the last 24 months, like eight of our cyclists have died, there would be riots in the streets,” said Jon Christeson, who said he been cycling for 40 years in Newport Beach. “This is unacceptable. It’s not the committee’s fault, but the pressure has to be increased.”

After about an hour of public comment, Gardner told the crowd that she was committed to making cycling safety a priority when the CIty Council meets in January to establish goals for the year. She promised to seek funding, including a dedicated staff member to focus on implementing cycling safety improvements in the city.

Committee member and unopposed council candidate Tony Petros also promised to make cycling safety a priority.

Police Chief Jay Johnson attended the meeting and told of having a meeting on Thursday, where he and officers discussed the decline in traffic fatalities in the past year.

“We’ve had a reduction (in accidents) across the board from last year,” he said. “We left that meeting Thursday night very proud….We aren’t taking it lightly. This is a horrible weekend for our community. The fact is we lost two good people.”

Some speakers asked that sharrows be implemented immediately in Corona del Mar, without waiting months for a public outreach campaign. One cycling safety advocate, Brenda Miller of San Clemente, urged the group to become informed about laws that address dangerous roadway design, and to work with Newport Beach officials to create safer roadways. Others asked for rumble strips along bike paths, to alert motorists if they drifted from their lanes, and expressed the need for a national advocacy group along the lines of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to drive home the need for cycling safety awareness.

Scott Burrows, who recently was hit and seriously injured by a motorist while cycling, urged the city to keep permanent memorials to cyclists who died in Newport Beach.

“So people are reminded that somebody died, right here,” he said. “We need to do something we can talk about.”

Police at the meeting said the causes of both crashes remain under investigation.

Johnson said his officers wouldn’t rest until the hit-and-run truck driver who caused Ritz’s death was caught, and Deputy Chief David McGill said that investigators were pursuing leads and had identified the truck involved in the crash. He declined in an interview to elaborate on whether a suspect was identified, or if an arrest was imminent.

Meanwhile, Leaf’s co-workers at Shape-Up in Corona del Mar are planning a memorial, which originally was scheduled to take place on Saturday afternoon. Plans are now on hold while family members arrange Leaf’s funeral. UPDATED: The Shape-Up memorial will take place at 4 p.m. Saturday on the roof top parking lot at 2101 East Coast Highway. Her family is planning a funeral in Arizona on Sunday, a colleague said in an email.

Read our earlier stories here, here, here and here.

Photos courtesy of Frank Peters.

8 Responses to “Safety Committee Sets Aside Agenda, Hears Passionate Pleas From Huge Crowd”



September 17th, 2012

I'm truly sorry for the loss of life that has occurred. Let me say though that the cyclists I see oftentimes in Newport Coast are traveling down these hills at ridiculous speeds and seeming not to care if they endanger their own lives or anyone elses. Ridge Park Road is high enough a bike can easily get up to at least 50 mph, and it has blind curves. Bicyclists here need to slow down and think about safety. And I also do not believe bikes should be allowed anywhere near cars that are traveling 55-65 mph. It is a proven recipe for disaster. Don't do it. You can get killed! It's hard enough to avoid the numnuts when you're traveling in a car!

Ian Brett Cooper

September 18th, 2012

@ NCResident: Bicyclists traveling at speed is not what got these two cyclists killed, nor is it what usually gets cyclists killed. Motorist inattention is often what gets cyclists killed, combined with cyclists' tendency to ride too far right, in a foolish attempt to stay out of the way of motor vehicles. Cars have brakes and steering wheels - if their operators don't know how to use them, they shouldn't be on the road at all. If cars are traveling at 55-65mph near bicycles, maybe speed limits should be reduced to levels which have been shown to be much safer. Blaming cyclists for their own deaths, when they have been killed by drivers who failed to yield is contemptible!

r. osuna

September 18th, 2012

it is terrible that these cyclist died in these incidents and it may truly be the fault of the drivers, but today as i was going to work at 6:30 am, i was coming down PCH and ahead were 2 riders, one in the bike lane and one outside the lane about 2 to 3 feet into the car lane and the reason appeared to be just to be able to talk to each other. no attention was paid by the rider to cars passing. car drivers need to be more attentive, but i also think bikers need to help out. riding into the car lanes is extremly dangerous.

Brenda Miller

September 18th, 2012

There is an error in the article that asserts that my comment was related to the necessity of knowing the cycling laws. Cycling laws are the Calif. Vehicle Code. Focusing on the vehicle code won't address the fundamental problem of the dangerous design of the roadways. The laws to which I referred were the Caltrans Deputy Directive 64 and the California Complete Streets Act. The other law I mentioned is the State's Level of Service (LOS) law and the city's policy interpretation of LOS. You can read more about these documents here:

Barbara Peters

September 18th, 2012

Thanks to Brenda for this clarification and excellent information. These laws are the building blocks that must be addressed to make lasting changes beyond the surface of the streets, signage, and other issues like enforcement. Also, thanks to Stacy Kline for her great comments about traffic calming. We all know that vehicles must slow down to improve safety and Stacy suggested some reasonable ways to do this. Sharrows are the tip of the iceberg. Brenda and Stacy both voiced a longer-term focus and we must listen and respond to solve these challenges in Newport Beach.

Can't change math and physics so change the law

September 19th, 2012

Cars and trucks on NCD and PCH are traveling 60mph and 45 mph respectively. That is 88ft/sec and 66ft/sec with a stopping distance capability of 20ft/sec/sec and 2 second reaction times you will travel between 99-143 feet before reaction and it will take a similar 97-202 feet to stop. This is a dangerous mix when you have bikes in the roads with cars at these speeds. They are not allowed on freeways for a reason time to change the law and get bikes off roads with speed limits over 40mph.

Jo Ann

September 19th, 2012

It is a tragedy that these innocent people got killed. The bottom line is, and this is black and white, and not emotional just factual is that bikes are their riders are unprotected from cars and trucks. Period. If the riders choose to ride on the same roads as the cars that they already know are not paying attention then that is their choice. The odds are not in the bikers favor. I would never ride my bike on a road where cars are going 50 mph. It's a suicide mission. However, that is the riders choice. Everyone can complain all they want, put up as many sharrows as they want, make all the laws they want, go to all the meetings they want but the fact remains that cars go faster, are heavier and more capable of causing damage than a person on a bike. Even as kids you knew not to ride on busy streets. For some reason, this bit of advice is lost on adults. We all get up every morning and make choices. If people choose to ride their bikes on roads where cars are whizzing by and (according to the bikers) are not paying attention and don't care about the bikers, then that is their choice and one they have to live with and hopefully not die from. Sadly, the world HAS changed already and most people are only concerned about what they want, when they want it. The drivers are pissed at the riders andwant the bikes off the road and the riders are pissed at the drivers and are demanding space. Neither side is going to get their way, neither side is right or wrong. There is no answer or solution to this problem. The only way to avoid any more bikers getting hit is for them to ride on roads where there are no cars or for all drivers to stay off the roads. Neither of these is reality nor are they an option which means it's just every man for himself. Drivers beware and bikers beware. Sorry to say but you can pass all the laws you want, but the bottom line is that people are not going to change. So you either adjust your life accordingly or take the risk. You can't complain if you decide to risk your life riding where you know it is dangerous.

David Huntsman

September 21st, 2012

So, Jo Ann, if you drive your car on the 5 and get creamed by the driver of a speeding 18-wheeler who fails to yield to you, that's just too bad because you knew there are trucks there?

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