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Police Maintain Focus on Reducing Bike Related Accidents

Through data tracking, increased enforcement and education the Newport Beach Police Department is continuing its work on keeping roadways safer for cyclists and drivers.

Two women were killed last month while cycling in Newport Beach, leaving residents devastated and city officials in a dire position to come up with ways to make the streets safer.

The tragedy refocuses attention on the need to identify dangerous roadways for cyclists and to force drivers to be more attentive of the cyclists they share the road with, both of which are part of ongoing efforts, according to the Newport Beach Police Department. Programs in place for two years reduced the number of vehicle and bicycle accidents leading up to September's tragedies, said Kathy Lowe, spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department.

"We try our best to limit the inattention, distractions, or drunk drivers," said Lowe. "But accidents are going to happen because of human error."

But the recent deaths of cyclists Sarah Leaf, 29,  and  Catherine "Kit" Campion-Ritz, 57, have resulted in demands for changes on the roads.

"City leaders need to come up with some way to keep cyclists safe out there," Kayla Miller, who works in Newport Beach, told Patch. "That can be anything from steeper fines, to a crackdown on dangerous drivers to designating a safer method for cyclists to ride on the streets aside from the bike lanes."

"Motorists should recognize that bicyclist are again more vulnerable and take extra precautions, perhaps above and beyond the laws of traffic, to watch out for them," said cyclist Jim Leonard.

Lowe says practices have been in place to encourage safer driving in an effort to keep bicyclists safe.

NBPD Safety Efforts

  • Under the direction of Chief Jay Johnson, a new computerized data tracking system was implemented to keep track of all collisions and pinpointing where the accidents are occurring. "This helps us to examine all collision related data to see how we can better deploy our resources and focus our enforcement and education to reduce bicycle and traffic collisions," Lowe said. "We also share this data each month at the Newport Beach bike safety meetings where a member of the department is present and reports on recent bike-related accidents and findings."
  • The Newport Beach Police Department has increased enforcement efforts, including participation in the California Highway Patrol's Distracted Driving Enforcement Operation. "During one of these operations, NBPD wrote more distracted driving citations (talking/texting) than any other police department in the County," Lowe said. Officers also focus on cyclists disobeying the rules of the road in an effort to keep them safe. "We use the opportunity to educate cyclists on the rules of the road, sometimes through warning citations, and in many cases issuing citations for violations," Lowe said.
  • Educating the community has been a big part of the department's efforts to keep cyclists and drivers safe. According to police, the education component included bicycle rodeos that have been conducted for the public as well as in the schools, containing drivers and bicyclists to provide information regarding exiting traffic laws.  As the new school year starts, we will be reaching out to the schools again to offer bicycle safety instruction and proper rules of the road. Police also hold meetings with the cycling community to discuss their concerns and potential solutions.

Frank Peters, a member of the Newport Beach bike safety committee and CDM cyclist, says he believes making drivers aware of the rules of the road will help keep cyclists safer.

"As cyclists we may be lulled into thinking that a bike lane is some kind of protection. The terrible tragedies of this past week put that to rest," Peters said in September. "Increased enforcement will help. An emphasis on distracted driving and road rage would be welcome."

Peters added people need to take extra precautions while traveling through the three most dangerous intersections in the city as identified by a bike safety sub-committee, which are Via Lido at Newport Boulevard, 32nd St at Newport Boulevard and Riverside Drive at Coast Highway.

Lives Lost

Leaf, who was originally from Mesa, Arizona, worked as a nutritionist in Corona del Mar. She was killed in a bicycle collision on the morning of Friday, Sept. 14 when she was cycling on Pacific Coast Highway and the driver of a stake bed truck turned right onto Bayside Drive. A public memorial was recently held in honor of Leaf.

No arrests or citations have been made as a result of Leaf's death.

Campion, a doctor who treated patients in Newport Beach for close to 30 years, was killed during a fatal hit-and-run on Saturday, Sept. 15 as she cycled on Newport Coast Drive with her husband. Michael Jason Lopez, 39, of Anaheim, was arrested three days after Campion died. If convicted, Lopez faces a maximum sentence of eight years in state prison for the deadly hit-and-run crash.

A public celebration of life service is scheduled for Catherine "Kit" Campion-Ritz on Oct. 6.

While both investigations continue, officials say cyclists and drivers need to continue to focus on being defensive drivers.

"Motorists and bicyclist need to obey all traffic laws and remember that they share the roadway, Lowe said. "Both have a legal right to the roadways and both need to understand and respect the rights of the other."

Anyone interested in expressing their opinions about bike safety in Newport Beach is encouraged to attend the Newport Beach bike safety committee meeting today at 4:30 p.m. in the Friends Room at the Central Library.

Mike DanaPoint October 16, 2012 at 06:38 PM
In South County hills, here's the safest way: Uphills sidewalk, downhills take the lane!
Mark Adams December 13, 2012 at 01:20 PM
I agree that bike enthusiasts are extremely aggressive on the roadways, pay no particular attention to road signs and the safe riding laws. Try driving down Bayside Drive any weekend day and attempt to safely pass them. It appears they go out of their way to make it more difficult. And there is simply no reason in the world for motorcycles to be cutting through lanes on PCH. Where are they going? Just to the next light like everyone else. Two wheeled vehicles are increasingly becoming a road hazard and menace to drivers.
Frank Peters December 14, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Yeah, some menace – my 30 lb bike against your 4,000 lb SUV. Next time you're on Bayside, instead of illegally crossing the yellow line, try slowing down. The Sharrows were placed on Bayside because there is no way to safely pass cyclists.
David Huntsman December 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Mark, I'm curious - when you are rushing down Bayside Drive on the weekend, do you also complain about the parked cars blocking the roadway?
Matt O'Toole December 15, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Mark, do you remember George Carlin? "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

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