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Teeming with traffic?

Conservancy's concern sparks review of safety policies for Back Bay Drive, congested with drivers, runners and bikers.

April 17, 2014|By Emily Foxhall
  • A motorist cruises along Back Bay Drive, near Eastbluff Drive in Newport Beach on Wednesday. Local groups are debating on whether or not to allow bicyclists access through Back Bay Drive.
A motorist cruises along Back Bay Drive, near Eastbluff… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

A popular cycling route alongside the Upper Bay that helps connect Newport Beach to Irvine has come under scrutiny.

In response to concerns from a community group about safety on Back Bay Drive, the city's Bicycle Master Plan Oversight Committee is reviewing policies regarding the road, which is used by drivers, runners and bikers.

The varied types of recreation on a single-track road make for a dangerous mix, according to a letter from the Newport Bay Conservancy written to the Oversight Committee, a group charged by the City Council last year to provide a public forum on the development of suggestions for bike-related improvements in Newport.

A two-person subcommittee was formed to investigate the Back Bay issues further during the committee's discussion of the topic April 7.

Though private firm Alta Planning + Design is preparing the plan, as approved in a nearly $133,000 contract from the city in May, the subcommittee's efforts tie into that process, Newport Beach Councilman Tony Petros explained.

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"I think they can, if it's done properly, they can provide a valuable public input into the use of that asset and have that folded into the overall master plan process," Petros said.

In its letter, the Conservancy suggested that runners and bikers along the roughly three-mile road be allowed to travel only northward, just as cars are. (The Conservancy conducts guided walks to detailing the area's history and ecology.)

They also proposed that the current speed limit of 15 mph be better enforced.

"In the view of the Conservancy, the road simply cannot safely sustain the current volume and diversity of users, particularly on weekends, without incurring some significant safety risks," the letter read.

But the committee did not want to make any quick decisions, especially because of the road's use by people countywide.

The mix of dogwalkers, cyclists and cars could make for "an unsatisfactory outcome someday," especially because cars can have a challenging time passing pedestrians and bikers, and blind corners also pose threats, said Corona del Mar resident Frank Peters, a subcommittee member.

Still, he continued, the road provides a crucial connection to the San Diego Creek Trail that leads toward Irvine — a sort of "lifeline" for commuters and recreational riders, according to Councilwoman Leslie Daigle.

"It's used as a connector between Irvine and Newport," said Daigle, whose district borders the Back Bay. "Closing the southerly direction would be very shortsighted.

"I understand and appreciate the concerns of the naturalists who raised the issues, however, the solutions at this stage are unacceptable."

The Back Bay Road is also part of the 22-mile Mountains to Sea Trail, which stretches from Weir Canyon in Anaheim to the Upper Bay, Daigle said.

"Nothing was going to be done on the spur of the moment, nothing brash was going to happen," Peters said. "I saw this as an opportunity to engage the community to talk about this."

The subcommittee planned to hold a scoping meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Civic Center. A bike ride is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, taking off from Bayside Drive North and East Coast Highway.

Recommendations will be drafted at 5 p.m. April 30, again at the Civic Center, 100 Civic Center Drive.

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