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Back Bay news, court case updates

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Here are a few brief notes about items of interest that involve and affect cyclists in the area. This includes the latest developments in the Back Bay, upcoming events, and an update on two court cases.

The Back Bay

As has been hot on Twitter, Facebook, and the Google, over the past weekend the Newport Beach Police Department began stopping cyclists and motorists exceeding the posted 15 MPH speed limit on Back Bay Drive. The "grace period" is now over, and riders and drivers face receiving actual tickets.

The dialog is getting very interesting. On one hand there's the political interplay with the Newport Beach's Bicycle Safety Master Plan Committee and the community's Citizen's Advisory Board. The Advisory Board has produced a report with recommendations, but it may never be officially recognized on a technicality. The technicality being that the findings were made public by the Advisory Board and not by the Bicycle Safety Committee/City Council.

As I understand it, this error may allow the Bicycle Safety Commission to invoke a procedural clause allowing for the shelving of the report. Somewhere Dean Wormer is smiling.

Oh – it seems the report finds that cyclists and the Newport Bay Conservancy have some common ground. It contains a suggestion that automotive traffic be banned for a three-month trail period. From comments made by Councilman Tony Petros in the Daily Pilot, it's clear that that dog won't hunt.

I rode the Back Bay the other morning, just to see what there was to see and talk to some users.

At the top by the Vista Point there's a sign noting the roles and responsibilities of the users of this "Multi-Use Trail." The bullets are:

  • Pedestrians Use Shoulder When Possible
  • Bicyclists Use Caution When Pedestrians Are Present
  • All Users Observe Posted Speed Limit And Be Careful

Before rolling down the hill, I chatted with a woman sporting a bush hat and a camera who was very spryly trekking up the trail. She might have been going uphill as fast as some riders. She told me she walks the Back Bay at least four times weekly. In her estimation, the problem she sees is more with walkers, women pushing strollers, and runners who don't pay much attention to where they are going. Cyclists didn't bother her.

The first cyclist I spoke with about the speed limit enforcement hadn't heard of it. Aside from cycling, she also runs. She's had times running when riders moving very quickly have passed her uncomfortably close. The only incident she's had was with a group of adults and kids on bikes, when she was riding. While passing the group one of the women riders pulled a u-turn to check on the kids without looking to see if it was clear. As Emeril would say, "Bam!"

No surprise, but it's very difficult to go down the hill at 15 mph or less. I tried to...

Part way down there was a trailer parked on the right shoulder, with a radar speed reporting sign and some road sensors. The sign was pointing uphill. I didn't see one on the other side, where cars or riders going inland would see their speed reported. I made a note to ask the NBPD about this.

A rider, in gym shorts, passed me, no helmet, tennis shoes jammed into toe clips. I guess he didn't have a helmet as it might have interfered with his headphones. Whatever he was listening to must have been loud or engaging. Or both. There was about a third of a tumbleweed caught in his rear derailleur, scraping the ground with the steady swoosh of whisks tapping a snare drum. He was obliviously trucking along at 18 mph according to my trusty CatEye. When I got his attention he was surprised at the foliage he was dragging. But he had no idea of his speed, and no way of measuring it that I could see. Imagine: riding a bike without metrics. What a concept.

Later, I called NBPD and eventually spoke with Lt. Tom Fischbacher, who fielded a few emailed questions.

Q: What is the objective of the initiative to get people to slow down on Back Bay Drive? What tools are you using? Are cyclists the focus of the effort, or are officers also taking the time to educate other users?

Apparently some cyclists have received warnings about exceeding the posted speed limit, and this “grace period” supposedly ended after the past weekend. Violators are now subject to a citation.

Will other users also be cited? There is signage that encourages pedestrians to “Use Shoulder When Possible.” In NBPD’s analysis, are peds supposed to walk with or against traffic? Are they expected to use the narrow section (the make “lane” closer to the water) or the vehicle lane?

A: Our goal is to be visible and remind all users of the Back Bay trail to be safe and use appropriate caution and good judgment when using the trail. Our preference is to educate over citations, but that is not to say that at some point citations do not become part of the education process. At this point several warning citations have been issued to both cyclists and motor vehicle drivers in the Back Bay. We have also placed a radar trailer on the Back Bay trail. The purpose of the trailer is to gather speed and use data so we can be factual in our review of the most efficient times for our presence in the Back Bay. The trailer also provides a deterrent or warning to users to slow down.

In regard to the question you have about where pedestrians should walk, I would suggest the signage is appropriate. “Use the Shoulder When Possible.” That does not mean that pedestrians are prohibited from either side of the roadway. The Back Bay trail is a multi use trail. No bicyclist, roller skater, skateboarder, pedestrian or vehicle operator shall engage in any activity on the trail which creates an unreasonable risk of injury to any person. What this means is that every user needs to share the road and look out for each other.

If every user does their part there is no reason the Back Bay trail cannot be a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Q: Am I safe in assuming that the specific scope of the current program is about speed issues with cyclists and vehicles? Or will your officers also be observing or speaking to walkers, runners, stroller moms, and educational groups about how they might be creating safety problems?

A: Our officers will do the best they can to address all unsafe conditions observed. That applies for the entire city, not just the Back Bay.

So, officially, it's not aimed at cyclists, even to some of us it seems that way. Overall, although if I had dictatorial powers I'd ban vehicle traffic, the most cost effective and reasonable solution is for cars to slow down, riders not to ride like a pack of lemmings looking for a cliff, and for the foot/stroller/runner/speed skater and nature tours contingent to be equally cognizant of where they are and what they're doing, as is expected of cyclists and cars. As if.

Court Cases

As of this week, the Sommer Gonzales case is still in the pre-trail phase, with the next hearing on July 11. Gonzales has been indicted in the hit-and-run death of cyclist Joey Robinson in February. She or her counsel has entered "Not Guilty" pleas to all counts.

The case of The State of California vs. Nicole Danvers, filed by the Orange County District Attorney, has a pre-trial hearing on June 10. The Toyota Danvers was driving allegedly struck two cyclists on Laguna Canyon road last June, killing Mitch Waller. According to investigators there was no evidence of substance-related impairment. She has entered "Not Guilty" pleas to "Misdemeanor Manslaughter Without Gross Negligence" and an "Unsafe Turn or Lane Change."

However these cases play out, both in the current criminal adjudication and whatever civil actions ensue, there is the more public question: How might this potentially affect the defendants' California Drivers License status?

According to the DMV's press office:

The department will revoke a driver license for one year, if the person is convicted of vehicular manslaughter after a finding of the following offenses:

  • Hit and run resulting in injury or death
  • Felony DUI finding
  • Reckless driving causing bodily injury

A revocation action for three years will be taken if the person is convicted of the following finding:

  • Manslaughter resulting from operation of a vehicle
  • Three or more prior convictions of hit and run or reckless driving within the past 12 months
  • Violation of 191.5 Penal Code or 2800.3 (evading a peace officer) causing serious injury

Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.

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