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

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

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.

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