About 200 helmeted cyclists and bareheaded pedestrians spilled over the lawn in front of City Hall Tuesday night to decry their unsafe passage through Laguna’s streets and roadways.
Appropriately, the rally took place a month to the day after Laguna Beach cyclist John Colvin succumbed to fatal injuries after being struck by a motorist near Emerald Bay.
“It is staggering to imagine,” marveled Colvin’s widow, Joan Marcus-Colvin, that the “compassionate community” they fell in love with and moved to a little over a year ago seems to have so little compassion for cyclists and pedestrians, with one of the worst fatality records for those two groups in Southern California. “It is simply unimaginable that this city does not have one bike lane,” she said, imploring the city to act “before another person dies.” Maybe a rumble strip, a road safety feature to alert inattentive drivers, would have warned the driver who struck her husband, she said.
Injuries and fatalities for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists in Laguna Beach rank the city first, 18th and fourth, respectively, among 107 small cities in the state, based on the state Office of Traffic Safety’s 2011 statistics, the most recent available.
Spurred to action by Colvin’s tragic death, locals Billy Fried, Max Isles and Tamara Hlava formed Livable Streets Laguna to gather grass roots support in urging city officials to make safer streets a priority in all planning efforts going forward.
Tuesday’s rally served as their inaugural event. “I’m just a guy who wants to ride safely here in town,” said Fried, adding that the city’s response to the state’s mandate to make streets accessible to all modes of transportation has been too slow. “Tonight all we have are our emotions, our passions and our voice to say that we don’t want to be neglected any more,” he told a receptive audience.
Colvin, flanked by her two daughters, provided the context. “Hi Sweetie, just finished a meeting. Going home to ride. XOXO,” was her husband’s final text, she said. The simple words evoked a routine end-of-day activity, not the death-defying feat gone wrong that it proved to be.
“It’s about time,” said Paul Diem, owner of Cycle Werks, lending his solidarity to Marcus-Colvin. His own wife was the victim of a fatal bike accident on Coast Highway at Newport Coast a year ago. “I have a lot of anger,” he said. Wanting to blame the driver and the city, he said he ultimately blamed the city. He pushed for a bike lane, the reduced speed limits that might have saved his wife’s life, and better law enforcement.
“I’ve been concerned for a long time,” said senior citizen Sherry Keith, a particpant keen on the issue since biking is her primary mode of transportation around town. “I’d like it to be safe enough for my grandchildren to do the same, but they can’t,” she said. It’s not even safe for kids to be pedestrians, chimed in her daughter, Chalyn Newman. The Coast Highway crosswalk nearest to their North Laguna home allows an insufficient 17-18 seconds to get to the other side, she pointed out. The family has been in town for four generations, and they would really appreciate safer foot and bike routes for all ages, said Keith.
Before the crowd made a statement in numbers before the City Council, Laguna Beach Cyclery owner Patrick Fetzer invited everyone to a memorial ride on Sunday, July 20. They hoped to gather a critical mass at 8 a.m. in Heisler Park and then ride north along Coast Highway toward the accidents, he said.
Acknowledging the rally participants streaming inside, City Manager John Pietig noted the city’s efforts to address their cause. These include an assessment of traffic circulation and bike and pedestrian access along Laguna Canyon Road due to come before the Council Aug. 19; a citywide study of mobility needs of pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and bus riders; and a transit study.
Additionally, Orange County Transportation Authority is conducting a corridor study of Coast Highway throughout the county, said Pietig, as well as a five-year bike corridor plan to prioritize local improvements and encourage funding.
“You need to be involved in these efforts,” said Pietig.
With 40,000 cars on Laguna Canyon Road and 38,000 on Coast Highway on a busy day, this isn’t going away, said Pietig, who noted that drivers and pedestrians alike are distracted by electronic devices.
“We share your concern about the seriousness of what’s been going on. Unfortunately, the solutions are not going to come easily, but we’re committed to working together to find them,” said Pietig.
Resident Rita Conn of Let Laguna Vote, a grassroots advocate that opposed the village entrance last year, came forward with another initiative. “We have formed the California Coalition for Safe Streets,” she said, with the sole purpose of recruiting support for Senate Resolution 17. The resolution pushes for educating children about safety precautions in traffic, whether on foot, bike or skateboard, and the dangers of using electronic devices and headphones while on the streets.
“We’re playing catch up,” said Max Isles, noting, for example, that every 10-year-old in Britain since 1947 has had to complete a cycling proficiency program.
“Come ride with me on Coast Highway,” he challenged the Council. “Then maybe you’ll be willing to speed up the change.”
Corona del Mar amped up their bike-friendly efforts after two deaths and a serious injury in 2012, pointed out Newport Beach resident Frank Peters.
“We don’t want the conflict. We don’t want the hostility. We don’t want the danger,” said Fried. “We want what our taxpayer dollars are intended for: public safety.”