The death of a bicyclist on Pacific Coast Highway at Crystal Cove this past Sunday, Oct. 19, solidified the decision of a regional bike tour to avoid Laguna Beach and parts of Newport Beach as high-risk zones for safe bicycling.
Three bicyclists have been hit by cars and killed on Coast Highway between Laguna and Newport since August 2013. The latest fatality was Shaun Eagleson, 30, of Fountain Valley, the eighth cyclist killed in Newport since 2010, according to police statistics and other sources.
Laguna has also earned disparaging rankings as the most dangerous small town in California for pedestrian injuries and fatalities and 18th for cycling accidents, based on the state Office of Traffic Safety’s 2011 statistics, the most recent available.
Debbie Brubaker, tour director of Surf N Turf, a 241-mile bike tour from Santa Barbara to San Diego, said all it took was driving the route herself.
Before Sunday’s fatality, Brubacker, an avid cyclist who works for the California Biking Coalition, said she she had driven Pacific Coast Highway through Newport and Laguna to scout the route. “I don’t want to ride this road,” she said she remembers thinking. “It was a gut feeling. It made me uncomfortable. As beautiful as it is, it’s not as bike-friendly as other parts of the highway.”
The sold-out Surf N Turf starts Nov. 1 and is the inaugural bicycle tour of the California Bicycle Coalition, whose goal is to double the amount of bicycling in the state by 2017 in part by promoting safe biking routes. The bike safety advocates pushed the Complete Streets Act, passed and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008. The law requires California communities to make roads accessible to pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars. The bike coalition also propelled the Three Feet for Safety Act, which went into effect Sept. 16 and requires motorists to remain a yard-length’s away when passing a bicyclist.
To avoid East Coast Highway at Crystal Cove in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach altogether, bicyclists on Day Four of the Surf N Turf tour will cruise from Long Beach to the Balboa Peninsula, take the ferry across to Balboa Island, cross to the Back Bay and detour to Irvine along the San Diego Creek Trail, said Brubaker. They will then follow Moulton Parkway, “a bike-friendly road,” she said, which changes to Golden Lantern and Camino Capistrano en route to Laguna Niguel, Dana Point and San Clemente. The route ends in San Diego on Nov. 5.
“Bicycling has almost doubled since 2000 in the state,” said Dave Snyder, CBC’s executive director. “It’s getting more popular and it’s getting safer. I would say Orange County is not keeping up with the rest of the state. Just look at the recent fatalities.”
Snyder said he’d like to route future tours through Newport and Laguna along Pacific Coast Highway if improvements are made. “There needs to be wider shoulders and protected bike lanes in order for us to do that,” he said. “And the speeds are too fast. It’s not safe to share the road there now.”
Green road signs that denote the Pacific Coast Bike Route along Pacific Coast Highway fall off in Newport and Laguna, said Brubaker. “The trail kind of disappears,” she said. “It’s not worth the risk right now until they make improvements and there’s definitely room for improvement.”
The five-day Surf N Turf fundraising tour costs $2,150 a person, which includes lodging and most meals. Proceeds benefit cycling advocates. Up to 30 bicyclists are expected to join the 16 five-day tour riders at any point along the route, said Brubaker. “There’s a lot riding on this, literally,” she said. “As tour director, we want to highlight the better routes. When you put a certain number of people out on the street, safety is the first concern.”