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The stats say Newport needs Bike Task Force

The Orange County Register; The stats say Newport needs Bike Task Force

BARBARA VENEZIA

Newport Beach Councilwoman Nancy Gardner’s organized a Bike Task Force. Herself the proud owner of "a very beat up Schwinn," (her words not mine), I asked "Why now?"

"We’ve had two fatal accidents. There’s an obesity problem. Kids should be encouraged to ride to school, but there have to be safe routes for them as well as for those who ride for fun and those who use their bikes to commute," she says.

With a 10-person task force, Nancy’s hoping to create a "bike plan" for Newport, much like those in Irvine and Long Beach. The next public meeting is Jan. 11 tentatively set for 4 p.m. in council chambers. Presenting their results by March, the task force’s goals are "to improve the safety of streets and highways for cyclists and to encourage cyclists and drivers to respect the laws and share the road."

Where are the most dangerous stretches in Newport for bike riders? That’s what the task force hopes to identify. Hot spots like PCH through CDM and Mariner’s Mile, the bridge onto the peninsula and hills in Newport Coast, roads without bike lanes, and the hazard of parking cars.

But this isn’t just a Newport issue. Communities nationwide are looking for bike safety solutions.

Bittercyclist.com includes an accident map of the most dangerous routes in San Francisco, plus a "rant page" where cyclists share stories about accidents and near misses.

Rightofway.org in NYC promotes bike safety and rider’s rights with a lengthy "manifesto," including a "cars suck" page. Though radical in their approach, they make interesting points. For example, most bike-related accidents aren’t reported unless the cyclist dies, thus accident statists nationwide aren’t very accurate. In NYC at least, very few motorists involved in cycling accidents are ever prosecuted or fined.

According to Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute’s site, www.bhsi.org:

• There are 73 to 85 million cyclists in the U.S.; 44.7 million over age 6 rode more than six times in 2008.
• 698 bicyclists reportedly died on U.S. roads in 2007.
• 90 percent of cyclists killed die in crashes with motor vehicles.
• "Typical" bicyclist killed: sober male, over 16, not wearing a helmet, riding on a major road between intersections in an urban area, on a summer evening, hit by a car.
• About 540,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms every year; 67,000 with head injuries, 27,000 injuries serious enough to be hospitalized.
• Non-helmeted riders are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than helmeted riders.

But it’s not just car vs. bike, sometimes its cyclist vs. cyclist. Nancy received an account of one guy’s experience riding on Portola Parkway to the Back Bay in December.

He was cut off by another bicyclist and said "good grief." He was then chased five miles, cut off, knocked off his bike, punched numerous times in the head, cell phone stolen and rear wheel ripped from his bike and tossed in the Back Bay. His injuries required five stitches. Passing riders called police.

Well, so much for cycling as "stress management!" Think I’ll stick to exercising on my stationary bike at home while Nancy and group figure something out. Got any ideas? Share them with Nancy, gardnerncy@aol.com.

Freelance writer Barbara Venezia’s opinion column appears online and in The Current every Friday. Email BV at bvontv@earthlink.net