REGION — North County coastal cities are aligning their respective enforcement of bike safety laws in response to the rising number of electric and manual bikes on the road, often carrying young riders.
Solana Beach leaders adopted an ordinance focused on increasing bicycle law enforcement on Aug. 23. Assistant City Manager Dan King said they wanted to make the city’s rules consistent with those of Encinitas, who adopted an ordinance on June 28.
Under these ordinances, bikers are expressly prohibited from having passengers riding on handlebars or in any other way the bike is not intended for. The new language also states that law enforcement officers may use discretion to offer first-time violators of bike safety laws to avoid a citation and instead participate in a bike safety course.
Lt. Ryan Wisniewski of the San Diego County Sheriff’s North Coastal Station said the department is focused on addressing blatantly unsafe behaviors that they see, particularly among younger riders.
“A lot of it is kids riding without helmets or failing to secure their helmet properly. A lot of them are riding with friends on the bike where it’s not designed to have a passenger, and making a right or left turn where they shouldn’t be,” said Wisniewski.
Local leaders know that new bike regulations could be coming down the pipeline on the state level, such as Assembly Bill 825, which proposes legalizing biking on sidewalks at 10 miles per hour without well-connected bike infrastructure.
For now, said Solana Beach City Manager Greg Wade, they are trying to address the issues in front of them realistically.
“Our ordinance as proposed is really to give additional tools to the sheriff to cite violators,” Wade said.
Both the Encinitas and Solana Beach ordinances follow the example of Carlsbad, which implemented a state of emergency after two cyclists on e-bikes were killed within one week of each other last summer.
At last month’s Encinitas City Council meeting, the North Coastal Station shared statistics for local bicycle citations. This year, law enforcement issued 54 citations related to electric and manual bicycles, 35 to minors not wearing helmets and five for riding on the handlebars of a bike, e-bike or motorcycle.
Solana Beach has historically prohibited riding bikes on sidewalks, specifically in a business district or along a road with a designated biking lane or path, to give pedestrians space.
However, city leaders acknowledged circumstances where a citation for violating that rule would be unnecessary, such as a young child learning to ride a bike.
Councilmember Dave Zito said he receives many complaints about kids riding bikes on sidewalks along Lomas Santa Fe Drive. However, the roads or bike lanes don’t feel safe for many children, even those up into late elementary school.
“There is a very notable population of young kids who bike to school, and they won’t do it if they have to get on the street there. They’re not on training wheels, but they are fourth graders,” Zito said.
Resident Kristin Brinner said it’s not just kids who feel unsafe biking and asked pedestrians to understand why someone might be riding on the sidewalk.
“A pedestrian gets passed by a bicyclist at 15 miles an hour, and that feels fast. I’m out on my bike in the bike lane, and I’m getting passed by literally semis on Lomas Santa Fe going 45 miles per hour,” Brinner said. “Generally, people bike on sidewalks when they feel unsafe biking elsewhere.”
Bicyclists in Encinitas have shared similar concerns, particularly around unsafe behavior by car drivers around bikers.
Brent Garrigus, the owner of RIDE Cyclery along the 101 who has been biking in Encinitas for over a decade, said he has been in multiple situations where aggressive drivers have caused bike collisions or ignored their surroundings with no consequences.
“If all these communities really want to be bicycle friendly, there needs to be a legitimate change in perception of the responsibility of cars and people on bikes,” he said. “We have all these bike lanes but nothing’s really better. Regular people don’t feel comfortable riding here.”
In Encinitas and Solana Beach, local schools are also joining the cause to increase education about bike safety.
Earl Warren Middle School has implemented a bike permit program requiring students to attend a presentation about safely commuting via bike to ride to school. Skyline Elementary indicated they would follow suit this school year.