SAN MARCOS — The San Marcos City Council passed an ordinance allowing motorized bicycles, or e-bikes, onto local trails with certain restrictions and limitations.
At a March 8 meeting, the council voted 5-0 in favor of a resolution to permit riders to operate e-bikes (classes 1 and 2) on city park trails, except in certain specified off-limit areas. Prohibited areas include equestrian trails at Walnut Grove Park and new trails on the city’s north side maintained by a land conservancy, according to Councilman Randy Walton.
Class 1 e-bikes, also referred to as low-speed, electric-assisted vehicles, are defined as bikes equipped with a motor that provides assistance when peddling up to a speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 2 e-bikes, also known as low-speed, throttle-assisted electric bicycles, are equipped with a motor exclusively for propulsion purposes and do not provide any peddle assistance.
Class 3 e-bikes, which allow for greater speeds up to nearly 30 mph, will not be allowed to operate on city trails under the new ordinance.
“I’m a big proponent of more e-bike use, and not less,” Walton said. “These bikes encourage people to be outside, to have a healthier lifestyle, and as a city, we want to encourage all of that.”
Walton said the decision to adopt the ordinance was reached after extensive careful consideration of staff research and public input. On the whole, San Marcos residents seemed largely supportive of allowing e-bikes on trails as long as there was education provided to riders and enforcement to ensure pedestrian safety.
“We didn’t get a lot of negative feedback on this issue, people generally agree that there’s a new set of rules needed for trails, especially with the explosive growth of trails and e-bikes, it’s a pretty new phenomenon,” Walton said. “We did a ton of outreach to communities that might be impacted, as well as the residents who live around trails, so the feedback I’ve received has been positive, not expecting much opposition if any.”
Some residents at the meeting raised some concerns over the spillover effects of allowing e-bikes onto trails, including potential hazards posed to walkers and pets.
Resident Joanne Stephens said she’s concerned about the potential for high-speed collisions that could occur with the bikes at blind-curve sections of trail routes, particularly as many e-bike users tend to be adolescents who may not have prior experience operating a motorized vehicle. City code allows for e-bikes to travel to speeds of up to 20 miles per hour and also requires users to wear helmets.
“Where there are blind turns, it’s just not a good idea,” Stephens said. “They come flying down the hills, you can’t catch them, so I don’t know how to enforce these things…it’s an accident waiting to happen and I don’t know what to do about it.”
In response to these concerns, the city is planning on launching an outreach campaign at San Marcos Unified School District so teens and adolescents who ride e-bikes are aware of safety precautions and dangers that come with using the e-bikes. Walton said he was confident in the city’s ability to monitor and enforce the rules governing e-bike safety through existing park rangers. Additionally, residents can specifically request enforcement along certain trail sections via complaints to the city.
John Dubois, a five-year resident of San Marcos and a prominent figure in the city’s local equestrian community, said horse owners who frequent the trails are somewhat concerned by what the onset of e-bikes could mean for them.
“Thinking of an e-bike going by me [on a trail] really bothered me…a spooked horse on a trail could cause a tremendous amount of injury as a result of an e-bike,” Dubois said.
While horse riders remain wary of potentially problematic interactions with the motorized bikes, Dubois expressed optimism about the ordinance, which he says makes a serious effort to balance the rights of e-bike users with a focus on education and protections for pedestrians, such as the restricted equestrian trails written into the law.
E-bikes are already commonly used on local trails, so the ordinance is more of an effort to establish the “rules of the road” to create a safer environment for everyone, said Walton.
Councilwoman María Nuñez said that while she voted in favor of the ordinance, she remains concerned about safety issues the motorized bicycles could pose, noting it was crucial for the council to work towards educating ridership while rigorously enforcing applicable regulations.
“Obviously we have to have e-bikes they’re here to stay and we do have to regulate but I also think about the public safety issues, especially on our trails,” Nuñez said.
While Nuñez acknowledged e-bikes can better connect residents with different parts of the city, she is also concerned about equal access to the bikes across all of the city’s districts, especially for the less affluent in her own District 1, who might have more trouble procuring these vehicles.
“I agree [with Walton] about the benefits these things offer,” Nuñez said. “But this will also look different depending on what part of the city you’re in. We probably could use a lot of these in the district I represent but I suspect that a lot of kids in District 1 won’t have the means and access to these bikes, it’s an equity issue that needs to be contemplated. If we wanted to promote this kind of mobility, to me that’s a conversation we have to have.”
Mayor Rebecca Jones released the following statement regarding the e-bike ordinance.
“I’m happy that we now have an ordinance passed that will provide the use of our amazing trail system that will now provide use opportunities for Class 1 and 2 e-bike use on certain trails, we will be providing signage and maps on our trail maps,” Jones’ statement reads. “We removed one small segment, at my request, that may have created some confusion disallowed e-bike usage in a sensitive habitat area to create clarity on a trail segment, this will create better safety for our equestrian trail users.
“This ordinance only covers our trail usage, e-bikes are [still] required to follow the California Vehicle Code on streets. We will be coordinating with San Marcos Unified School District in outreach efforts to educate our community about ebike safety.”