ENCINITAS — In recent months, residents of North County have likely seen an influx in the use of electric bicycles on the streets, which has raised questions about the safety of riders under the age of 16.
In Encinitas, residents have reported collisions with vehicles, congregations of young cyclists in public areas and unsafe use of e-bikes in busy traffic areas.
Encinitas resident Sue B. told The Coast News she has encountered multiple close calls with e-cyclists while driving.
“The light was red for me, so it should’ve been red for them,” Sue said. “I was cringing because there was full-on traffic on El Camino Real and they just dashed across (the intersection). As a mom, I was cringing.”
Sue’s experience embodies the attitude of many concerned parents as they observe children using electric bikes with little to no knowledge of motor vehicles and traffic safety.
Since then, Sue said she had another close call after an e-biker collided with her van while she was turning onto a side street from El Camino Real, a busy thoroughfare running through North County.
Another local resident, James Gosnell, watched as several young riders rode through a popular Encinitas intersection by Coast Highway 101, without helmets.
“I would like to see parents educating their teenagers about helmet safety,” Gosnell said. “The parental role in educating their children on traffic safety for e-bike use is often overlooked. It is advised that parents looking to purchase e-bikes for their children do proper research to ensure their child is receiving the appropriate class of e-bike.”
David Arato, owner of Gelato 101, has observed congregations of young, unsupervised riders hanging out in front of his store.
According to Arato, these congregations often block parking spaces and disturb fellow customers.
As both a father and business owner, Arato said he understands that many of these young riders are merely enjoying a newfound sense of independence.
Amidst these concerns, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz said the city is creating a policy that prioritizes a safer environment for cyclists without discouraging the increase in their popularity.
The city’s Parks & Recreation Department has already made efforts online to raise awareness on e-bike safety.
However, in the broader picture, Kranz said e-bikes will have a positive effect on the community while accommodating visiting tourists.
Specifically, with more e-bikes on the road, there will be less traffic, pollution, and motor vehicle accidents, according to Kranz.
Currently, there are three classifications of electric bikes in the State of California, according to Peopleforbikes.org. Class 1 and 3 e-bikes are pedal-operated, while Class 2 is throttle-activated.
Class 1 and 2 can reach a maximum speed of 20 mph and require helmets for riders aged 17 and under. Neither of these two e-bike classifications has an age limit for riders.
Because they’re considered motor vehicles, Class 3 e-bikes can reach speeds up to 28 mph, always require a helmet regardless of age and have an age limitation of 16 years.
The concerns regarding electric bikes come just after the Encinitas City Council approved a pilot bike-share program last month with BCycle, which will bring 100 e-bikes and 10 docking stations with 170 docks in total at launch.
Adam Pascua is an intern covering the city of Encinitas.