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By Fred Swegles
As a San Clementean who’s had fun on electric bicycles locally for 20-plus years, I was encouraged by the reactions generated by my recent column about bicycle safety.
In response to an e-bike population explosion and a backlash on social media, I listed what California law says about bicycles’ and e-bikes’ rights and responsibilities.
I shared some observations by San Clemente’s police chief about riding safely and responsibly. I listed some simple things I’ve learned that have helped keep me alive and healthy during more than 20 years of riding e-bikes. I think I’ve had nine e-bikes.
Reactions to the column were positive. In the interest of promoting further positive dialogue about ways we can make San Clemente safer for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, let’s view a selection of reader responses (edited slightly for spelling, grammar or clarity):
— Thanks for reminding people that being safe, polite and friendly go a long way.
— A good refresher for us all, and a needed read for parents with kids who got an e-bike for Christmas. Seems there are too many young people riding that need to learn the rules of the road. That’s the scariest part … well, that and the teenagers who speed along the beach trail and come up behind you without a sound. Someone is bound to get hurt!
— I agree with everything you said; however, you left out one rule few people realize … it is illegal to ride a bicycle, let alone an e-bike, in a crosswalk in California. If they want to cross in the crosswalk, they are supposed to dismount and walk across the street. In Orange County, approximately half the cities allow bicycling on sidewalks, and most people assume that if they can ride on the sidewalk, they can ride in a crosswalk. Another big safety problem is with riders who ride opposite traffic on the sidewalk. When they approach an intersection, they are crossing from a location that most automobile drivers do not check. This is especially hazardous when riding in a crosswalk opposing the direction of traffic. Thanks for the article.
— Parents who bought electric bikes should make their kids read this article.
— I see parents and their kids breaking the traffic laws every day.
— Teach your kids some manners and common sense, and this wouldn’t be an issue.
— You can tell they’re not old enough to drive … they want to be mobile and don’t understand how traffic laws work … flying down the side of Pico, toward the beach with a friend on the handlebars or back, and they have no clue how dangerous it is to be crossing gas station and fast food driveways on the side of a busy street without knowing who has the right of way or any other traffic laws.
— My heart feels a sadness for the child lost on some future ride because a parent didn’t take the time to make sure their child is safe.
— I wonder if SC Parks and Rec would be willing to host e-bike classes for those who do not have driver’s licenses.
— As long as there is no enforcement, no matter how much you educate, it will be fruitless.
— I keep seeing kids riding with their helmets on the handlebars … I’m sure their parents have no idea.
— I live at 5 Corners, on South Seville, and I see teens flying down the street on e-bikes. Lots with no helmet. They never stop at the stop signs.
— Very good article. I have a class II bike. We are having many discussions up here. Thankfully, we have miles of dedicated bike trails where class III bikes are not welcome.
— To quote the great Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?”
— Great article with lots of essential information.
— You want safety, tell parents to stop buying e-bikes that can go 30 (mph) or more for children just so they don’t have to drop their kids off at the beach.
— They need to abide by traffic laws. STOP at stop signs. Every day, I see close calls at Calafia! Slow down.
SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS
Others pointed out that it isn’t just e-bikes or kids. It’s all ages, non-powered bikes, jaywalkers, distracted walkers, and car drivers speeding, not paying attention, rolling stop signs, running red lights, turning without looking, going the wrong way on a one-way alley or street.
Indeed, lots of bad examples are set for kids who got an e-bike for Christmas, entering the streets clueless about laws, safety tips, dangers to look out for and simple etiquette that can help us all coexist more happily.
We all need to look out for one another.
If there’s one simple act that bicyclists could adopt to generate goodwill between the bicycle community and everyone else, it would be, “Quit running stop signs.”
So what if it costs you a few seconds. It’s a rampant, age-old practice. It ticks people off. Some bicyclists may tell you that at traditional bicycle speeds, you can ride up to a stop sign, see perfectly well that the intersection is empty and proceed safely without stopping.
However: (1) It’s illegal. (2) It’s a bad example—when some kid emulating you and so many others get killed, a little bit of that goes back to you. (3) If you grow complacent, you may someday ride past a stop sign without noticing you’re riding into a collision. (4) You can’t count on a hurried or distracted driver to not ram into you or cut into your path without noticing you.
I’m one of the minority of bicyclists who stops at stop signs. I sometimes get a thumbs-up or other show of appreciation from drivers surprised to see it. And, yes, it’s good to establish eye contact, so you’ll know that a distracted driver isn’t about to mow you down as you proceed.
Same goes at traffic signals. For anyone, running a red light is a potential death penalty. So is gunning your e-bike forward just as a light turns green, without first looking to make sure a red-light runner won’t blindside you.
I recently saw an adult e-biker speed through a red light, long after it had turned red, at Ola Vista and Del Mar. At one El Camino Real red light, I stopped just short of the intersection, right foot on the curb, waving on any cars that wanted to turn right, around me, at the corner. I could hear two teen girls, trapped behind me at curbside on e-bikes, chatting excitedly. Looking back, I realized they were laughing at me, as if I were being freaky cautious.
At another ECR intersection, I saw a young girl with no helmet run a red light, forcing a pickup truck to brake for her. I winced, sadly.
Let’s all use common sense, be aware of our surroundings and be kind. Yes, it’s possible to have fun, do no harm and get home safely.
Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with five decades of reporting experience in the city. Fred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.