By Madison Beveridge
With the continuing rise in popularity of e-bikes, scooters and similar modes of transportation, safety concerns were at the forefront of a conversation during the San Clemente City Council meeting on Tuesday evening, Sept. 20.
The council’s discussion, which included insight from law enforcement and members of the public, followed the City of Carlsbad’s decision last month to declare a state of local emergency over worries of an increase in bicycle and e-bike collisions.
On Aug. 25, Carlsbad declared the emergency for bike, e-bike and traffic safety, and on Aug. 30, the Carlsbad City Council ratified the emergency, approving a $2 million appropriation in emergency funds to address traffic safety.
Lifelong San Clemente resident, teacher and City Council candidate Mark Enmeier addressed the council during Tuesday’s meeting and touched on Carlsbad’s commitment to e-bike safety. Enmeier explained that Carlsbad’s policies come after two deaths related to e-bikes, a reality he does not want to witness locally.
“I shudder to think of what tragedy our city has to go through before we act,” Enmeier said.
Enmeier further explained that educating individuals, specifically youth, on why helmets, traffic awareness and other safety measures are important is valuable in creating a viable solution.
In response to Enmeier, Councilmember Laura Ferguson emphasized her support of enforced safety measures.
“I totally support e-bike safety,” Ferguson said. “We have implemented many initiatives to help with education of parents and children.”
Currently, San Clemente has several tactics in place.
Included is the Bike Safety Rodeo for the local community that was most recently held in May 2022, when e-bike vendors were invited to spread awareness on how to safely ride. The event is primarily intended for individuals 17 and under.
This past January, the City Council also approved the prohibition of e-bikes on the Beach Trail, with enforcement of the ban beginning in May.
In addition, marketing and social media outreach has played a large role in the city’s push for safety. On Sept. 12, in partnership with local comedians Chad and JT, a comedic yet informative public service announcement was published, highlighting the importance of proper precautions such as wearing a helmet.
Capt. Tony Benfield, chief of San Clemente Police Services, commented during Tuesday’s meeting and explained that he has seen an increase of helmet use, prompting fewer stops than in the past. When individuals are stopped, though, law enforcement is taking an educational approach, rather than issuing a citation.
“We are trying to create awareness,” Benfield said.
Benfield explained that there is a difference between electric motorcycles and e-bikes. While the two may look similar, e-bikes are legal, but electric motorcycles are entirely illegal and intended for out-of-city use only.
“There is no way to make them legal,” Benfield said. “You have to have a license and an M1 endorsement to drive those, and even if you have that, the equipment itself is not street-legal.”
Benfield explained that while some of these vehicles are still on the road, law enforcement is eliminating them as much as possible, impounding and towing when necessary.
In addition to speaking on the legality, Benfield noted how he has witnessed families deal with the surge of e-bike use among youth.
“It’s always going to be an issue in a city where there is little option for them to ride; a lot of parents are not OK with the idea of kids being in the street, and that’s why many of them are up on the sidewalk,” Benfield said. “Many family members think that’s the safest place for them to be.”
Councilmember Kathy Ward responded to the proposition for furthered precautions and highlighted the city’s already “robust policies.” Ward also remarked that she feels a great deal of education should be left to parents.
“Not every street in our city is going to be safe to ride a bike; that is why we have the Pacific Coast Bike Trail,” Ward said.
In contrast, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan explained that he feels the city does have the responsibility and owes it to the community to help with education. After recounting an incident in which he witnessed a child get injured on an e-bike, he said that education should not be left solely to parents.
“We can’t just say to parents, ‘It’s on you,’ ” Duncan said. “We need to implement a training program that would be staffed by the city; I think we need a bike registration program so we can keep track of the bikes.”
During the meeting, Mayor Gene James also spoke, explaining his stance and noting that retailers of e-bikes play a role, too.
“I think e-bike retailers need to take the lead, they need to get together, they need to create a safety program,” James said.
Moving forward, the city’s Public Safety Committee will come to the City Council’s meeting on Oct. 18 with detailed information on what the City of Carlsbad has done and how San Clemente can also mitigate collisions.