By C. Jayden Smith
The San Clemente City Council decided on Tuesday night, Dec. 21, to begin work on a series of steps intended to maximize pedestrian safety throughout the city in regard to electric bikes and bicycles.
Councilmembers directed staff to come back with an ordinance prohibiting e-bikes on the Beach Trail and all other trails, and voted to amend the municipal code by prohibiting the walking, pushing, and parking of both e-bikes and bicycles on the municipal pier.
The council on Tuesday also directed staff to increase bicycle racks at the base of the pier, as well as come back with a report on the feasibility of prohibiting and regulating the use of bicycles and e-bikes on San Clemente’s sidewalks.
Since February, the city has moved to increase safety for all on sidewalks, trails and near the beaches and the municipal pier through public outreach and education on bicycle use.
Additionally, an online portal for the public to comment on e-bike-related incidents and close calls was made available in March and received 367 comments as of Tuesday night.
In May, city staff partnered with San Clemente Police Services to hold a “Bike Safety Rodeo,” and the city released a video in June that included additional messages about proper operations and general bike safety.
Samantha Wylie, director of the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Department, presented a summary of a report from her staff on the matter. They found an increase in e-bikes being walked, ridden, or parked along the pier, in which the latter action was not previously prohibited.
Wylie mentioned that people often rode their e-bikes once they saw that they could walk them without any hassle from police or sheriff’s deputies.
“Based on that understanding, and surveying what we’re seeing, there is a recommendation tonight for council to direct staff to bring back at least a code amendment to that municipal code … that specifies no future parking, walking, or pushing of e-bikes (on the pier),” Wylie said.
City staff also looked for direction from the council on addressing e-bikes along the Beach Trail and anywhere else necessary.
Several speakers commented about the danger of those vehicles on both the streets and the trail, referring to multiple incidents in which they recently witnessed accidents or near-accidents.
“I also suggest that these vehicles, which I consider motorized vehicles, be licensed by the city with a plate so that one can report a violation if it occurs,” Al Cullen said during public comments. “Otherwise, there is absolutely no way to have anyone know who is riding that bike or what the bike is.”
“You get on it, roll that throttle back, and you go 28 miles an hour. It’s not a bicycle, it’s a motorcycle,” Rick Loeffler, who sits on the city’s Public Safety Committee, said of e-bikes. “Remember, 6- and 7-year-old kids can get on those, crank those up, and we do need to address this.”
Councilmembers Steve Knoblock and Laura Ferguson agreed with the staff’s recommendations and wanted to see direction in terms of removing e-bikes from San Clemente sidewalks.
Councilmember Kathy Ward spoke of her interactions with students at the high school, as they also desired limitations and general e-bike safety.
“They said that they see near-misses and accidents almost every day,” Ward said. “This is coming from our 17-year-old kids, who are on the bikes more often than we are.”
She added that the city should defer to California’s Assembly Bill No. 1096, passed in October 2015, that created three classes of e-bikes depending on their speed capabilities and motor functions.
The bill also prevented Class 3 e-bikes, which can reach 28 miles per hour or greater, on specified paths or trails unless otherwise authorized, and granted local governments authority to prohibit Class 1 or 2 e-bikes.
The main concern came from Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan, who brought up the level of manpower necessary to enforce the potential code amendments and ordinances. Mayor Gene James echoed those concerns. Duncan otherwise supported the recommendations.
“I don’t know that we have a community that we need to police that diligently,” Knoblock said. “I think if we make a statement that (e-bikes are) not allowed and we post it, I think people are going to obey the law. It’s the few that don’t that we can enforce, so I’m not concerned about the enforcement.”
The issue of e-bikes and bicycles on sidewalks will receive continued attention into 2022, as the city hopes to clarify for pedestrians and riders which exact areas the bikes are prohibited.
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.