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California city taking action to respond to rising bike, e-bike collisions

Published September 22, 2022

CARLSBAD, Calif. (BRAIN) — The city recently took short-term measures in response to a 233% rise in collisions involving bikes and e-bikes in the past three years while it works to present a longer-term solution to the City Council on Tuesday.

When the City Council ratified the emergency proclamation Aug. 30, it also approved spending $2 million for immediate traffic safety efforts, including:

  • Overstaffing police department sworn positions by four additional full-time officers ($535,000).
  • Increasing police department overtime for training and enforcement ($100,000).
  • Procuring additional speed feedback signs and electronic messaging boards ($250,000).
  • Developing infrastructure projects and safe driving behavior education ($1,115,000).

The bike collisions have occurred with pedestrians, cars, other bicyclists, and solo accidents. Two deaths were reported last month. One man on a bike was killed by a speeding motorcycle, and a woman on an e-bike was killed when she was hit by a car. The fatalities are still under investigation, said city spokesperson Kristina Ray.

According to Ray, Carlsbad has been focusing on education, engineering, and enforcement in the short term. The city also has:

  • Added green markings to bike lanes in dozens of locations.
  • Installed speed feedback signs and digital message boards in areas with higher collisions.
  • Worked with local schools to get information out to parents and students about traffic safety.
  • Increased enforcement of traffic rules across all modes of travel.
  • Launched a public awareness program.
  • Accelerated the timing of traffic calming projects that include traffic circles, speed humps, and wider bike lanes.

"We don't have collision data comparisons quite yet, but anecdotally, we have seen fewer complaints about traffic safety and increased compliance with helmet laws and other safety related behaviors around school sites, which has been a concern," Ray said. "Once we have had a chance to enact more of the programs planned, we will measure collision rates and other related data."

In 2019, of the 30 bike collisions, two involved e-bikes; in 2020, of the 62 bike collisions, eight involved e-bikes; in 2021, of the 100 bike collisions, 33 involved e-bikes; and so far in 2022 through July 31, of the 57 bike collisions, 32 involved e-bikes.

BRAIN contacted two area bike shops and an e-bike wholesaler based in Carlsbad, and all said kids riding e-bikes are the primary problem.

"I think it's definitely something that needs to be regulated, especially with kids," said Dan Sachs, a buyer and importer for Happy EBikes. "Kids should have to go through some type of training course. They should have some type of responsibility for riding bikes because there are just no laws right now, and I don't know what it's taking so long for the city to react. You see kids riding two, three at a time on bikes. Rad Power Bikes is the biggest bike manufacturer and you see them everywhere especially with the kids because they're in the lower cost retail on that little RadRunner."

John Orndorff, who operates Pedego Carlsbad, agreed more needs to be done to educate.

"Mostly for the younger riders under 16 years of age that don't maintain their bikes and ride multiple passengers who don't obey or understand traffic patterns or rules," he said.

Rad Power Bikes is the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court last month by the parents of a girl who was killed while a passenger on a RadRunner in Los Angeles.

Gordon Yeager, owner of Velo Hangar in Carlsbad, said while he's encouraged to see more kids outside riding since the pandemic, he supports mandatory road safety and traffic classes in schools.

"I like seeing kids riding bikes instead of indoors playing video games or watching YouTube," Yeager said. "Many of the kids on e-bikes ... were never taught the rules of the road. I don't think many people know how fast they can go. They don't react to quick maneuvers like an analog bike does. Carlsbad has definitely seen more e-bikes than analog bikes since the pandemic. I am in no way saying everyone out on e-bikes is breaking rules, but it's definitely a problem. I ride a pedal-assist bike to work. It's a huge help. I don't get to ride as much as some, so the little push I get goes a long way."

Ray said the city working with bike shops to educate is part of its long-term plans.

"Because they have contact with bike riders, they are in a great position to help share information about the rules of the road and good safety practices," she said.

Sachs said he tells customers to get used to riding an e-bike without the assist first.

"Because at the end of the day, it's a bike coming with very standard parts," he said. "Adding electric, you now have added power. We explain that it's extremely dangerous; it's a motorized vehicle. But what it comes down to, it's up to the operator."

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