The early results of e-bike diversion programs in North County
Carlsbad and Encinitas both recently adopted ordinances that include an option to take a safety course when you receive a bicycle or e-bike citation
It’s been about two months since the Encinitas City Council approved local e-bike laws that allow officers to direct first-time offenders to education programs.
San Diego Sheriff’s Deputy David Drake said the programs have helped with helmet enforcement, but he still sees a lot of passengers on e-bikes that aren’t meant for passengers.
“Before we could only offer diversion for helmets at the local level,” Drake said. “Now we can do it for everything. It’s been working out pretty well because most of the kids I contact, I offer diversion.”
Drake added that schools have been areas of focus for enforcement, especially as local children return to the classrooms. The Encinitas municipal code one-bike enforcement is still new, so it’s a small sample size, but he said most of the children cited for helmets or other violations so far have completed the safety course. He refers them to the city website for information on the course.
A growing number of cities are offering similar diversion programs. In 2015, a law authored by Richard Bloom allowed local governments to offer them to bicyclists who were cited. In the years since, e-bikes have become increasingly popular and have been at the center of new diversion programs that some cities have rolled out in response to a growing rate of collisions.
In Encinitas, there was a sense of urgency for the City Council to take action after 15-year-old Brodee Champlain-Kingman died in a collision with a van while making a left turn onto Santa Fe Avenue from South El Camino Real. In June, about a week before his death, council members adopted new regulations for e-bike riders that included an expansion of the diversion program. In the aftermath of the collision, they declared a state of emergency that included an expansion of education programs, increased enforcement and exploring other ways to improve traffic safety.
The city of Carlsbad declared a local emergency in 2022 after a driver struck and killed Christine Embree, 35, at the intersection of Basswood Avenue and Valley Street. Embree’s 1-year-old daughter, who was riding with her, survived.
One of the measures the Carlsbad City Council adopted in a sweeping street safety package last year was a diversion program for first-time violators. According to statistics released by the city in a public records request, 95 citations were issued as of the end of June, with 62 people successfully completing the safety course.
Two more have since completed the course, bringing the total to 64, according to Carlsbad police.
“In terms of impact, saw a 13% decrease in bicycle injury collisions during the first six months of the traffic safety emergency, but obviously our bike safety classes are just one of many things the city has done to promote safe behaviors,” said Denise Ramirez, a Carlsbad police spokesperson. “We will provide an update to the City Council once we have one year’s worth of data. That’s currently planned for October.”
The city has also offered safety courses for about 700 students who attend Carlsbad Unified schools, and they have to show proof of completing the course to park their bicycles on campus.
Solana Beach resident Karl Rudnick, an instructor with the League of American Bicyclists who teaches e-bike safety classes for adults, said some of the riders who attend his course are there because they received a citation.
For children, Rudnick said he supports more education, but remains skeptical about more onerous requirements. AB 530 by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner, for example, would ban children under 12 from riding e-bikes, and require older children to complete an online test and get a state ID — although AB 530 isn’t headed for the governor’s desk this year.
“Having photo IDs, getting the DMV involved, I don’t know if it will kill the movement,” said Rudnick, who is also the co-founder of the local group BikeWalkSolana. “Not sure it would change it. I don’t even know how you’d enforce it. Kids don’t run around with ID. It sounds like a nightmare.”
He added that maybe a digital ID card, without DMV oversight, would be a more convenient way to encourage e-bike education.
“I consider it a transformational moment in time where hopefully these kids will grow up to ride an e-bike to get to Starbucks instead of hopping into a gas-burning SUV to go four blocks,” Rudnick said.
4:22 p.m. Aug. 22, 2023: Updated with additional information from Carlsbad police
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