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Newport Beach City Council studies electric bike safety concerns

A bicyclist pedals down at Newport Beach.
A bicyclist rides an electric bike in Newport Beach in 2016. The Newport Beach City Council held a study session Tuesday to consider how to improve boardwalk safety in light of the increased use of electric bicycles.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Electric bikes speeding along the Oceanfront boardwalk in Newport Beach have long been a source of concern for residents, some of whom turned out this week for a City Council study session on the issue requested by Councilwoman Diane Dixon.

To date this year, 59 collisions involving either manual or electric bicycles have been reported citywide, four of which occurred on the boardwalk, according to a report presented at Tuesday night’s study session by Lt. Eric Little of the Newport Beach Police Department. Of those four accidents on the boardwalk, one involved an e-bike.

Reports from the city’s boardwalk ambassadors — who are not police but patrol the boardwalks and piers — suggest a significant number of e-bike riders speed compared to those pedaling traditional bikes.

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A July 9 e-bike traffic safety operation led to 198 stops on the boardwalk and at least 82 of those contacted were juveniles, it was reported.

“We do appreciate the July 9 exercise, but it needs to be something that’s exercised on a regular basis,” said Maureen Cotton, president of the Pier to Pier Central Newport Beach Community Assn.” ... What we’re witnessing on the boardwalk is mayhem.”

Cotton said she believes the city has the ability and responsibility to ban e-bikes and other electric vehicles from the boardwalk, excluding those meant for accessibility or vehicles that are human-powered.

“There’s a lot of energy and I appreciate the education for the kids,” said Cotton. “I agree we need to get the residents educated as well but there is really a tremendous number of these bikes on a very small path.”

Little reported that in 2021 there were 126 reported manual or e-bike collisions in the city, with September seeing the highest number of them, 19. There were 11 reported collisions on the boardwalk last year, and seven of those collisions involved e-bikes.

“I think we realize that the electric bicycle proliferation really isn’t just a Newport Beach issue,” senior civil engineer Brad Sommers said Tuesday, adding that other coastal cities like San Clemente and Huntington Beach have taken remedial action to curb e-bike safety issues.

City staff said officials could consider restricting e-bikes from certain paths and trails.

Also discussed was the possibility of establishing a licensing program to restrict operation of unlicensed bicycles in the public right of way and limiting the licenses to residents.

The session also touched on updating the city’s cycling website, continuing existing public education programs, partnering with local groups for youth education, updating city sidewalk cycling ordinances, considering a ticket diversion program, advocating to the state for a minimum age or education requirement for e-bike usage, setting up virtual boundaries through the use of geofencing and considering a ban of e-bikes altogether on the oceanfront, trails and sidewalks.

Residents were supportive of increasing education around safety, though some parents raised concerns about speed and electric bike usage by both students and other parents around local schools.

Some said the boardwalk ambassadors did not appear to be equipped with notebooks and that not all ambassadors were patrolling the entirety of the boardwalk.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District board president Michelle Barto said she has seen significant improvement in bicycle safety behavior with student education and that students generally tend to behave well while near the school. The problem, she noted, was when students were a block or two away from campus.

Barto said she felt increased police support or having volunteers around to remind student cyclists to be safe even when they were farther away from campus would be beneficial.

Dixon, whose district includes the Balboa Peninsula and West Newport, asked city staff to update the city’s website. She said she was also open to considering an ordinance update, establishing a ticket diversion program, possibly advocating to the state to place minimum age requirements for riding e-bikes, updating boardwalk signage and reaching out to rental companies to get their assistance in spreading the word of bike safety. She also asked for more information on of how boardwalk ambassadors are operating.

No formal action was taken.

“Hopefully, this massive education and working with the rental companies and the bike manufacturers, we can really educate people,” Dixon said. “We do not have [a bike path]. We call it a boardwalk; it’s a promenade ... and until we can establish a dual bike path, perhaps some day from 15th to 36th Street … we need to heavily educate.”

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