Costa Mesa officials hope to slow the roll of e-bike riders

An e-bike rider cruises on Beach Street in downtown Laguna Beach in 2021.
An e-bike rider cruises on Beach Street in downtown Laguna Beach in 2021. Given the rise in popularity of electric bikes, city officials are crafting new rules for safe use, including in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Electric bikes — a boon to citizens wishing to broaden their horizons but a burden for those they whiz past on streets and sidewalks — are nothing new in Costa Mesa, but now some laws regulating their use are in the works.

City leaders Tuesday showed support for ordinances seeking to amend portions of Costa Mesa’s municipal code to bring city regulations in compliance with a compendium of new state laws regarding bicycle and pedestrian behaviors.

The changes include language that applies rules of the road to e-bikes, fast becoming a concern among residents who complain of riders — often youth — traveling at unsafe speeds and engaging in risky behavior that endangers pedestrians and motorists.

E-bikes parked haphazardly in Laguna Beach in 2021.
E-bikes parked haphazardly in Laguna Beach in 2021. Costa Mesa officials are drafting rules for the proper riding and parking of bicycles on city streets and in parks.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“E-bike riders have no respect for the safety of pedestrians,” said Costa Mesa resident Wendy Leece, describing having to contend with riders cutting through Canyon Park to access nearby Victoria Street. “They basically own the road, and they really ruin the peaceful experience of walking in Canyon Park.”

Hank Castignetti, who engineers mini-trains with fellow Orange County Model Engineers at the 200-acre Fairview Park, gave a similar testimony to council members.

“E-bikes in Fairview Park are a terror,” he said, recounting the reckless acts of teens and adolescents armed with serious torque. “They tear across habitat nesting areas and play chicken with the trains. I really wish they’d enforce a no e-bike edict at Fairview Park to save wildlife and prevent an accident.”

While the ordinances being considered in Costa Mesa do not ban the use of electric bicycles, they do set some ground rules that will allow local law enforcement officers to stop and potentially cite offenders.

“Electric bikes are allowed on bike paths and roadways, but they have to follow the law,” said active transportation coordinator Brett Atencio Thomas.

The updated regulations prohibit riding any bicycle in an unsafe manner or speed, mandate riders yield to pedestrians while traveling on sidewalks and require the proper parking of bikes in the public right of way.

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to provide language that will assist the Huntington Beach Police Department with enforcement efforts.

Sept. 20, 2023

Anticipated to be adopted in a second reading at a future council meeting, the revisions are designed to comply with California’s Bicycle Omnibus Bill (AB1909) passed in 2022, along with AB2147, which decriminalizes jaywalking.

Councilman Don Harper was incredulous about whether such ordinance language would seriously impact behaviors in real time, especially if enforcement by police remained discretionary.

“Nobody’s going to get on their bike and read this ordinance,” he said. “I find it very important, but is it going to affect behavior? I hope in our plan, with the money you spend, it’s actually educating these crazy kids.”

Costa Mesa Police Capt. Bryan Wadkins, who oversees the department’s Field Operations Division, said the municipal code changes are just one tool in a box full of strategies being implemented by CMPD, public works employees and members of the city’s Active Transportation Committee.

Education will be key, he said, as city officials continue to coordinate bike safety events on Newport-Mesa Unified School District campuses and promote safe practices via social media.

“We need to work cooperatively to get the word out on this, and we need parents to make smart decisions when purchasing electric bicycles for kids,” Wadkins said. “Keep it a Class 1, which has pedal assist. The throttle-assist and electric motorcycles [without pedals], those are the dangerous ones we’re really concerned with.”

The consideration of new rules in Costa Mesa follows on the heels of a June 4 decision by the county Board of Supervisors, prohibiting children under 16 from riding Class 3 e-bikes, which can travel up to 28 mph, and requiring helmets for all those under 18 who ride in unincorporated Orange County.

Multiple residents speaking in public comments Tuesday shared stories of how e-bikes increased their mobility and allowed them to go further and do more while relying less on car travel.

Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds said the ordinances complement work being done in other areas to promote safe travel and active transportation.

“This is a really good first step, alongside the work on our safety education programs and alongside the work we’re doing on improving our street infrastructure to calm activity levels on streets and make them safer for everyone,” she said.