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Newport council may target e-bikes on Balboa Peninsula boardwalk

NEWPORT BEACH, JULY 04, 2014 - Penny Freeman with the Newport Beach Police Department gives a ticket
A Newport Beach police officer tickets a man for riding his skateboard on the Oceanfront boardwalk in 2014.
(File photo | Daily Pilot)

Residents along the Oceanfront boardwalk in Newport Beach say electric bicycles are making the popular Balboa Peninsula promenade dangerous, and now the City Council might do something about it.

Buzz Lowry, who lives on Oceanfront, told the council Tuesday night that he and his wife took an informal survey one recent weekend afternoon and tallied nine e-bikes in a three-hour period, all traveling an estimated 15 to 18 mph. The boardwalk speed limit is 8 mph.

“We yell at them, ‘Stop, slow down,’” he said. “And these guys smile at us or they’ll give us hand signals going by.”

A couple of years ago, Lowry said, he’d have said surreys and Segways were an issue. But he sees few of those anymore. Now, he said, the city should focus on banning e-bikes.

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The council agreed to review and possibly tighten regulations on e-bikes, Segways and surreys.

The 12-foot-wide concrete boardwalk can be thick with runners and walkers, adults and children, baby strollers, dogs, skaters and bike riders moving at different speeds.

Neighbors have taken their concerns about the path to the city before, including about the growing presence of e-bikes, which are capable of much higher speeds than a typical beach cruiser.

Councilwoman Diane Dixon, whose district includes the Balboa Peninsula, acknowledged that.

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“We’ve got a number of residents here who have been anxious for years, and I inherited this anxiety when I became council member,” she said.

Deputy Chief Dennis Birch of the Newport Beach Police Department said officers wrote 271 citations on the boardwalk between May 2016 and April this year. Of those, 15 were for exceeding the speed limit. Most of the tickets — 171 — were for riding skateboards, which are against city code.

City traffic engineer Tony Brine said a speed study conducted over an hour on a Wednesday afternoon in September showed that the average speed of 44 bicycles reached 9.5 mph and a maximum of 14 mph.

E-bikes come in three classes, based on power and maximum speed. The fastest, Class 3, top out at 28 mph and are already banned on the boardwalk. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes, which reach a still-zippy 20 mph, are allowed as long as they don’t go above 8 mph.

The council agreed to discuss changing the local code to reflect continually updated definitions in state vehicle codes and flipping the local language from saying what is banned to what is allowed.

Deputy City Manager Tara Finnigan said the city isn’t interested in regulating individual Segway users but would like to put guidelines on tour groups, which she said can be intimidating to pedestrians. Rules could cover the tours’ routes, hours and group size.

Surreys are already prohibited on the boardwalk and on sidewalks. Council members said they might consider further surrey restrictions, including banning them in bike lanes and not allowing them to be rented on the Balboa Peninsula.

Fred Levine, an Oceanfront resident, likened the boardwalk to the 405 Freeway between the piers and said crashes are underreported.

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He invited council members to his house to see the traffic for themselves.

“All the studies are great, but we really have to take a realistic view of this and say, ‘Let’s look at the safety for the public, not only the residents but the visitors that are coming down that deserve a safe atmosphere,’” he said. “I don’t know why we keep going around and around about this.”

hillary.davis@latimes.com

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD


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