E-bikes will be prohibited on the San Clemente pier starting in April with the City Council taking a final vote amending the municipal code governing these popular bikes.

Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Collegiate News Service, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Collegiate News Service Editor Vik Jolly at vjolly@voiceofoc.org.

After months of dialog and input from the public and the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission, the council voted unanimously last Tuesday to respond to the proliferation of electric bikes, an issue that multiple cities across Southern California have wrestled with.

The amendments include specific language that adds e-bikes as prohibited vehicles on stretches of the beach trail.

Additionally, the maximum speed limit will remain at 10 mph but all bikes can no longer be ridden between the pier and the south end of Trafalgar Canyon Bridge, known locally as T-Street, from June 15 through Labor Day, according to the amended ordinance.

City staff has also implemented an online portal where residents can give feedback on e-bikes.

Creating legislation has proven to be a difficult task due to issues of enforcement. Previous discussions, which date back to 2018, included a desire for bike safety education to be implemented in San Clemente schools beyond adjusting maximum speed limit for e-bikes.

Councilwoman Laura Ferguson said in an interview with the Voice of OC that she was happy with the vote at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am pleased to see that we did not reduce the speed limit from the 10 mph allowed to 8 miles which was considered. Enforcement of an e-bike speed limit on a trail at a busy beach is next to impossible,” she said.

Ferguson supported more research to learn about the dangers of e-bike accidents. 

“If the data isn’t there, increasing enforcement measures is not the answer. The online portal has been established for people to submit their complaints regarding e-bikes and can do so anonymously if they prefer,” added Ferguson. The City Manager’s Office set up a survey where residents can report any feedback involving e-bikes for the council to monitor the situation.

Council member Chris Duncan said he believes the best way to build data evidence is through the new survey feature, telling the Voice of OC that the council is currently “lacking data” and only has “anecdotal evidence” on e-bikes complaints. 

In a presentation to the City Council at its early February meeting, Samantha Wylie, San Clemente recreation manager, discussed possible alternatives to the proposed amendments, such as reducing the e-bike speed limit as low as 5 mph, but Mayor Pro Tem Gene James disagreed, saying anything less than 10 mph on the beach trail’s “uneven terrain” could prove to be a safety hazard. 

Wylie also suggested adding walk-only signage on bridges along the beach trail, restricting the riding of e-bikes on the Mariposa bridge and prohibiting use of bikes on park turf surfaces because of damages done by tire marks. 

Wylie concluded her presentation saying the city could partner with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and bring back educational programs, such as bike safety, to schools in the city. The council agreed on an education campaign at last Tuesday’s meeting. 

“I think staff will begin working on an education campaign with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department,” Duncan said in a telephone interview. “Although with COVID-19 restrictions, now is not the best time to get them physically implemented at the schools.”

In the final approval that came Tuesday, the council did ban all bikes on the Riviera, Montalvo and Mariposa beach trail bridges, among other new changes adopted with the approval of the new regulations.

San Clemente residents had varying input on the e-bike legislation, some citing negative interactions with bikers in the past. 

Resident Beth Beeman, who expressed her concern for the trail during public comments at a previous council meeting, said in an interview afterward that an education campaign by the city would not help the situation.

“I had a pack of kids ride out in front of me on a residential street and sort of dare me to keep driving.  Something needs to be done and a good place to start is to ban them from the beach trail,” Beeman said in an interview. 

Resident Graham Holmes said in an interview he believes that an all out ban on e-bikes on the beach trail isn’t the right choice.

“I’m in favor of their usage, but only if they follow rules and don’t endanger pedestrians or other users,” Holmes said. “All bikes are supposed to give way to pedestrians, but that is rarely the case.”

While he said he had a few experiences with riders not following the rules, he believes an education campaign could be useful.

Mayor Pro Tem James noted during the early February meeting that San Clemente is “ground zero” for e-bikes, as the city is home to numerous e-bike retailers. 

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