Carlsbad has approved spending up to $2 million for new police officers, education programs and other efforts to target its newly declared e-bike emergency.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ratify a local emergency designation the city manager made last week to target the city’s rapid rise in e-bike collisions and related traffic problems.
“We heard from our community that more needs to be done to address the behavior on our roadways,” City Manager Scott Chadwick told the council. “Simply put, a city has no more important job than keeping our community safe.”
Chadwick recommended spending the $2 million on immediate and long-term traffic safety actions using unspent money from the 2021-’22 general fund account, which the council also unanimously approved. The emergency declaration will remain in effect for at least an additional 60 days, when the council will consider whether to extend it.
Bicycle and e-bike collisions in the city went from 30 in 2019 to 100 in 2021, according to the Carlsbad Police Department. Two fatalities occurred in August. One was a man on a pedal-powered bicycle hit by a speeding motorcycle on Carlsbad Boulevard. The other was a woman riding an e-bike, who was hit by a car at the corner of Basswood Avenue and Valley Street, near Valley Middle School.
The death of Christine Embree, the wife of an Orange County firefighter-paramedic, drew widespread attention and compelled family members, friends and other community members to ask the City Council for more traffic controls, enforcement and education.
Cities across the United States have seen a huge increase in the number of e-bike riders in the past two years, largely because of technological advances that have made the bikes better and more affordable. The COVID pandemic, which kept many vehicles off the streets beginning in 2020, also may have contributed to a surge in bike-riding.
“The increase of accidents and problems is mostly due to more miles being ridden, but it’s also due to the fact that new riders are uneducated to the law and riding practices,” said Bethany Frankel, chair of Bike Walk Carlsbad, a local group that promotes biking and walking.
It’s good to have more people riding bicycles because it means fewer people driving vehicles, less traffic congestion and helps reduce greenhouse gases, she said. But everyone needs to follow the rules to be safe.
“Enforcement is needed, but riders need to be educated to the law,” Frankel said. “Both children and adults need these classes.”
In March, Carlsbad became the first city in the region to pass traffic safety laws related to e-bikes, including an option for riders to complete a training course to avoid a citation for their first offense.
After last week’s declaration city crews placed 11 electronic message boards at locations with higher collision rates, with plans for two more this week. The city also repositioned electronic signs to show drivers how fast they were going on streets with complaints of speeding.
More green bike lanes were added this week along parts of Carlsbad Boulevard and in the Village in areas heavily used by cyclists.
Three police officers have been reassigned to full-time traffic enforcement, also some detectives and additional officers on overtime, said Police Chief Mickey Williams.
Williams said that since last week’s emergency declaration, the Police Department has documented 213 traffic enforcement actions, compared to the usual number of 100 to 200 a month. About 57 percent of the enforcement actions in the past week involved vehicles, 35 percent were for e-bikes, and 8 percent were for pedal bikes. One incident involved a pedestrian.
Included in the spending approved Tuesday is $535,000 for the Police Department to hire an additional four full-time officers to help with traffic enforcement.
“To be clear, these are not new positions,” Chadwick said. “We have a sworn budgetary staff of 132 … what will occur is an individual may go out on … some type of long-term disability where they will not be returning back into duty, or they may be retiring out at some time this year.”
Council members praised the actions the city has taken so far and said they look forward to another update at their Sept. 27 meeting.
“The No. 1 improvement we can make here is just our citizenry acting better, both drivers and riders,” said Councilmember Peder Norby.
Bicycle riders almost always fare worse in a collision with a vehicle, Norby said. The best way to avoid that is for everybody to slow down.