Briefing Room: electric bicycles and traffic safety on the streets of Seal Beach

I spend time walking my dog around Old Town and lounging with her on the comfy green belt of Electric Avenue. Noticing how lax some drivers are, I have concerns about traffic rules and NO consequences. Just a few days ago, I watched while two drivers casually passed a red-flashing school bus at 12th and Electric, even with a STOP sign hanging off the center. My husband commented that the stop sign might be interpreted as a stop-then-go signal, and a lowered arm (as used in some parking lots) would be more obvious and effective. Perhaps the “Briefing Room” column could address this at some point.

My second issue is with kids and their electric bikes. This afternoon, I was alarmed to see a young girl in a pink helmet cruise through both stop signs at 12th and Electric, although she did turn her head to check the intersection – bully for her! I have been noticing the phenomenon of (presumed) teenagers on these bikes around town, sometimes heedlessly carrying a passenger, and using sidewalks as if by right, and giving some strollers or dog-walkers a fright, not to mention cars in motion. This is not a game, although some of the kids seem to think so, weaving and waving at friends.

How about requiring these junior drivers to register their bikes, take a safety course, and sign a contract to ride safely and with respect for others on the road? I’d also like to see each one wearing a numbered pinney or shirt so anyone observing bad behavior could report it. A tiny license plate won’t help – I don’t know how other communities deal with this, but I cringe inwardly when I watch “kids with wheels” ignore basic rules of the road, which all bike riders, let alone the electric bikers, should take seriously. Seal Beach deserves better! Let’s expect more from our young citizens, and follow through with some consequences beyond mere warnings. Otherwise, feeling entitled and “cool,” how much worse might they be once they’re behind the wheel of a car?

Thank you for considering these comments – Lois

Hi Lois,

Thanks for your message. I’ve written about both of these topics in the past. I can certainly appreciate your concerns about the safety of our streets. It is very alarming to see people completely disregarding stop signs, or blatantly violating other rules of the road.

The Seal Beach Police Department is graciously awarded grant money from the California Office of Traffic Safety. We use this money to help deploy extra officers to conduct directed traffic enforcement. We also do saturation patrols for intoxicated drivers. Part of this money also goes to training and equipment for traffic-related complaints. We will do our best to continue our traffic enforcement efforts in Old Town and in all neighborhoods of Seal Beach. However, we can’t be everywhere at once and need the community’s help.

At least once a week I have a conversation with someone in the community urging them to call us if they ever have any safety concerns. As I’ve previously written about, there is literally no call too small for us in Seal Beach. We want to know about your safety or quality of life issues, so that we can make Seal Beach a safer and better place to live and work. Sometimes community members bring these issues to our attention. Namely, traffic issues such as speeding vehicles, crosswalk violations, and vehicles failing to stop at stop signs. So, what happens when we receive these requests for assistance?

Regardless of whether a community member calls dispatch or reports it to the Chief of Police, Captains, Lieutenants, Watch Commander, or even mentions it to an officer in the field, the information gets relayed to our Traffic Bureau Sergeant, Jordan Mirakian.

Sergeant Mirakian is in charge of our three motor officers, traffic investigators, and personnel assigned to the multi-agency Serious Traffic Accident Response (STAR) Team. In the Traffic Bureau office, there is a white board where he lists the complaints, which includes the locations of concern and observed violations. When our traffic enforcement officers start their daily shifts, they check this list and dedicate some of their time and enforcement efforts in these areas.

We’ve also experienced some issues involving electric bikes. I can assure you, this isn’t an issue only in Seal Beach. There have been reports of a couple of close calls involving those riding e-bikes and pedestrians, both on the bike path and on the streets. Seal Beach is such a friendly town that I hate to think that people are being discourteous when riding electric bikes.

Pedestrians walk about three miles per hour. Bikes go about 15 miles per hour. Just the differences in speed alone make this a dangerous combination. Pedestrians aren’t always on the lookout for bikes either, so bicyclists should let pedestrians know they are there by ringing a bell or shouting, “on your left.” Bicyclists should avoid suddenly entering the lanes of traffic as well. Those driving cars don’t expect a cyclist to merge into the lanes of traffic, even if it is legal to do so. At intersections, bicyclists should slow and come to a complete stop (unless at a green traffic light) and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. These simple tips will help make our roads, bike paths, and sidewalks safer for both pedestrians and bicyclists.

Here’s a little bit of a refresher on the laws surrounding electric bicycles.

Generally, electric bikes are regulated just like normal bicycles in terms of the laws listed in the California Vehicle Code. This means that anyone riding an electric or human-powered bicycle is subject to all the same rules of the road as a person driving a motor vehicle. As I’ve written about before, if you are riding a bike, electric or human-powered, you still have to follow the rules of the road including stopping at stop signs, signaling, having proper lighting equipment, not be intoxicated, and all the other laws.

However, unlike motor vehicles, electric bikes do not need to be registered, nor do you need a driver’s license, and vehicle insurance is not required to operate one.

Here’s where things get a bit complicated. California has three different classes of electric bikes:

A Class 1 bicycle is one equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph. A Class 2 bicycle is one equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph. And a Class 3 bicycle is one equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph.

If you are under 21 years old, you may not ride a Class 3 bike unless you are wearing a helmet. If you are under 16 years old, you may not ride a Class 3 electric bike at all (unless you are the passenger).

To make things even more complicated, the San Gabriel River bikeway is considered a “Class I” bike path and Class 3 electric bikes are prohibited from riding on Class I bike paths…..

To make things even MORE complicated, California also defines motorcycles, mopeds, and motor-driven cycles, all of which are prohibited along the San Gabriel River trail. A motorcycle has 2-3 wheels and an engine size larger than 150 cc. A motor-driven cycle has 2-3 wheels and an engine size smaller than 149 cc . And a moped, also known as a motorized bicycle, has 2-3 wheels and an electric motor with an automatic transmission that produces less than 4 gross brake horsepower. Unlike electric bicycles, you must have a driver’s license (normally with a motorcycle endorsement) to operate these vehicles.

Kids must wear helmets when they are riding bicycles, including electric bikes. California Vehicle Code §21212(a) states (in part): “A person under 18 years of age shall not operate a bicycle, a non-motorized scooter, or a skateboard, nor wear in-line or roller skates, nor ride upon a bicycle, a non-motorized scooter, or a skateboard as a passenger, upon a street, bikeway, as defined in Section 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code, or any other public bicycle path or trail unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet … ”

Please remember to follow all the rules of the road, but also be a courteous driver, whether in a car or on a bike.

Please keep your questions coming! Email me at askacop@sealbeachca.govtoday!