In late June, Encinitas, a beach town in north San Diego County, declared a state of emergency for what initially seemed to be a surprising reason: e-bike safety.
In the span of a few days, two teenage boys riding electric bicycles had collided with cars. One of them, a 15-year-old heading to shot-putting practice, died. “We’re all grieving,” the town’s mayor, Tony Kranz, told NBC 7 at the time.
Encinitas joined a small but growing number of cities grappling with the impact of the booming e-bike industry, which could sell a million e-bikes in the U.S. this year. The bikes have been lauded for beginning to shift the transportation system away from cars and toward a relatively low-cost option for getting around, but they’ve also raised concerns about rider safety on roads congested with traffic. Carlsbad, about 10 miles north of Encinitas, declared its own state of emergency last summer after collisions involving bicycles or e-bikes had more than doubled since 2019.
My colleague Matt Richtel recently tackled the question of how safe e-bikes really are, especially for young riders. Several teenagers, in California, Oregon and other places, have died recently in e-bike accidents, he reported.
There’s solid data that teenagers tend to have more road accidents than adults. Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are three times as likely to be killed in a crash as drivers who are at least 20, and bicyclists between 10 and 24 have the highest rate of emergency room visits for crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Handling e-bikes can also be challenging for inexperienced riders. Many e-bikes can travel faster than the speed limit of 20 miles per hour that is legal for teenagers in most states, and some can be made to approach 70 m.p.h.
“Driving is the most dangerous thing that most of us will do in our lives on a regular basis,” said Matt, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his reporting in The New York Times on distracted driving. “Now we’re adding in a product that adds speed and weight to bikes, with no training, no license, no registration, in a very, very risky traffic environment.”
These problems have come to a head in Southern California, where the weather invites year-round bicycling and traffic congestion abounds. Matt, who is based in Boulder, Colo., initially noticed teenagers in his city racing by on e-bikes, often without wearing helmets. When he arrived in Orange County to report on the issue for his article, he told me, he realized that what he’d seen in Colorado had been only the tip of the iceberg.
The minimal regulation of e-bikes has alarmed some policymakers and law enforcement officials. The California Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit people younger than 12 from using e-bikes and would “state the intent of the Legislature to create an e-bike license program with an online written test and a state-issued photo identification for those persons without a valid driver’s license.”
“It’s not like a bicycle,” Sgt. Jeremy Collis of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office told Matt. “But the laws are treating it like any bicycle.”
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Peg Stephan:
“Anyone visiting California should consider driving up Highway 395 from Death Valley to Yosemite. It’s a desolate yet beautiful landscape that includes Mount Whitney and Mono Lake. Just north of Lone Pine is the preserved Japanese internment camp of Manzanar, a site every American should visit.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
For decades, Bart’s Books in Ojai has beckoned to literature lovers, The Los Angeles Times reports.
The shop feels almost magical. It’s an outdoor bookstore that has operated since 1964. You can buy books at any hour of the day, whether the store is technically open or not — just select one of the books that line the shop’s exterior walls and, working off the honor system, put your money in the box.
“I am always amazed as to how far some people travel just to experience this unique outdoor bookstore,” Jamie Fleming, the chief executive of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, told The Los Angeles Times. “Bart’s Books is the most circled destination on our Ojai visitor’s map when we are suggesting places for people to see in the Ojai Valley.”
And people come from all over to browse the shop’s shelves. “A hitchhiker once came in and said he found us from a Bart’s bookmark someone gave him in the Midwest,” Jack Randolph, a longtime employee at the bookstore, told The Los Angeles Times in 2004.