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Local officials look to promote teen bicycle safety amid examples of unsafe riding

A teenage bicyclist heads down Nautilus Street in La Jolla on Sept. 9.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As traffic continues to stack up on Nautilus Street in La Jolla two weeks into the school year, local officials are calling for better attention to bicycle safety and use of the bike lane there.

Parents and others say they have observed several teenagers racing down Nautilus on electric bicycles while cars are moving slowly in heavy traffic.

It isn’t known whether the teens are students at Muirlands Middle School or La Jolla High School, both on Nautilus Street, or another La Jolla school.

Most of the cyclists are not wearing helmets, observers say, and there have been a few instances when a car moved into the bike lane to drop off a student or make a turn, nearly missing a speeding cyclist.

Muirlands Principal Jeff Luna said he has seen dangerous riding behavior, including weaving in and out of traffic, riding on the sidewalk, doing stunts while traveling with traffic, and multiple people riding one bike. He said he also has received several calls from community members concerned about it.

He placed a plea in a Sept. 4 email for parents to discuss safe practices with student bicyclists. He said he’s also having San Diego Unified School District police Officer Brandon Noyes, who is assigned to La Jolla public schools, increase his presence outside during drop-off and pickup times.

Luna said Noyes also will implement a bicycle safety curriculum for sixth-graders.

Helmets are always required for anyone on a Class 3 electric bicycle, which is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, said Anthony Obregon, community relations officer for the San Diego Police Department Traffic Division. Those bikes can reach top speed of 28 mph, he said.

There also are Class 1 and 2 electric bikes that can reach top speed of 20 mph. Helmets are required for those bikes for riders younger than 18, but not for adults.

A teenager rides past stopped cars on Nautilus Street.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Obregon said electric bikes are able to surpass their top speeds on a steep downhill road like Nautilus Street, which carries a speed limit of 40 mph between La Jolla Scenic Drive South and West Muirlands Drive and 25 mph between West Muirlands and the ocean.

Bicyclists speeding down Nautilus — especially while cars are slowed in traffic — are probably traveling at “a speed unsafe for the prevailing conditions of the roadway,” he said.

Only a bicycle passing slowed or stopped traffic at 5-10 mph is going slow enough that a driver would be able to make a safe movement into the bike lane, Obregon said.

Riders on electric bikes “have to drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions of the roadway,” he said. “It’s no different than a car.”

Obregon said there is no provision in the vehicle code against more than one rider on a bicycle, but he cautioned against it.

“It completely changes the dynamics of the bike,” he said, noting that the brakes are designed to stop the bike with one rider of a certain weight.

Also, since many teens ride with earbuds to listen to music, Obregon said it’s illegal in California to ride a bicycle with both earbuds in; one must be left out.

Luna said he hopes the education, along with community support, will help prevent accidents.

“We’re working together as a team to make sure our kids are safe,” he said.

The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition provides information about electric bikes and relevant laws at bit.ly/SDBikeLaws.