You may have recently spotted national and local news headlines highlighting the dangers of e-biking and discussing calls for increased regulation of this new mode of transportation. In direct opposition to these headlines, it may surprise you to learn that motorcycling, a heavily regulated mode of transportation, accounted for 16% more deaths than cycling did in 2021. The development of e-bike regulation is an important safety step, but regulation is even more effective when paired with user awareness, education, and complete street infrastructure to create safer transportation options for all.
The rise of e-bike purchases in Santa Cruz County and across the nation is growing year over year. The fact that e-bikes are accessible to all ages coupled with the launch of bike share programs like BCycle is feeding this positive transition to sustainable transportation.
Local Santa Cruz resident Lilly Ann Popken is an avid rider who bought an e-bike at age 73. “I ride with friends at least 3 days a week. We are all in our 70s and 80s and find that having a little assistance, especially on hills, makes it possible for us to continue doing 25 to 35-mile rides when we get together. For me, that is pure joy!”
For many new e-bike enthusiasts, it’s the mental health benefits that keep them pedaling. Kat Fernando is a recent e-bike convert. In less than a year, she’s replaced paying for parking and rideshares with a free downhill ride to classes at UC Santa Cruz on her e-bike.
I feel much more grounded after even a short bike ride. I feel calmness and empowerment simultaneously – it is hard to describe. I have met an amazing cycling community in Santa Cruz, one I hope to always be a part of no matter where I go.— Kat Fernando, current UC Santa Cruz student and recent e-bike convert.
If we want more Santa Cruz residents to feel the positive effects of e-biking like Kat or Lilly Ann, we must support both new and veteran cyclists by helping them learn and apply the principles of e-biking safety. While the library of e-bike resources is still being built, there are a few trusted organizations that can help bridge the gap.
- People for Bikes and the League of American Bicyclists, two of our trusted partner organizations, recently released an e-bike safety resource called “E-bike Smart.”
- If you’re looking for the basics, such as how to properly fit a bike helmet or low-stress routes in Santa Cruz, our active transportation team, Modo, provides a lot of great resources.
- We also offer monthly bike commuter workshops in partnership with Go Santa Cruz. They are held at the Civic Auditorium or at our office downtown, and accessible via Zoom. At these workshops, our staff talks about bike and e-bike safety principles, rules of road, etiquette and safe riding behavior, wayfinding, and tips for staying visible. Workshop participants enrolled in Go Santa Cruz County receive free bike helmets and lights.
Improving e-bike safety is not the sole responsibility of riders, however. We all play a part in ensuring e-bikes do not become as fatal as other motor-powered vehicles. Cyclists have a responsibility to understand the rules of the road. Drivers have a responsibility to be vigilant of cyclists. And local cities and counties have a responsibility to design and build streets, intersections, and other infrastructure that protects the most vulnerable road users.
Jayden Washinton Samuels, another UC Santa Cruz student, takes all precautions when riding an e-bike but still experiences moments of fear. “I assume all cars don’t see me. I feel unsafe when riding through busy intersections. I’ve almost been hit. It’s a very scary feeling.”
Experiences like Jayden’s are why we recently signed on to a call to action from the California Bicycle Coalition to build a safe and complete transportation network, which is needed even more urgently now to meet the explosive demand for low-cost, green transportation for all people, not just those in cars.
We can regulate e-bikes and reduce access to this positive transportation choice – or we can provide comprehensive safety resources and vote in favor of street safety measures to encourage people of all ages and abilities to embrace e-biking.
You can take it from Kat when she says e-biking is one of the best parts of her day. “Exercise, fresh air blowing on my hair, and the stimulation of being 100 times more alert than I believe I can be while driving a car. I meet cool people and see even cooler bikes, get helpful tips from cycling strangers, and, most of all, connect with nature, even in the concrete jungle.”
Or you can try it for yourself! E-biking is a positive transportation choice to reduce carbon emissions and reap the mental and physical benefits of riding outside. If you’re looking for support, our team at Ecology Action is only an email away!
About Ecology Action
Ecology Action is an award-winning California 501(c)(3) non-profit that’s been advancing community climate solutions since 1970. Ecology Action creates and implements innovative programs to help people and businesses reduce their environmental impact, while supporting more resilient communities. Learn more at EcoAct.org.