Northern Beaches Council has agreed to an urgent safety audit of electric-powered bicycles (e-bikes) and other electric-powered transport on shared paths following a huge rise in their use – and apparent misuse – in the region.
Curl Curl Councillor David Walton, a retired police commander, introduced the motion alongside Cr Stuart Sprott at a meeting of council last night, 28 March 2023, citing serious concerns for community safety. It was passed unanimously.
“I’ve been contacted by so many people, particularly on social media, as well as in person about addressing this issue,” Cr Walton told Manly Observer. “If a young child or an elderly person is knocked over by one of these fast-moving, large electric bikes, it could result in serious injury or death.”
The Motion requests that the Northern Beaches Council Local Traffic Committee, in partnership with the Northern Beaches Police Area Command, conduct an urgent safety audit of electric bike, electric scooter and other electronic active transport usage, on Northern Beaches shared paths, bike paths, and footpaths.
The Motion emphasises that the safety audit include consideration of, but not limited to speeding, shared path issues, advisory speed signage, education campaigns and exploring regulatory factors.
“It’s really become a case of dodge the bikes. I mean as soon as school comes out,” lamented Manly ward councillor Candy Bingham. “We have kids.. now two kids on one of these bikes, and they’re almost appearing in packs. As they leave school, they take over the footpath, and everybody sort of scurries out of their way. It’s extremely dangerous and I think like most councillors, I’m receiving emails daily now from concerned residents and pedestrians.”
Speed and a lack of helmet wearing are among two of the issues, as well as the trend to ride on regular footpaths. Only children under 16 are permitted to use their bicycles on footpaths. Cr Walton told Council last night he had personally experienced quite a few “near misses”. While acknowledging this as a state responsibility and a policing matter, Cr Walton said he want Council to get the ball rolling with some proactive measures.
“But the important thing, particularly from a regulatory perspective, is to start with education. So some of the young people might not know that they need to give a metre’s distance to pedestrians, that pedestrians always have the right of way, that they need to slow down to avoid those collisions.”
Are riders using their heads?
Manly Observer, during several surveillance walks around Manly, Curl Curl and Freshwater, observed a wholesale disregard for safety by many e-bike riders, particularly with regard to helmets despite speeds appearing to be above 25km/h.
Bicycle NSW, the advocacy group for cyclists across the state, remind riders of the current regulations:
“Under the Australian Vehicle Standards, e-bikes can be ridden on the road if the motor does not provide more than 250 watts of maximum continuous power. In addition, e-bikes must not be able to travel more than 25 km/h under this assistance.”
One young rider confided in this reporter that the e-bikes, although set to a default limit of 25km/h when new, can quite easily be reprogrammed to enable them to travel 35km/h or faster.
Manly Observer Editor Kim Smee highlighted the issue on socials recently, and asked her teen-aged readers on Instagram to explain why so few were wearing helmets. The response was clear – because it’s become the norm NOT to wear one and you’re faced with ridicule if you do.
“They are uncomfortable, they look like crap and no one else wears them so why should I”? wrote one reader
“Because no one else wears one so I feel like I will get judged,” says another
“I feel like it really doesn’t doing anything I crashed so many times without a helmet and I am fine”
“Head impacts riding to the beach are absurdly unlikely”
“No one wears them so it’s not cool”
“They are ugly and no one wears them”
– were among scores of similar responses.
Cr Walton told Manly Observer, “The Motion is to get a safety audit done by the experts, and the experts will be Council staff and traffic management staff, together with the other regulators like Transport for New South Wales (which is part of Council’s Traffic Committee).
“But the main regulator is the New South Wales Police, so it will be in conjunction with them.
“We’re looking at it from a holistic perspective. So, regarding bike paths, are shared bike paths correct? Should they be where they are? Should they be inclusive of pedestrians or exclusive? Should they be moved onto the road?”
He continued, “Have we educated the young people sufficiently to know that they [cyclists] don’t have the right of way – that pedestrians have the right of way? Do they know that they need to slow down around pedestrians?
“Do they know that there’s ramifications of not wearing a helmet and that they can be fined? Do they know that unless they’re 12-and-under, they can’t ride e-bikes on a footpath although they can go on a shared path? Editor’s note: the law is now actually under 16.
“So there’s a lot of education and training required,” he conceded. “But we need to get the experts together to discuss strategies from an infrastructure perspective regarding the paths. Do they need some adjustments? What would be the course?”
However, Cr Walton was mindful that once e-bike riders are better informed, and new signage and markings introduced – if the audit recommended – other regulations should be implemented to deter bad behaviour.
“The next part of regulation would be enforcement, so that means fines, etc, for non-compliance with the road rules…
“If a young child or an elderly person is knocked over by one of these fast-moving large electric bikes it could result in serious injury or death.”
Helmets must be worn
In NSW it is mandatory to wear an approved bicycle helmet when riding a bicycle – electric or pedal-powered. This applies to both roads and ‘road-related areas’ (including footpaths, bush trails, any paths designated for vehicles, animals or vehicles and nature strips adjacent to roads) and to riders of all ages, including children.
The maximum penalty a court can impose for the offence is 20 penalty units, which amounts to $2200, but most cases are dealt with by way of ‘on-the-spot’ fines in the sum of $344.
Energy Bikes in Brookvale, which specialise in electric-powered bicycles, are mindful that safety is paramount and impress that upon their customers – the buyers and those bringing in their e-bikes for service and repairs.
Energy Bikes have osted a sign in their shop window and on their Facebook page announcing, “No Helmet – No Service and Repair”, urging customers to take heed of road rules and personal safety.
The sign warned, “We won’t look after your bike if you won’t look after your head.”
West Ashton, owner-manager of Energy Bikes, confirmed the policy to Manly Observer.
“We won’t service a bike if you turn up here without a helmet – we’ll say, ‘go away!’
“We won’t look after your bike if you won’t look after your head.”
“We sell a lot of these e-bikes,” he continued, “they’ve been fantastic, and we get a lot of feedback from people saying that they love them and they’ve changed their life.
“In the beginning, we mainly sold to adults. I’m concerned about riders’ welfare, so we tell them to be careful about cars coming out of driveways, be courteous to people if you’re passing them on a path, etc.
“But, now that e-bikes are so popular, it’s reached the point that I’m worried about how they’re being used, as I hear so many bad stories – and I see a lot too, because I live in the area…
“It’s generally kids around the 15-16 years of age. They seem to think they’re invincible, and they don’t understand they’re not.”
West has a suggestion for how to start enforcing helmet laws.
“My simple fix would be to take some police officers down to areas like the waterfront at Manly,” he said, “where they step out from behind the bike path sideline and say to kids riding without helmets, ‘get off your bike, lock it up, go home and get a helmet, and then come back for your bike.’
“Do that two weekends in a row, it’s not going to take up a lot of police resources – you only need one or two police officers – then the kids will start talking to each other and the word will get out that they need to wear a damn helmet!
“And maybe we should ask the question about whether we need a licensing system for kids thinking of riding an e-bike. I know it’s not a popular conversation, but perhaps we might consider introducing something like the theory test to get their vehicle learners’ permit, so at least they’re more road-aware…”
The Council audit will form a report brought back to Council as a matter of urgency.
Article written by Alec Smart and Kim Smee