By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Joe Selfridge was holding hands with his 2-year-old grandson, Eamon, while they were crossing over Sea Isle City’s Promenade during a trip to the beach on Memorial Day weekend.
Suddenly, a teenager on an electric bike whizzed by, narrowly missing both of them during a close call that Selfridge is convinced would have been disastrous if Eamon had been struck.
“It would have killed a 2-year-old kid if it hit him. This is really, really dangerous,” said Selfridge, a Sea Isle homeowner
Aware of the potential dangers of electric bikes, regular bikes, scooters and even skateboards zipping along the Promenade next to pedestrians, Sea Isle officials are preparing a new ordinance that will impose a speed limit of 10 mph on the popular oceanfront walkway.
“We want to slow everything down and make it as safe as we possibly can,” City Solicitor Paul Baldini said in an interview.
Currently, there are no speed limit signs on the Promenade. The speed limit, however, is 25 mph at this time, Baldini said.
The new ordinance for a 10 mph speed limit is being crafted and should be ready for City Council to formally introduce it at the June 28 meeting. A public hearing and final vote by Council on the ordinance are expected at the July 12 meeting.
Barring any delays, the new law will be in place for the remainder of the busy summer tourism season, a time when the 1.5-mile Promenade bustles with pedestrians and bikers sharing the same space – often in close proximity.
Capt. Anthony Garreffi, officer in charge of the Sea Isle Police Department, said speeding tickets backed up by fines will be handed out once the law is ready. City officials are still discussing how much the fines will be, he noted
If a juvenile under 17 years old gets a speeding ticket, the parents will be responsible for paying the fine, Garreffi said.
Even before the new law takes effect, Garreffi stressed that police officers will be patrolling the Promenade on the lookout for speeding bikers this summer.
“My officers will be up there and anyone we see riding excessively fast, we will tell them to slow down,” he said. “If they are riding carelessly, they could be ticketed.”
Garreffi said he is not aware of any collisions involving electric bikes or regular bikes with pedestrians on the Promenade.
Bikes are permitted on the Promenade between the hours of 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays and 5 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturdays and Sundays. Markers designate the bike path on the Promenade.
Appearing at City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Selfridge, 70, told the story about the close call involving his grandson and the electric bike while urging Sea Isle officials to crack down on speeders on the Promenade.
“The combination of the speed, size of the vehicle and the age of the operator really frightened me,” he said in an interview about the teenager riding the electric bike.
Although regular bikes, scooters and skateboards are also ridden on the Promenade, Selfridge is particularly concerned about the electric bikes. E-bikes have a battery-powered motor and are capable of hitting speeds of up to 35 mph, creating a serious potential danger of collisions with pedestrians who are walking on the Promenade, he said.
“I think this is an urgent, urgent matter,” he said.
E-bikes have been growing in popularity during the pandemic and are regarded as an environmentally friendly form of transportation.
In 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation regulating the use of low-speed e-bikes and motorized scooters in New Jersey.
The bill calls for motorized scooters and e-bikes capable of traveling 20 mph or slower to be regulated much the same as ordinary bicycles, allowing their operation on streets, highways, and bicycle paths in the state, according to a news release by the Governor’s Office.
An operator of a low-speed electric bicycle or motorized scooter is not required to register the scooter or e-bike, furnish proof of insurance, or have a driver’s license. The bill further provides that all statutes, rules, and regulations that apply to ordinary bicycles will apply to low-speed electric bicycles and motorized scooters, the release stated.
Baldini explained that the state regulations do not allow Sea Isle to outright ban e-bikes from the Promenade. The city only has the authority to regulate them through a local ordinance, he pointed out.
In the meantime, before the new speeding ordinance becomes law, Sea Isle officials are hoping that anyone on an e-bike, regular bike, scooter or skateboard will ride safely on the Promenade, Baldini said.
“Quite frankly, we depend on people’s common sense to control their speed,” he said.