By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City police officers will be carrying portable radar guns to catch speeders this summer.
In this case, they won’t be targeting cars or trucks driving on local streets, but rather electric bikes and motorized scooters zipping down the oceanfront Promenade at excessive speeds.
City Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday imposing a new 10 mph speed limit on the entire length of the 1.5-mile Promenade to crack down on e-bikes, scooters and motorized skateboards creating a danger to pedestrians.
Capt. Anthony Garreffi, officer in charge of the Sea Isle police department, said speeders will be getting tickets and fines once the new ordinance becomes law later this summer. A public hearing and final vote on the measure are scheduled for the July 12 Council meeting.
Depending on the severity of the tickets and the age of the offenders, some speeders will risk losing points on their driver’s licenses. Garreffi said that would happen only in the most serious cases.
“The officers have a wide range of options they can write,” City Solicitor Paul Baldini said of the tickets police will hand out.
Under the ordinance, fines will range from $50 for first-time speeders to up to $100 for repeat offenders.
Currently, there are no speed limit signs on the Promenade. The speed limit, however, is 25 mph at this time, Baldini said.
City Council has decided to lower the speed limit to 10 mph following complaints about close calls involving pedestrians and e-bikes. Garreffi said there have been no collisions between e-bikes and pedestrians so far this year.
Allen Fisher, an 85-year-old summer resident of Sea Isle, believes that e-bikes are so dangerous to pedestrians that they should be banned altogether from the Promenade, even after the speed limit is reduced to 10 mph.
“At 10 miles an hour, if you get hit by one of these things, it’s devastating,” Fisher said in public remarks during the Council meeting Tuesday.
Councilman William Kehner also said he would like to see e-bikes banished from the Promenade.
“We don’t allow cars, so why do we allow motorized bikes up there?” Kehner said.
Baldini explained that 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 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation regulating the use of low-speed e-bikes and motorized scooters in New Jersey.
The bill stipulates that 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.
E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular. They 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, residents say.
“I think this is an urgent, urgent matter,” said Joe Selfridge, a Sea Isle resident who complained about speeding e-bikes on the Promenade during the June 14 Council meeting.
Selfridge, 70, told the Council members of how his 2-year-old grandson was nearly struck by a speeding e-bike while Selfridge and the boy were crossing over the Promenade while heading to the beach during the Memorial Day weekend.
“It would have killed a 2-year-old kid if it hit him. This is really, really dangerous,” Selfridge said.
During the busy summer tourism season, the Promenade bustles with pedestrians and bikers sharing the same space – often in close proximity.
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.
Even before the new law takes effect, Garreffi stressed that police officers will be patrolling the Promenade on the lookout for bikers who are speeding or riding recklessly this summer.
City officials vowed that the new 10 mph speed limit will be closely enforced once it becomes law.
Garreffi said police officers will use handheld radar guns to catch speeding bikers on the Promenade. He also said the officers have received special training that allows them to estimate the speed of bikers, giving them the ability to hand out tickets even if they aren’t carrying radar guns.
There are different tickets that police may issue, depending on how serious the violations are and the age of the bike riders.
If a juvenile under 17 years old gets a speeding ticket, the parents will be responsible for paying the fine, Garreffi said.
Garreffi noted that riders on regular bikes, not just e-bikes, also may be ticketed if they are speeding on the Promenade.
When they are out riding on the roads, bicyclists are also required to comply with all motor vehicle laws and could be ticketed if they violate traffic safety regulations.