Sheriff’s captain says thieves are targeting e-bikes at Encinitas shopping centers

Encinitas welcoming sign
Encinitas welcoming sign

(Karen Billing)

Council approves lowering speed limit for Coast Highway north of Cardiff Kook


Cyclists who park their unlocked e-bikes outside the city’s Target and Walmart stores while they dash in to make a purchase may find their expensive bikes gone when they come back out.

E-bike thefts are becoming an increasing problem, North Coastal Sheriff’s station Capt. Christopher Lawrence told the Encinitas City Council Wednesday, Aug. 16. Thieves check out the row of parked e-bikes in front of stores, look for unlocked ones that no one is watching and ride away on them, he said.

In the past year, 49 e-bikes have been stolen — 10 in the month of July alone. Many of these theft incidents have occurred in the city’s Target and Walmart shopping centers, rather than from people’s garages, Lawrence said. He added that the majority of the thefts could have been prevented if people would take one simple precaution — lock their bikes. Twenty-eight of the 49 stolen bikes were unlocked.

Unlocked bikes are an “easy target for someone to jump on and ride off on,” Lawrence said, mentioning that shopping center parking lot security camera footage shows that thieves pretend to be talking on cell phones to give themselves cover while scoping out the parked bikes to see if they’re locked.

The Sheriff’s Department isn’t allowed to recommend specific bike lock brands, Lawrence said, but he encouraged e-bike owners to purchase one of the newer bike lock designs that features bars linked together like an oversized chain because they can’t be cut quickly.

On a positive note, Lawrence said, a newly launched program that rewards youth bicyclists who are following the city’s bike regulations, including wearing their helmets and obeying stop signs, has proven to be very popular. Deputies who spot good cycling behavior have handed out 110 free Slurpee certificates so far to young riders through partnership with 7-11, he said. Mayor Tony Kranz then joked that the deputies also ought to reward older riders like himself, prompting audience laughter.

Councilmember Kellie Hinze, who is known for her bike and pedestrian program advocacy, said she could confirm that the Slurpee coupons have been a huge hit with the city’s young cyclists and their parents.

“People have been really excited to receive those and it’s such a small thing,” she said.

In other news Aug. 16, the council unanimously voted to lower the speed limit on Coast Highway 101 between Swami’s Pedestrian Crossing and Chesterfield Drive. The change, which brings the speed down by 5 mph, matches the 35-mph limits to the north and south.

Jill Bankston, the city’s engineering department director, told the council that the city is limited by state law when it comes to lowering roadway speed limits. If the city doesn’t follow state rules, any speeding tickets deputies give out wouldn’t be valid. The state uses an 85th-percentile standard — 85 out of 100 drivers must already be doing the proposed speed limit and this must be verified by a traffic study.

Speed limits can be reassessed when changes are made to the roadway design and that’s what has happened with this segment of Coast Highway. In June, the city completed a project that narrowed the vehicle lanes, created angled parking and added a two-way, protected cycle track on the west side of the road.

A traffic study conducted in July found that the city could now justify lowering the posted speed limit to 35 mph based on the typical speeds drivers are now doing in the area, Bankston said.