New York City’s Longstanding War on E-Bikes

(Feature image source: NYC.Gov)

When a politician makes a seemingly bone-headed decision, we’re told to “follow the money” if we want to learn the truth behind the policy. In the case of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s war on electric bikes, however, following the money—and the logic—is as easy as bobbing for apples while wearing a catcher’s mask.

Has Hizzoner been paid off by Big Skateboard? Did Santa Claus disappoint him by not leaving an e-bike under the tree? Did he fall off an e-bike and suffer a head injury?

For a man who describes himself as a populist, his ban of this particular mode of transportation disproportionately hurts the working-class poor and seems counter to his alleged mission.

New York Mayor Has Old Views on Electric Bikes

Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan seemed like an innocent idea in 2014. The goal was to end traffic deaths and injuries on New York streets. Yet somehow electric bikes became public enemy number one—without ever having committed a single crime.

According to AM New York, back in March of this year, police gleefully confiscated 247 illegal e-bikes in a 24-hour time frame.

“Pedestrians, bikers & motorists are safer because we took these illegal electric [bikes] off the streets today #VisionZero,” tweeted Deputy Inspector Mark Iocco, commanding officer of the 1st Precinct in lower Manhattan.

Of course, there was no evidence that seizing the bikes made pedestrians, bikers and motorists safer.

But it is clear that some people were hurt economically.

Delivery people, who had been relying on electric bikes for their business, suddenly lost their means of operation.

According to The New York Post, not every politician was unsympathetic to the delivery rider’s plight.

A Brooklyn lawmaker is rolling out a bill to legalize electric bikes, which have long been the bane of space-crunched pedestrians in the Big Apple.

Assemblyman Nick Perry says the gadgets — which can zip up to 20 miles per hour — should be allowed to hit the streets if they follow the same rules as non-motorized bikes.

Unfortunately, Perry was not successful.

De Blasio is Blasé When It Comes to Facts

The NY Daily News also sided with e-bike users.

But if the NYPD wants to get serious about enforcement in the name of Vision Zero, it must keep the focus on road users with the potential to do the most harm — drivers — rather than people who are simply trying to make a living on two wheels, which in this case happen to be working-class immigrants.

On average, New York City drivers kill one pedestrian or cyclist every two days, according to DMV and DOT data from 2000-13. In 2016 alone, drivers killed 146 pedestrians and 18 cyclists. And in the first two months of 2017, city drivers have killed 18 pedestrians and one cyclist.

Meanwhile, e-bike riders have been involved in zero traffic-related deaths during the time that the city has collected data on their use.

Zero traffic-related deaths. Did this fact change Mayor de Blasio’s pea brain? Quite the opposite. He chose to double down.

Instead of just fining the riders and confiscating their e-bikes, Mayor McCheesey decided to fine the businesses who allow their delivery people to use electric bikes on the job.

The Jewish Voice NY quotes the Mayor.

“E-bikes are illegal to operate in New York City and the NYPD is stepping up enforcement,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Those at the top of the food chain need to be held accountable. That’s why instead of merely targeting riders, we’re going after businesses that look the other way and leave their workers to shoulder the fine.”

Slate slammed the Mayor good.

Imagine a citywide policy that could reduce the incomes of the poor, worsen traffic congestion, make living in a city more expensive and less convenient, and fine small businesses. It would be a remarkable achievement, putting the limited power of urban governance to maximum bad effect.

Well, congratulations to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on hitting the stupid-policy quadfecta with his announcement on Thursday of a crackdown on electronic bicycles, or e-bikes.

The bikes are perfectly suited for the demands of the job: They facilitate affordable, rapid transportation of lightweight goods through a metropolis with virtually no remaining streetspace, without generating exhaust or noise.

How dangerous are they? Nearly 70 pedestrians (and 13 cyclists) have been killed by cars, trucks, and buses in New York City this year. No one has been killed by a bicycle. As for e-bikes in particular? The NYPD has no data on e-bike accidents or complaints.

That’s the journalistic equivalent of a mic drop.

When the Gothamist asked the Mayor for data proving e-bikes were a threat to public safety, he told them, “We’ll get back to you.”

The Gothamist also has an interesting theory about Mayor de Blasio’s motivation.

But while most complaints come from majority-white, affluent neighborhoods, those on the receiving end of the tickets tend to be immigrants and people of color who rely on tips for a living wage. According to some workers, restaurant owners have been consistently passing the cost of the fine on to them—which can be more than they make in a given week.

“Clearly, this e-bike crackdown is about listening to the loudest complainers, not listening to the data,” Caroline Samponaro, a spokesperson for TransAlt told Gothamist. “Rather than attacking the livelihoods of hard-working, predominantly immigrant delivery cyclists, the Mayor should follow the lead of California and work with the New York State Legislature to pass common sense e-bike legislation that establishes a framework for safe, pedal-powered, low-speed models.

So, perhaps we can follow the money after all. Maybe we can follow the money to wealthy donors who are annoyed by the common folk on their e-bikes.

The New York Times—who has been strangely silent on the controversy—published an article back in July about the “surprising health benefits” of electric bikes.

Surprising health benefits?

Does this mean, in the future, only wealthy people on vacation in the Hamptons will be allowed to tool around on e-bikes?

I suppose they can ride their electric bikes to the post office when they mail the Mayor a big fat check.

Posted by levrevolution

  1. I live in NYC and the crackdown hasn’t put a dent in the rapidly rising popularity of eBikes across the city.

    The NYPD does not have the resources to enforce the ban.

    eBikes are huge here and will continue to flourish as they become cheaper and more covert.


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