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Bike News Roundup: NYC’s misguided crackdown on workers using e-bikes

It’s time for the Bike News Roundup! Here’s a look at some stuff going around the ol’ web lately. This is an open thread.

First up, New York City continues its misguided crackdown on delivery workers using e-bikes. A short documentary by Jing Wang shows how Mayor Bill de Blasio’s policy hurts immigrant workers in the city:

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17 responses to “Bike News Roundup: NYC’s misguided crackdown on workers using e-bikes”

  1. Joseph Singer

    Why are e-bikes illegal in New York?

    1. Ballard Biker

      Because allowing 20-30 mph motorcycles to use our bicycle infrastructure is complete insanity and I’m appalled that Tom is willing to forgo our safety to allow just that.

      Also, you need to have a driver’s license to ride a moped around New York City (and any other city in this country) and you also need to register that same moped, so why should a 20 mph cargo bike or a 30 mph fat tire bike be exempt from all of that, just because it has pedals attached to it?

      I am completely on board with 20+ mph “bikes” being allowed on our streets, but should be regulated exactly like a moped. They should not be able to use any bike infrastructure that a moped would be banned from.

      1. tudza

        I commuted to work for 5 years on a 15 mph electric bike.

        I have no idea what you’re talking about here. I was riding a bike. I was riding like a regular bicycle rider and had the same safety concerns as a bicycle rider.

        Last I heard, Washington has made it clear what I was riding was a bicycle. I count that as a good thing.

        From articles in the distant past about this NYC business I got the impression that originally, the electric bikes being used for deliveries were what I would call electric mopeds. They looked like motor scooters. The biggest problem so far as I could tell is many riders decided they didn’t need to obey traffic laws like driving the wrong way on one-way streets.

        How NYC got from “these people are driving illegally” to “the vehicles they drive ought to be outlawed” has never been made clear to me.

      2. tudza

        I remember riding my electric bike on a bike trail during a 100 mile bike ride event. Know what it sounds like?

        “On your left. On your left. On your left.”

        Why you suspect I’m causing you problems or that my vehicle is over powered is beyond me. I’m on the right and every rider is passing me with ease.

      3. Ballard Biker

        My beef is not with 15 mph motorized bicycles.

        While I used to be completely opposed to any motorized bicycles, Lime’s e-assists showed me that a max 15 mph bike can work somewhat well, as 15 mpg is the maximum speed a seasoned commuter is probably going to achieve on a flat trail. Although with the nicer weather, I’m seeing a lot of e-newbies that think that because they can achieve 15 mph, they should go 15 mph everywhere, usually to dangerous effect.

        What I am not OK with are the 20+ mph massive cargo bikes and the 30+ mph fat tire bikes. These have no place on our bicycle infrastructure due to (1) dangerous speeds, (2) vastly increased weight and (3) the uses tend to have no knowledge of the various laws, rules and etiquette of biking (or don’t care, since they are automatically breaking the law due to riding illegal bikes in the first place).

        I can’t tell you how many close calls I’ve had from 30 mph bikes passing me on a tight curve with no warning or failing to yield because they think they have some god-given right-of-way over everyone or you name it.

        Basically, Seattle has turned a blind eye to motorized bicycles to see how it plays out. E-bike users have not behaved in a way that would encourage Seattle to remove the bans on motorized bikes. So why should we accommodate them?

      4. (Another) Tom

        How do you feel about cars that can go 80 mph? There aren’t even any streets that have a speed limit that high in Seattle. Why are these dangerous vehicles allowed to operate on our streets?

        “I can’t tell you how many close calls…”

        Like all BS ‘e-bikes are dangerous’ anecdotes yours contains the ubiquitous “almost” qualifier. Being startled =/= being in danger. I’m not excusing bad behavior – people should follow signed speed limits and operate in a safe manner. Of course some people don’t and it doesn’t matter if their bike is e- or not. More importantly, many of these e-cyclists would otherwise be motorists that are significantly more dangerous, even when following the law to a T. You say e-bikes are dangerous but the stats don’t back up your assertion. How many people have e-cyclists killed in Seattle over the past year? Probably pales in comparison to those death missile scooters, eh? Whatever, it’s truck month!!1

      5. Ballard Biker

        How do you feel about cars that can go 80 mph?

        First, I don’t have to worry about cars going 80 mph on the trails I frequent. There was an Uber driver that somehow took a wrong turn from the Westlake parking lot and ended up on the Westlake Cycle Track, although I felt more bad for the guy than anger because you could see he knew he fucked up royally and was trying his hardest to get out of that situation.

        Second, your anecdote about cars and their top speed is exactly related to a major complaint about motorized bicycles. Those that can over 15 mph are not limiting their speeds to 15 mph on the 5 Seattle Parks pilot trails, they are going their max speeds of 20-30 mph whenever they possibly can.


        You say e-bikes are dangerous but the stats don’t back up your assertion. How many people have e-cyclists killed in Seattle over the past year?

        So dangerous behavior is excusable as long as people aren’t getting hurt or killed on a regular basis? It’s OK that people feel unsafe with a 30 mph motorized bicycle on a multi-use trail as long as they don’t run anyone over?

        Hey, as long as some selfish, lazy perosn can get to work slightly quicker without putting in too much effort, who cares about safety!

      6. RossB

        Coincidentally, I just got back from Manhattan. I know exactly what the mayor (and Ballard Biker) are talking about. The problem is not low speed electric bikes. New York City has a very good docked system, and many of them are pedal assist (where the power cuts off at 18 MPH). The problem is bikes that go much faster. They are essentially electric motorcycles. Yet people treat them like bikes. They ride in the bike lanes, or in plazas. They are heavier, so that if you run into someone, you cause a lot more damage.

  2. Joseph Singer

    Why is commenting such a PITA on this blog? You have to fill out the same damned information on each post.


    1. Tom Fucoloro

      It’s because I’m no web designer. It’s a miracle this site works at all, to be honest.

      To avoid entering info every time, you can create an account. On desktop, you can see the register option at the top of the sidebar. On mobile, use the drop-down menu and hit login. From there you will see a register option.

  3. Joe Taylor

    This is a safety issue. Wrapping it as an immigration issue is disingenuous, putting it mildly. I live in NYC – these “bikes” are dangerous and everywhere. They often go the wrong way on one ways. You see them riding on sidewalks. On the west side bike path.

    These “bikes” go upwards of 30 mph – in the cityscape, the eye acclimates to its environment. You make instant decisions constantly – as a pedestrian, you glance and see a bike coming and judge how much time you have to cross the street. Turns out the six seconds you thought you had was two.

    The issue shouldn’t be whether we pretend motorcycles are bicycles and call it a humanitarian issue involving immigrant food delivery people. The issue is how these people are paid. Pay them a livable hourly wage rather than reward them for arriving incredibly fast. This is also a consumer-driven problem. Seamless and the like make food ordering/delivery super easy and drive the expectation of near instant delivery.

    1. (Another) Tom

      “This is a safety issue.”

      Your assertions are not supported by facts.

      1. Joe Taylor

        Bullshit. Are you referring to the “stats” presented to Di Blasio? That’s a third grade analysis, at best. The comp shouldn’t be to other motorized vehicles, it should be to bikes (since – here – they want to be treated as such: Unlicensed. Uninsured. Unregistered. And with access to off-road bike infrastructure.)

        When you see cars regularly driving on the sidewalk, I’ll rethink it. Also, there are what 50x as many cars/trucks than the super rig e-bikes. Kinda makes sense that a *lot* more accidents are caused by cars/trucks.

  4. Is it the weight of the bike or the speed or a combination of both they object to? I can go 25 mph on my lightweight e-bike going down hill with the motor turned off but generally do no more than 15 mph with the motor on on the flat. People on touring nonelectric bikes are usuallly going much faster.

    I do have concerns about sharing trails and other bike infrastructure with the heavier 50+ lb. throttle bikes that can and do go at higher speeds, say 25 mph or more. Is it really a bike if you don’t have to pedal to go that fast and it’s so heavy it could do significant damage to other trail/ users in a collision? A motorized wheelchair is heavy but it usually isn’t capable of operating at 25 mph.

    1. RossB

      It is a combination. It is generally very difficult to go really fast in Manhattan on a regular bike. Obviously people did it (back in the day, before fax machines and the internet). But those delivery bikers were clearly sprinting. A quick glance and you knew that guy (or gal) was accelerating quickly. But an electric bike can accelerate even faster, all the while with their butt in the seat, looking like they are out for a quiet ride. Top speed going up a hill is 30 MPH, making things even more confusing. Pedestrians understand that if a bike is headed downhill it could be going fast; they aren’t used to bikes going that fast uphill. They are also a lot less maneuverable. A delivery biker may be going way to fast, but can stop on a dime, or make a sudden turn. You can’t do that with these bikes. They are too heavy. This added weight means that if a rider does collide, the damage to the pedestrian is even bigger.

      They really should be treated like motorcycles, not bikes.

  5. asdf2

    From a practical standpoint, to ban e-bikes from sidewalks and bike trails would make e-bikes nearly useless as a viable means of transportation.

    Under such a scheme, it would be impossible to cross the ship canal, except at Eastlake. And, it would be impossible to cross Lake Washington altogether on either the 520 or the I-90 bridges. Even going around the lake wouldn’t work if you’re not allowed on the Burke-Gilman and you’re too slow to ride with the cars on SR-522.

    I own an e-bike and do ride it on the sidewalk when necessary, but I go slow and always yield to pedestrians. On the downhills, the motor creates resistance, so my top speed is actually slower than a conventional pedal bike. On trails like the Burke-Gilman, the ones I usually see exhibiting bad behavior are not the ones on e-bikes. They’re the ones on ultra-right $3,000 road bikes covered head to toe in spandex, believing that their commute to work is some version of a time trial. Those are the ones that end up tailgating, making unsafe passes of joggers and slower cyclists, and zooming down hills at 30+ mph.

    At the same time, I think e-bikes are very important in getting more people to bike. Time and time again, I run into people with a commute in the 6-8 mile range and say they’d like to bike, but don’t have the 30-45 minutes each day to do it (plus the overhead of changing clothes), so the end up driving 9 times out of 10, and riding their bike the once or twice a month they have extra time. With an e-bike, the whole trip might take 20-25 minutes, door to door. While less exercise than a pedal bike, riding an e-bike every day is still more exercise over the course of a month than driving a car 90% of the time, and riding the pedal bike the other 10% of the time.

    Sometimes, I feel like this purist attitude, where if your legs aren’t doing 100% of the work you might as well not even bother is counter-productive, and its practical effect is just to encourage more driving and more cars.

    1. RossB

      It is mostly about the type of E-Bike. I don’t think a “bike” capable of going 60 MPH up a hill should be allowed on a bike path. That is essentially an electric motorcycle. There is a point in which a bike no longer is a bike. 20 MPH seems about right. Citi Bike (New York’s bikeshare) has electric bikes that max out at 18 MPH.

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