April, 2012

The officials in charge of New York City have had enough of e-bikes  and are clamping down and intensifying enforcement on a law made back in 2004 that electric bikes are illegal in the entire state of New York.  It was announced on April 12th on the city hall steps by city council member Jessica Lappin that the fine for riding an electric bike in New York has been increased from $500 to $1000. She said “My office has been deluged with complaints about the scourge  of these souped up delivery bikes, which can hit speeds of 30 mph. In a recent survey, a whopping 72% of  constituents said they’d “been hit or almost hit” by a delivery bike, and not surprisingly, about the same percentage favored increasing fines on electric bikes.”    Most of the blame on the crackdown is being put on food delivery men who often time ride ebikes at reckless speeds. Also it has been announced that many electric bikes have been confiscated by the New York City Police Department.

Jessica Lappin announces crack down on Ebikes

The Council Member said she was particularly concerned for elderly residents in her Upper East Side district, and quoted one of them as saying these electric bikes “converge on me from multiple directions.” State Senator Liz Krueger was also on hand, and echoed the same concerns, asking, “Who will think of the mothers pushing carriages who are at risk for their lives?” David Pollack, from the Committee for Taxi Safety, went even further, calling the bikes “a menace to little children” and a “menace to society”, and describing how he was nearly hit twice during a single walk outside this week.

In China where millions of electric bikes are flooding the streets, many big cities have outlawed electric bikes as well. Southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, banned electric bikes in main downtown areas reduce related traffic accidents. Statistics showed electric bikes were blamed for 64 deaths in 268 roads accidents last year in just that one city. The city has over 500,000 electric bikes and the ban is believed to greatly increase the operational costs of express delivery companies which rely heavily on electric bikes.

In the above picture you see the very expensive Ebike collection of  a New York resident and an ebike enthusiast who for good reason wishes to be anonymous. . It would be terrible if he got one of these $12k ebikes confiscated (a Stealth Bomber, and a Optibike 850). This ebiker has said his plan is to continue riding his Stealth Bomber which is silent, and if he gets pulled over tell the officer he is riding it with the power off.   However, the officer might argue that an ebike riding on the street is illegal whether the power switch is turned on or off. Another ebiker said he plans to buy an Optibke (in the right of the picture) just so if the cops see him he looks like an ordinary bicyclist taking advantage  of the Optibike’s stealthy appearance (looks like regular non powered mountain bike).

For electric bike enthusiasts this clamping down in NYC  and other big cities where the electric bike movement is more progressed (China) should raise alarm signals of what could follow in other major cities if Ebike riders do not change their riding habits. As the population of electric bike riders grows, it will become more and more of an issue.

Anyone who’s driven or walked through mid-town Manhattan knows what a navigational nightmare it can be for anybike rider most hours of the day or evening, i.e. buses, cabs, emergency vehicles, delivery trucks, vendors, and more, all competing for a piece of pavement, many making frequent stops or detours around double-parked vehicles, etc. Now add both pedal and e-powered bikes, many driven by impatient underpaid deliverymen who routinely disobey both traffic laws and common sense, e.g. riding on sidewalk, riding the wrong way down one way streets, etc. and you start to appreciate the potential for personal injury and utter mayhem. There are no easy answers here due to the severe congestion and lack of sufficient patrolmen to enforce whatever laws are on the books.

I’m neither condoning nor condemning this latest proposal because NY has yet to pass any sensible e-bike legislation to date, though there’s been a perfectly reasonable bill sitting in the state senate for several years now. I will say that one positive of this controversy is that perhaps it will get all sides talking seriously
and finally deciding what should and should not be legal on the streets of the city and NY state in the way of e-bikes. Separately, bike lanes have been tried in Manhattan–and mostly abandoned or ignored–in the recent past, mainly because they’re simply impossible to enforce in such an overcongested environment.

What is interesting in New York City Wheels, one of the largest ebike retailers in the United States with a big internet presence is based in NYC where it is technically not only illegal  to ride ebikes but also to sell them.

As a funny side not on the other side of the bridge in Harlem they are having a problem with off-road totally illegal mx motorcycles running rampant through city streets, on sidewalks etc. The police have decided to not chase these guys because when they do they cant catch them and people tend to get hurt. Because the guys are not slow and cooperative like ebike guys the Harlem riders are hard to catch.

Read the story here an be sure to watch the video for pure chaos, guys riding along side cop  cars and fleeing on sidewalks etc:

Stay tuned for further developments from the e-bike front line that is New York City.