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Opinion

Crackdown on powered bikes is selective

E-bikes stand near a noodle shop on Ninth

E-bikes stand near a noodle shop on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference on Oct. 19, 2017 vowed to crack down on e-bikes. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

On Tuesday’s cold, wet night, 28-year-old Dwayne Jones turned his bike up Second Avenue to make one of his final food deliveries. Rainy nights are usually busy for delivery workers on bikes. Jones, an e-bike driver who lives in East Harlem, just so happened to ride the wrong way in the bike lane right next to an NYPD cruiser.

Jones said two cops stepped out, stopped him and ran his information in their car for 10 to 15 minutes while he waited in the rain, his delivery now late.

“They’re looking for warrants,” Jones told another delivery worker who stopped to ask what was going on.

Cops set up at 120th and Second Avenue for what amounts to a low-level operation to snag mostly bike messengers and delivery workers — almost all black or immigrant Latinos.

Earlier that day, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Transportation said it would implement a new rule to clarify that pedal-assist bikes are legal. The move came after criticism by advocates against the NYPD’s crackdowns on e-bikes, which are commonly used by food-delivery workers.

The issue is complicated. E-bikes aren’t illegal under federal law, but are illegal under state law. Citing safety issues, NYC banned e-bikes in 2004 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg along with other motorized vehicles that couldn’t be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles — a ban continued by de Blasio. Adding to the confusion is the difference between pedal-assist bikes, which kick in power as you pedal, and throttle-powered e-bikes, some of which can be toggled between pedal-assist and straight e-bike.

De Blasio’s new framework would allow pedal-assist bikes that top at 20 mph, but riders of e-bikes with a throttle would be ticketed.

While some bike advocates have applauded City Hall, it’s unlikely the de Blasio administration carved out a legal space for pedal-assist bikes only because of sympathy for delivery workers. NYC is considering a dock-less bike-share program for pedal-assist bikes. Several firms are vying for it.

The city and NYPD are committed to enforcing rules covering bikes. Jones. who is black, says enforcement is selective in this neighborhood. “They target us,” he said. “I guarantee that if I was a white person with a helmet on, with a Citi Bike, they wouldn’t mess with me.”

He then crumpled his summons for going the wrong way and rode off to make his delivery.

Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.

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