Op-Ed | Safely integrating e-bikes into our streets

A delivery cyclist on an e-bike in a New York City park.
A delivery worker on an e-bike in Prospect Park in March 2020, after deliveristas were declared essential workers.
File photo by Ben Verde

As the city’s Transportation Commissioner, each day I wake up focused on how to make our streets safer. Traffic violence is preventable, and one life lost on our roads is too many.

The encouraging news is that we have made historic progress in New York City and are on track to see traffic fatalities decline for the second straight year under Mayor Eric Adams. In fact, we are on pace to have the seventh safest year in 114 years of recorded data, and pedestrian fatalities may reach a new all-time low. What we are seeing in our city is no accident – it is a product of education, enforcement, and safer street designs. These interventions work and they are why we are defying a deeply concerning trend in rising traffic fatalities across the country.

While we have made enormous gains preventing tragedies on our streets, I am alarmed by this year’s uptick in cyclist deaths. We have more protected bike lanes than ever before, are on target to complete more street safety projects than in any other year, and we’ve seen incredible reductions in speeding thanks to 24/7 speed cameras. So, how do we make sense of what is happening?

Our team at the New York City Department of Transportation took a deep dive into the data and there is one troubling trend that stands out above all others: the sharp increase in fatalities involving e-bikes.

True e-bikes, unlike the illegal dirt bikes and unregistered mopeds that have no place on our streets, make cycling more accessible and our city more sustainable. This is a good thing. Now we must make sure e-bikes are safely integrated into the evolving landscape on our streets.  

Of the 27 tragic bike fatalities that have occurred this year, 19 involved an e-bike, more than double the nine e-bike fatalities we saw last year. Six of the 27 bike fatalities this year were also incidents where the cyclist crashed without being struck by another vehicle – and all six were riding an e-bike. Last year there was only one such incident. This spike in e-bike deaths is particularly disturbing because traditional bike fatalities have slightly declined.

While we know that preventing these fatalities starts with safer street designs, we must use all available tools in our toolbox. This means helping e-bike riders build skills and better understand how to safely operate their bikes; educating motorists about sharing the road; and working with partners in law enforcement to crack down on dangerous driving and to keep cars and trucks out of bike lanes.

We have a shared responsibility to use our roads with thoughtfulness for our fellow New Yorkers – especially as we adapt to new modes of transportation on our streets. Working together, we will meet the moment and address this challenge. We will advance the education, enforcement, and safer street designs we need, because lives depend on it.

Ydanis Rodriguez is the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.