City Council revs up cycling boom with legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters

E-bikes stand near a noodle shop on Ninth  Avenue  in Manhattan, on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
File photo

The New York City Council adopted its own legislation Thursday approving the use of e-bikes and e-scooters, six months after the state approved its own bill requiring helmets and speed limits.

The city’s legislation lifts the prohibition on e-bikes with top speeds under 25 miles per hour and e-scooters with top speeds under 20. It also lowers fines for unlawful operation of either of these from $500 to $250. 

Advocates have viewed the fines as particularly burdensome for low-income immigrants in the city working as delivery workers. With many of them over the age of 40, a primary complaint from transit groups and delivery workers has been impounding fees of over $1,000, among other effects of what they view as over-policing.

“By legalizing e-scooters and e-bikes, while mandating adherence to state and local safety laws, we are meeting the needs of people in transit deserts, people not served by bike-share programs, people who need e-bikes and scooters for work and reducing the number of cars on our streets,” Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who sponsored the bills, said.

Also passed was legislation to launch a year-long pilot for shared e-scooters in transit-starved neighborhoods which have yet to be served by bike share programs such as CitiBike or Revel. The city Department of Transportation, however, will be required to sign off on this program.

“The e-scooter pilot will allow us to develop the best practices for scooter-share programs in underserved communities with options for people with disabilities,” Cabrera added. “Over the past year and a half, we’ve heard the concerns of diverse constituencies, including the delivery workers who have kept people fed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Not all were keen on e-bikes and scooter share programs, however.

Intro. 1250-a passed 39-8 in the Council, followed by Intro. 1264-a with 42-5, and Intro. 1266-A with 38-9.

Queens Councilman Rory Lancman said he had safety concerns regarding the riders of e-bikes and scooters saying that the speeds at which they travel could be dangerous on New York City’s car-choked streets.

“I’m going to vote no on 1250 and 1266 relating to the e-scooters, I just think there are important safety issues for the riders and pedestrians that have to be resolved. We’re reimagining how our street-scape is going to look and I think we need to do that deliberately,” Lancman said. “I wish that we were talking about a modest pilot with the public’s ability to use the scooters, but going from zero to 60 – if you don’t mind the transit metaphor – is a little too much for me.”

Manhattan Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal was in favor of these bills but pushed for better enforcement of how they are operated safely, namely people going to the wrong direction down one-way roads and riding through parks. One tool for this would be the NYPD’s facial recognition technology, she said.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn/Queens Councilman Antonio Reynoso approved the bills while asserting that there should be a discussion on how to dispose of e-bikes and scooters given their limited lifespan — and the effect that could have on the environment.

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