L train shutdown: Electric bikes pitched as option for stranded commuters

Citi Bike will expand its fleet by 1,000 pedal-assisted bicycles to aid commuters along the L train route.
Citi Bike will expand its fleet by 1,000 pedal-assisted bicycles to aid commuters along the L train route. Photo Credit: The Breslin

It’s e-bikes for the L train.

In anticipation of the L train shutdown, the de Blasio administration announced Monday that 1,000 new pedal-assisted Citi Bikes will be added to the fleet by April, when the L will stop running to and through Manhattan.

“(Citi Bike has) become part of our life. It is the way that we want to get around our city to be able to do things. The pedal-assist bike just extends that. It gives you a little boost. It makes you feel really good,” said Jay Walder, the CEO of Motivate. “I think now there are only two types of people in the world. There are people who have never tried pedal-assist bikes and there are people who won’t shut up about them.”

The pedal-powered motors are expected to help a small portion of the displaced subway commuters switch to bike trips. City officials hope the e-bikes will help riders travel longer distances and more easily traverse the Williamsburg Bridge once work on the L train’s Canarsie tunnel begins.

Citi Bike plans to offer a “special e-bike shuttle” over the span during the L train shutdown. Bikers who pick up e-bikes on one end of the Williamsburg Bridge will need to return them to stations at the other end of it, Motivate said. Adding two charging stations at both ends of the span will ensure there are a sufficient number of fully charged bikes exclusively available to riders looking to get to the other side of the river, the company said.

“This is really going to be the best way” to get across the East River, Walder said.

Walder and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams rode the new bikes from City Hall over the Brooklyn Bridge to celebrate their launch and kick off the mayor’s City Hall in Your Borough week in Brooklyn. The two joined Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon in heralding e-bikes as a way to promote longer cycling trips and include the elderly and commuters who may not be in shape for traditional bikes.

“Our seniors believe that biking is something that has left them behind,” said Adams. “I want them to know that this is the new form of biking not only in Brooklyn, but throughout the entire city.”

Citi Bike, which currently oversees a fleet of 12,000 bikes, began rolling out a slate of 200 e-bikes Monday. They can be distinguished from other Citi Bikes by a thunderbolt next to the Citi Bike logo on the frame and the battery pack resting on the tube under the handlebars. The bikes also feature black frames instead of the typical blue, though blue Citi Bike stickers cover much of the bikes’ bodies.

Citi Bike is just the latest bike share company to unveil pedal-assist bikes in the city. Both Uber-owned JUMP and Lime Bike have several hundred bikes in operation in the Fordham area of the Bronx, the North Shore of Staten Island and in Rockaway, Queens. The city’s embrace of pedal-assist e-bikes has upset some worker and immigrant advocates.

While the city has paved the way for larger companies to offer pedal-assist e-bikes through their bike share services, the de Blasio administration is still criminalizing a different type of motorized bicycle that many of the city’s delivery workers use to nimbly get around the city during their long shifts.

Helen Ho, of the Biking Public Project, said the city has canceled three meetings with the organization over the past month as the advocacy group seeks more information on e-bike regulations and on potentially collaborating to educate and assist delivery workers riding illegal bikes.

“Our coalition is extremely flexible and willing to work with whoever gets the job done . . . to meet with the city, relevant agencies,” Ho said. “The crackdown on food delivery workers is totally baseless; there’s no data to support that the e-bikes delivery workers ride are hurtful at all. If New York City truly wanted to be a sanctuary city, we would think it would try and protect immigrant workers above all else.”

Adams said he didn’t “believe that [the throttle bikes]should be illegal,” but added that the city should move to convert delivery workers to the pedal-assist version.

“If our delivery men and women would start using this type of technology, you’ll see it is extremely easy. You don’t need your motorized bike,” said Adams. “There should be conversations on how do we ensure the saturation of this form of technology on our delivery bikes.”

The e-bike rollout was also greeted by criticism from transportation advocates and experts, who believe the city lacks a clear, cohesive vision for bicycle policy and safety. Just over a week ago, an Australian tourist, who had to swerve out of a blocked bike lane, was struck and killed by a truck driver near Central Park.

The de Blasio administration could benefit from adding a cycling czar — as London and other cities have done — to deal with the growing number of cyclists, according to Jon Orcutt, a spokesman at TransitCenter who worked as the city Department of Transportation’s policy director during the launch of Citi Bike.

“The city builds pretty good bike (lanes), but they don’t maintain them well; they don’t enforce them well against deliveries, construction sites, city government workers parking in them constantly,” Orcutt said. “The Police Department is probably a net negative for the bike lanes in the city because they’re more likely to park in them (than) to give any tickets for other people parking in them.”