New York Mayor cracks down on e-bike delivery guys

biking on 9th avenue
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ cars and delivery bike on 9th

When I was in Manhattan last week, I was surprised at the number of cars clogging every road, it seemed worse than ever. I was so thankful to be on a Citibike, even if some of the bike lanes were in terrible shape. I often shared the lane with e-bikes driven by deliverymen, who often were going the wrong way in the bike lane, but it never seemed to be a big problem. But apparently is is a big problem for the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, who has announced a crack-down on e-bikes. At a press conference he complained:

We can’t have a situation where people feel unsafe crossing the street or even walking down the sidewalk. We can’t have a situation where someone is suddenly facing an electronic bicycle coming the wrong way. It’s just too dangerous.

He suggests an alternative:

For a lot of places, with a bicycle you can get there pretty quick, too. Obviously, if a company wants to — if a store wants to use a car, they could do that.

Under the last mayor, New York got a reputation for being data driven, but in this particular case, there is zero data. What apparently is happening is that people are calling radio shows. There are no records indicating that anyone has been killed or seriously injured by delivery bikes. Meanwhile, 70 pedestrians and 13 pedestrians have been killed by cars, buses and trucks and now the mayor wants delivery people rushing around in them.

Henry Grabar summarizes the stupidity of it all on Slate:

Though technically illegal to use in New York state, the battery-powered bicycles have helped the city’s more than 50,000 bicycle deliverymen keep pace with perennial demand for take-out food and surging requests for deliveries of groceries and consumer products. The bikes are perfectly suited for the demands of the job: They facilitate affordable, rapid transportation of lightweight goods through a metropolis with virtually no remaining streetspace, without generating exhaust or noise.

delivery bike in BerlinLloyd Alter/ Mail delivery in Berlin/CC BY 2.0

In much of Europe, bike and e-bike deliveries are common; you can get a lot of mail on a bike and even more on an e-bike. One would think that a Mayor who talks the talk about Vision Zero would care about getting cars off the roads. But no.

"Clearly, this e-bike crackdown is about listening to the loudest complainers, not listening to the data," Caroline Samponaro, a spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives told Gothamist. "Rather than attacking the livelihoods of hard-working, predominantly immigrant delivery cyclists, the Mayor should follow the lead of California and work with the New York State Legislature to pass common sense e-bike legislation that establishes a framework for safe, pedal-powered, low-speed models."

That is actually fundamental to this discussion. Bikes with an electric assist when you pedal but no throttle, the European style Pedelec, are actually legal in New York. But basic e-bikes with bigger batteries and motors go faster and are controlled more like a motorcycle than a bike. But there was no discussion about this; David Meyer writes in Streetsblog:

De Blasio said older delivery workers should use those bikes, which are not banned under NYC law, unlike e-bikes that can be powered by just a motor. But instead of talking to delivery workers and trying to reach a solution that fits the demands of the job, the mayor and NYPD have jumped straight to penalizing them.

This has a been a concern of mine for some time; that we need better regulations in North America on e-bikes and should accept the European Union pedelec standard- 250 watts, 20km/hr max speed. (Some tell me that heavier Americans in hillier cities need more power) and no throttle. Otherwise, it's a motorcycle. That would slow everybody down. Because delivery people aren't the only ones going too fast and scaring cyclists and pedestrians alike; it happens to me all the time in the bike lanes of Toronto.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms notes in comments on Streetsblog that there is a problem, but that there are solutions at hand that apply to everyone:

Having a kid made me see all of this in a very different light. I have been pushing my son on a sidewalk in his stroller (or walking) when an ebike has buzzed by or accelerated too quickly. It's damn dangerous, it really can be. But then again so are bicyclists, mopeds and - occasionally - you'll find even a motorcycle doing the same on sidewalks. The solution is not banning. It is not rigorous fines or unfairly penalizing restaurants. It is just enforcement of existing sidewalk rules.

The same can be said about delivery people going the wrong way in the bike lanes, although blocks are really long in New York and I can see why they do it. But there are reasonable solutions that are better than just going after everybody on an e-bike.

New York Mayor cracks down on e-bike delivery guys
He says "Let them drive cars." That makes so much sense in New York City.

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