NYPD Seized 247 E-Bikes, Saving Zero Lives

Can you remember the last time police took deadly illegal trucks off the streets?

NYPD's crackdown on electric-assist bikes won't make NYC streets safer. Photo: NYPD
NYPD's crackdown on electric-assist bikes won't make NYC streets safer. Photo: NYPD

NYPD officers confiscated 247 electric-assist bikes in a 24-hour period on Wednesday, AMNY reports. E-bikes remain illegal under state law even though federal rules have permitted them for years.

The sting appears to be part of a citywide crackdown in the name of traffic safety. “FYI: as weather gets warmer… local precincts [and NYPD’s transportation bureau] will be seizing illegal ATV’s, E-bikes & motorcycles,” NYPD transit bureau Chief Joseph Fox tweeted. Precincts across Manhattan posted photos of the dozens of bikes confiscated, usually with some reference to Vision Zero.

Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan’s feed is also awash in images of impounded electric bicycles.

While riding an e-bike on the sidewalk can be a hazard, NYPD’s approach to enforcement is out of all proportion to the public safety risk.

People riding bicycles — both conventional and electric — are responsible for a vanishing trace of pedestrian fatalities in NYC. Drivers who speed and fail to yield remain the biggest causes of death. Yet the Midtown North precinct, which only issued 37 speeding tickets in the month of February [PDF], confiscated 38 bikes on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, for each commercial delivery worker who relies on an e-bike, confiscation by the NYPD means hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, in fines and lost property.

Compare this week’s e-bike seizures and the accompanying PR blitz to NYPD’s response when drivers of oversized trucks injure or kill people on streets where they are not legally permitted to operate.

In October, after the driver of what appeared to be an oversized rig ran over and severely injured a cyclist at Jay and Tillary streets, the 84th Precinct responded with a ticket blitz against cyclists.

Through January and February of this year, Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct, where an off-route trucker killed 33-year-old cyclist James Gregg last April, had not issued a single truck route violation [PDF].

NYPD officers in Manhattan have only doled out 95 truck route violations this year so far, according to department records. That’s less than half the number of e-bikes confiscated on Wednesday alone.

If police have ever gone on a social media spree to trumpet the seizure of dangerous illegal trucks in New York City, it has escaped our attention.

The e-bike enforcement in Manhattan reflects resident complaints about cycling in the borough, which often focus on delivery cyclists. Even Mayor de Blasio has said the city will “continue to deepen” “targeted enforcement of bicyclists.”

But what the NYPD is doing this week is just for show. It’s not going to make people safer — it’s just making life harder for working cyclists. E-bikes are not going anywhere. The city should be working on a strategy to safely integrate them into the transportation system, instead of pursuing this punitive approach.

“Delivery cyclists get a raw deal in our city and this is a prime example,” City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez said in a statement to AMNY. “Instead of confiscating their means of making a living, the city should find ways to work with this often-silent workforce.”

  • Ian

    From the outside looking in I think this is just the governments way of insuring public transportation isn’t radically hampered. There are e-bikes out there that can take you 38 miles and over, and there are plenty that are relatively cheap, some have quite a bit of speed to them. You can see the affects of e-bike in top gear when one man rode his against an alfa romeo and a guy using public transportation. It’s very obvious to me that E-bikes pose a threat to that infrastructure which is possibly part of how your city gains money, and so to protect the city’s interest they just outright banned them.

  • jdb26354

    Ebikes are motorized bikes and should be licensed not banned.

  • dr2chase

    Licensing e-bikes is a weird-ass NY state thing. Small motors, they’re bikes, they don’t need licensing.

  • jdb26354

    If the motors are so small, then they can be dropped from the bikes. If the motors are large enough to make a difference to the riders, which they are, then the bikes should be licensed. E-bikers want to have their cake and eat it too.

  • dr2chase

    Why should the bikes be licensed? What public purpose does that serve? Since e-bikes have killed zero pedestrians in New York, it will save zero lives, and zero is not a large number.

    As a practical matter, motors can make a difference yet not propel bikes at dangerous speeds — if nothing else, the law in many states (in particular California) requires a speed limit on the assist.

    (Note that I am not an e-biker, but I ride a 65lb cargo bike and can understand why people might want an assist, and perhaps when I am a smaller motor myself, will want one too.)

  • jdb26354

    The license is just a hassle, similar to the hassle imposed by the e-bikes on everybody else by zipping around at 2-3x the speed of regular bikes and yet claiming the right to use bike lanes. Restaurant deliveries existed in NYC long before e-bikes did. The city created the bike lanes for bikes. People are ripping on NYC for its e-bike policy, but skipping over the fact that NYC has installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes and supported the whole bike-sharing program. The e-bikes just want to commandeer bike lanes that were not intended for them. If people want to use e-bikes, let them ride them in the street with the cars.

  • dr2chase

    So you can’t point to a single death, just “hassle”? We license cars not because of hassle, but because of the notable harm they cause in actual accidents — thousands of pedestrians killed each year in the US. Other states — and Europe too — manage to treat e-bikes like bikes. What makes NYC so special? What makes NYC’s bike lanes so special?

    People are ripping on NYC because they’re imposing a needless burden that serves no actual purpose, and we know this because other places do it differently and get good results.

  • Andrew

    They can’t be registered in New York State, even if you wanted to: https://dmv.ny.gov/registration/motorized-devices-cannot-be-registered-new-york

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