Four Transportation and Street Safety Bills That Albany Failed to Pass

Every year, several worthy street safety and transportation bills make it through either the State Senate or the Assembly but not the other house. This year, bills on four key issues made it through the Senate before dying in the Assembly.

This session the State Senate finally passed a bill to legalize electric-assist bikes, but the Assembly didn’t, after years of voting for similar bills. Photo: Georgia Kral/Thirteen

A bill to legalize electric-assist bicycles came very close to passing both chambers. Currently the federal government permits the sale of these bikes, but the state prohibits them on public roads. For years, a bill to legalize them has passed the Assembly while action stalled in the Senate. This year, the Senate passed the bill first, giving advocates hope it would clear both chambers.

Over the past few months, the New York Bicycling Coalition put pressure on Speaker Carl Heastie, including an e-bike lobby day on May 12. The bill appeared on the Assembly’s calendar of bills under consideration in the last week of the session, but never received a vote. “We’re pretty disappointed by that,” said Josh Wilson, legislative advocate at NYBC. “We really thought we had a chance.”

Advocates focused on securing support from Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle. “A lot of our members, particularly those in his district, were making phone calls in support of the bill,” Wilson said. “They were being told by staff in his office that it was going to be voted on, and it just never was.”

While the bill would have legalized e-bikes in New York and brought the state in line with federal law, it also included a prohibition on operators or passengers under the age of 16, which Wilson said would be an issue for families looking to use e-assist cargo bikes. Anyone using an e-bike would also have been required to wear a helmet. Wilson hopes for legislation next session to legalize electric-assist bicycles without subjecting them to additional rules.

Also clearing the Senate but not the Assembly: a pair of bills to toughen penalties for drivers who harm people.

Legislation from Senator Martin Golden would have closed a loophole that gives drunk drivers an incentive to flee the scene of a crash, but failed to clear the Assembly after overwhelmingly passing the Senate.

bill from Sen. Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Marge Markey would have strengthened penalties for unlicensed drivers who injure or kill people on the road. Instead of getting a low-level misdemeanor for unlicensed operation, the drivers would instead face felony charges for vehicular assault or vehicular homicide. The Senate passed the bill, 61-1, but the Assembly did not take action.

Finally, a bill to add a bicycle and pedestrian safety component to driver’s education in New York, sponsored by Golden, passed the Senate. It never got out of committee in the Assembly, where it was sponsored by Walter T. Mosley.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Wow. Some really strange bedfellows here on all good forms of legislation. Sen. Golden was the poster child for keeping high speed limits yet has good legislation ideas here (and helped continue the SBS bus cam rules). Mosley was vocally supporting the TWU exemption to water down the right of Way laws, yet his idea for state wide bike education at the DMV level is perfect. Would be great to see some NYT style infographic on state electeds and their good v bad actions as far as safer streets. If Streetsblog doesn’t make one, perhaps StreetsPAC should.

  • How disfunctional our legislators can be is illustrated by the vote on one bill that was passed in the State Senate. Senator’s Diane Savino, Marc Panepinto, and Velmanette Montgomery may have voted to weaken NYC’s Right Of Way Law because of the mistaken belief that only MTA bus drivers were arrested and charged under that law.

    I base that on their public statements about their votes – ” It’s wrong to treat bus drivers differently” (Panepinto), “…to expect them (bus drivers) to be held to a higher standard than the general public.” (Savino). And the most glaring misconception came from Velmanette, who said “It’s wrong to arrest bus drivers and no one else”.

    One wonders what the TWU100 lobbyists told our elected leadership to get them to vote for that bill. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect somebody lied to them. v so, it’s a good thing our Assembly leadership isn’t as gullible as that of the Senate’s.

  • Big disappointment. New York is sadly lagging behind ALL other states and legislators don’t seem to care. If I were a voter in NY, I’d look for more progressive thinkers.

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    Is there anything we can do to get these bills pushed forward for another review by the assembly or is too late? Im surprised that they would vote not to exempt MTA drivers yet not pass any of these bills.

  • Kevin Love

    This sort of performance really makes me want a parliamentary democracy for NYS.

  • neroden

    With proportional representation, too.

    At the very least we need a unicameral legislature like Nebraska has. There is no reason to have two houses in the state legislature.

  • Kevin Love

    Unicameral like in Nebraska is good. But I really want the full Westminster-style package like in Ontario. Complete with the ability to pass a non-confidence motion to replace the government or call another election. And an election happens automatically if they can’t pass a budget.

    Amazing how the politicians suddenly learn how to compromise when the alternative is to face losing their jobs in an election.

  • chekpeds

    I am relieved that the electric assist bill did not pass at this time.

    There are too many open questions and risks that this move will hurt the expansion of cycling, rather than help.

    How do you distinguish between electric bikes and electric assisted bikes (some models do both) for the NYPD to know which cyclists are supposed to wear a helmet ? Who will decide which electric powered cycle can use the bike lane ? Will bikes with higher electrical cc start using them?

    Then there is the issue of safety: should we let a motorized engine be driven without driver’s training and license by a 16 years old? This category of motor cycle is the most dangerous in all countries ( more deaths than pedestrians) because it is driven by young inexperienced drivers. Will more injuries and fatalities at the hand of “cyclists” will help the cause?

    Currently in Manhattan electric bicycles are mostly used by delivery personnel, who are disproportionally inclined to ignore the rules, barrel down the bike lane , going the wrong way , and turn into the pedestrian crossing at full speed. With electric bikes, these behaviors will certainly appear more dangerous due to the higher speed and lesser control.

    The most fundamental risk is that once you add a motor – electric or otherwise, the bicyclists become part of the motorized culture.

    The highest priority should be to complete the network of protected bike lanes so that everyone can safely use current bicycles as a mode of transportation.

  • Joe R.

    I agree about the helmet part. That would have caused confusion among the police, leading to probably all cyclists being ticketed for riding without a helmet. Hopefully a better bill without the helmet requirement will appear next year.

    As for the rest, e-bikes are subject to the same rules and privileges as regular bikes. They can use bike lanes, for example. The point of treating e-bikes like regular bikes is to encourage more people to use bikes as transportation. E-bikes, at least the legal ones, aren’t any faster than a bike pedaled by a strong cyclist. In fact, I regularly keep up with them. If they cause issues, it’s because they’re operated recklessly, not because of anything inherently dangerous about them. The advantage e-bikes offer is they let weaker cyclists conquer hills and longer distances. Those are often obstacles to increasing bike mode share.

    As for e-bikes becoming part of the motorized culture, ask yourself this question. Would you rather deal with ~200 pound e-bikes going at most 20 to 25 mph, or exhaust spewing 3-ton SUVs going 50+ mph? If a person needs motorized transportation, e-bikes are a perfect fit for dense urban areas.

  • chekpeds

    good points . but you are not addressing the issue of bikes that work both ways . assisted and not . How does one make the difference. Should those bikes be banned in the bike lanes ?

    I have a visceral reaction to motorized bikes – being afraid of them – which I do not have with bicyclists. As a pedestrian they give me the sense that the cyclist is not in control and does not want / know how to stop.
    On the west side many delivery people use them illegally, full speed wrong way on the bike lane .

    As for the choice you are giving me, I want neither of them .

  • Joe R.

    The non-pedal assist bikes technically aren’t e-bikes and would remain either banned, or required to be treated like mopeds.

    There may be some truth to the part you say about not being in control. A novice cyclist just starting to ride generally lacks the strength to go 20 mph, other than downhill. By the time they get strong enough to go fast, they’ve acquired the bike handling skills needed to deal with it. That same novice on an e-bike might lack those skills. I think at a minimum maybe the shops selling these bikes should give some kind of training course, perhaps in an empty parking lot, just to familiarize users with the bike’s capabilities.

    As for the delivery people, they do the same things on pedal bikes. This is an enforcement issue, not an e-bike issue.

    Regarding the choice, seriously, if someone needs a motorized vehicle, isn’t a e-bike much better for all concerned than a car or SUV? Ideally it might be nice if the streets had no motorized vehicles of any type, but that’s unrealistic. Picture any street in NYC with all the cars replaced by e-bikes. Now think of how much more space the street will have. Also think how much calmer it will be. You’ll have a whoosh of air, a gentle whirr from the motor, as the bikes go by at 20 mph, versus engines revving, tire noise, honking, and much higher speeds. And then think of how much less room all those e-bikes take parked. In the final analysis, e-bikes stand a better chance of getting more people out of their cars than regular bikes. For that reason alone people should support them.

  • chekpeds

    the noise argument is a good one … compared to normal moped that would also compare favorably to cars or SUVs..

    I still think it is more important to focus on getting the bike lanes and I would rather not introduce a new level of complexity or give people another opportunity to reject new bike lanes .. It’s just me ..

  • Joe R.

    In case you haven’t noticed, the build out of bike infrastructure in this city has more or less stalled. The bike lanes on Queens Boulevard are about the most exciting thing we’re doing but even those could be done a lot better (i.e. I would add overpasses to get them over busy intersections without the need to stop).

    I like the concept of e-bikes but you may have a point. If people associate legal e-bikes mainly with the delivery guys it could put a damper on more bike lanes. On the flip side, once legalized you’ll have people besides the delivery guys riding e-bikes. That might put them in a more positive light. Hard to tell which way it would go.

  • Spirit of 76

    We in NYS have long since thrown up our hands in resignation. The realists say, “Fuhgettaboutit. It’s Albany.” We can vote in the most progressive thinkers in the world in the cities, but the backwards voters in the burbs and rural districts will always offset us. Outside of NYC, everybody loves their cars and even in the city, a lot of people worship their cars. And politicians are the same all over. You don’t want to know how many powerful, longtime NYS “leaders” have been arrested, charged and/or convicted of corruption in the last few years, thanks only to the efforts of Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara.

  • Spirit of 76

    Do you realize that the distinction between throttle-operated ebikes and pedelecs isn’t part of this bill? It is, however, already part of NYC local law 2013/040, which prohibits the use of the former. So your long complaint about this law is misplaced since it’s a distinction NYPD already has to wrestle with.

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