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NYPD Seized 247 E-Bikes, Saving Zero Lives

1:34 PM EDT on March 24, 2017

NYPD’s crackdown on electric-assist bikes could end under a proposed bill. 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."

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