Shameful Scenes From de Blasio’s Crackdown on Delivery Workers Who Use Electric Bikes

As NYPD boasts about confiscating bikes from people trying to support themselves and their families, cyclists continue to face the real mortal threat on NYC streets.

NYPD collects e-bikes on First Avenue in Manhattan. Photo: @belleoflonglake/Twitter
NYPD collects e-bikes on First Avenue in Manhattan. Photo: @belleoflonglake/Twitter

As promised, Mayor de Blasio’s crackdown on electric bikes is in effect. NYPD precincts are boasting about confiscating bikes from delivery workers in the name of Vision Zero, though there is no evidence that e-bike riders pose a significant public safety threat.

Over the weekend, the 19th Precinct, on the Upper East Side, tweeted a photo of seized e-bikes:

This morning the 108th Precinct said officers were taking parked e-bikes and scooters from streets and sidewalks in Long Island City:

Midtown South bragged about “Vision Zero safety initiative” e-bike seizures, in a tweet that was subsequently deleted.

And last week, Transportation Alternatives Queens organizer and Biking Public Project co-founder Jessame Hannus posted the above photo of a 13th Precinct bike sting at 21st Street and First Avenue, where officers were collecting bikes as delivery workers rode by in the bike lane.

Announced last fall, de Blasio’s crackdown was triggered by Upper West Side resident Matthew Shefler, whose complaints about e-bike riders were amplified by WNYC. The city has produced no data to back up the mayor’s contention that training NYPD traffic enforcement resources on delivery workers — many of whom are immigrants, middle-aged or older, who need e-bikes to meet the physical demands of the job — will make streets safer.

To the contrary, available information suggests the e-bike threat is all but non-existent. In the latest installment of his essay on de Blasio’s war on delivery workers — read it here — Biking Public Project organizer Do Lee says that, according to NYPD, statistics on injuries determined to be caused by e-bike riders are lumped with other cyclist-caused crashes. Writes Lee:

In NYC, cyclist-caused injuries comprise only a tiny fraction of all traffic-related injuries — in 2016 for example, cyclists caused only about half of one percent (0.5% or 311 of 60,399) of all traffic injuries. Thus e-bike riders as a fraction of this number are simply not causing a high rate of injuries.

At a recent Community Board 7 meeting, the 20th Precinct, which covers the Upper West Side, said that out of 58 bike crashes in 2017, only one involved an e-bike rider, according to Village Voice reporter Christopher Robbins.

E-bikes are legal to own, but due to a quirk in state law are illegal to ride. Rather than ignore the law, as the city mostly did before, or work to get it changed, de Blasio has chosen to make an example of people who rely on e-bikes to support themselves and their families, hitting them with hefty fines, loss of personal property, and in some cases the possibility of deportation.

De Blasio insists he’s targeting business owners rather than delivery workers themselves, but that’s a fiction, since most workers are employed as independent contractors and use their own bikes.

Says Lee:

Jiang, a Chinese delivery worker, told us that delivery workers used to be primarily scared of being robbed. Now he says, “We get scared when we see the police — fear in the heart. Every ticket is $500. Receiving two tickets, one month’s work goes down the drain.”

While NYPD terrorizes working cyclists, people on bikes continue to face the real mortal threat on NYC streets. More city cyclists were killed by motorists in 2017 than in any year since 2007.

  • Anonymous

    New York is a horrendous police state since 9-11. If you are still there I sincerely feel bad for you.

  • cjstephens

    For all the comments about “how about we confiscate dangerous cars” in this discussion, I’ll just add that the NYPD actually does confiscate the cars of drivers who are charged with (though not yet even convicted of) DWI.

  • While that is true, cars driven by drunk drivers account for a tiny subset of dangerous cars. Therefore, the fact that that’s the only example that you can cite demonstrates how rare the seizing of cars really is, and in effect concedes that most of the dangerous driving behaviour goes unpunished by confiscation of vehicles.

    The overwhelming majority of drivers who blow red lights and who blow stop signs are not drunk; the same goes for those who violate the stopping line and who even stop within a crosswalk, and certainly also for those who park in bike lanes and who double park generally. All of these behaviours should rightfully result in cars being taken away.

    If that were happening, then the seizing of e-bikes for blowing lights and for other bad acts would be fair.

  • Arelsan

    Confiscating e-bikes is NOT going to improve this situation, not to mention the fact that those confiscations are not legal and will likely end up in yet another class-action lawsuit against the NYPD, funded entirely by tax payers.

    This ‘crackdown’ or whatever you want to call it is going to make the situation much worse. Once you start backing people into a corner and treating them as criminals, you leave them with no other recourse but to break more rules to survive.

    Why would an e-bike delivery cyclist follow the rules of the road, when that puts THEM at even greater risk of being caught? They already know that just riding their bike makes them a criminal, and now NYPD is creating their own laws and even treating their existence as a criminal offense. Now these e-bikers are left with few options:

    1) They will have to eat the loss ($500) to get their bike back, which may take months.
    2) They will have to buy CHEAPER, far more dangerous batteries for their bikes that wouldn’t be *as* costly to replace if “confiscated”, but are far more likely to fail on them and potentially cause more harm to those around them.
    3) They will have to move back to manual bikes, and bike far more aggressively / cut through sidewalks and one-ways more often to make up for the loss of pay they’ll get from not being able to ride as long or cover as much distance.

    We see this time and time again where NYPD thinks they can set their own rules and come down heavy handed, and ultimately it backfires and negatively affects everybody.

  • qrt145

    Let’s not forget 4) some will take the mayor’s advice and get a car, which can actually lead to someone getting killed. At least it will certainly lead to lots of double parking and congestion, not to mention the pollution from the car itself which most likely will be a clunker.