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Helen Rosenthal Isn’t Leveling With Her Constituents About E-Bikes

3:05 PM EST on January 26, 2018

That’s NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan at the far left in this picture with his boss, Mayor de Blasio back in 2017, when Chan and Hizzoner were boasting of their e-bike crackdown. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal isn't telling her constituents the whole story about electric bikes, choosing instead to feed into the baseless fear-mongering that precipitated Mayor de Blasio's e-bike crackdown.

Rosenthal was an early crackdown supporter. De Blasio credits Rosenthal constituent Matthew Shefler with inspiring the initiative, and when he announced the crackdown last October, de Blasio held his press conference in her Upper West Side district, with Rosenthal and Shefler standing next to the mayor's podium.

De Blasio's claim that e-bikes are a serious threat to public safety is not backed by data. Biking Public Project organizer Do Lee says that, according to NYPD, crashes determined to be caused by e-bike operators are aggregated with other cyclist-caused crashes. In 2016, according to Lee, cyclists were found to be responsible for .5 percent of total traffic injuries citywide. Crashes caused by e-bike riders would be a subset of those. In statistical terms, the e-bike threat is essentially zero.

Data provided by the 20th Precinct, which overlaps Rosenthal's district, undercuts the argument that e-bike collisions are a major problem on the Upper West Side. An NYPD official recently told Community Board 7 members that there was just one e-bike crash in the 20th Precinct in 2017, when a rider was injured after hitting a pothole. No one else was hurt in the crash.

At the same CB 7 meeting, an official with the 24th Precinct, directly north of the 20th, didn’t cite data, but said, “we’re not seeing a lot of collisions with e-bikes.”

Yet in Rosenthal's year-end constituent newsletter, she gives the impression that e-bike riders are hitting people with some frequency.

Here's the text of the "Pedestrian / E-bike Safety" section of the newsletter in its entirety:

E-bikes are illegal to operate on New York City streets, and we’ve seen a number of incidents involving e-bikes and pedestrians on the Upper West Side. This is a complex issue -- involving immigrant rights, labor protections, and tipping culture, in addition to bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD announced in October that the City will take heightened enforcement action against e-bikes, with a special focus on businesses who use them. Beginning this year, businesses that utilize e-bikes or allow employees to operate them will receive a civil summons and a $100 fine for a first offense and a $200 fine for each subsequent offense. In December, my office held a forum on delivery cyclist safety with the Department of Transportation and the NYPD.

In addition to exaggerating the danger posed by e-bikes, Rosenthal misrepresents the way NYPD is conducting enforcement. Officials with the 20th and 24th precincts are only talking about enforcement in terms of the bikes confiscated from workers and the attendant $500 fines on individuals. They're not talking about fining businesses.

Even if police were citing businesses that use e-bikes, those costs tend to be passed on to workers, too.

It's true that the dynamics of delivery work are incredibly complex. It's a grueling, usually thankless job handled largely by vulnerable and often exploited immigrants. That's why de Blasio, Rosenthal, and other officials should have talked with delivery workers and their employers before unleashing NYPD on them.

It's not too late to develop a plan that allows working cyclists to support themselves and addresses the concerns of people who are frightened by being buzzed on the sidewalk. A good first step would be for Rosenthal and others to start leveling with the public and stop making the problem seem worse than it is.

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