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

Rosenthal, a vocal supporter of de Blasio's e-bike crackdown, is exaggerating the e-bike threat to her constituents and misrepresenting the way NYPD is conducting enforcement.

Helen Rosenthal, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and Matthew Shefler at Mayor de Blasio’s October 2017 e-bike crackdown press conference. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
Helen Rosenthal, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and Matthew Shefler at Mayor de Blasio’s October 2017 e-bike crackdown press conference. 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.

  • drosejr

    In the same vein as her fear mongering with regards to bikes in Riverside Park. She was happy in 2016 to wave through the forced detour from 72nd to 83rd st., since she got credit for money that went towards bike signage. Little data supported the notion that bikers and pedestrians were constantly colliding with one another, but she pushed Parks to spend $1M on a new hilly bike path in Riverside. Legislating and governing by anecdote is usually not successful.

  • JarekFA

    Aside from all the racism and classism, I think one of the saddest aspects of all this, is just how utterly fucking blind these people are to using ebikes as a basic form of transportation.

    Yes, delivery guys use it. Yes, sometimes they appear reckless. Ok. I’m not a delivery guy. I’d like to be able to get around the city while preserving my legs/energy and still be green, clean and efficient without hogging space. Like that’s a congestion solution right there.

    But they can’t conceive it. And for all the supposed “harms” of reckless ebikes, the harm associated with such recklessness, is minimal, when compared to the harms that bikes and peds face from cars and trucks daily! On an aggregate and on a rate level.

    Just getting on my bike to go to work earlier on Wednesday, I observed a guy on bike, who could’ve been killed like Dan Henegby, by an off route Mack Truck. But they don’t ticket oversized trucks [including an oversized truck that just killed a man in Helen Rosenthal’s district this week!] or off route trucks at all https://twitter.com/JarekFA/status/956922155119366144

  • JarekFA

    And for an additional level of frustration — there’s a ghost bike in my clip. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a17f7e70202b7ec205016b85832a66f3d0f78e6c80898efb66ae14ce3b08ae64.png

  • Elizabeth F

    Really, did she? I have yet to see that path, or even signs for the path. And last time I checked, Parks Dept had a habit of parking a dumpster on the path.

    But really, is a separate bike path in Riverside Park something we should be getting tied in knots over? I’ve been using the detour, and it’s really not half bad. Hills are part of biking, and this hill isn’t very big. Much more enjoyable than biking on a path full of roller blades, dogs, toddlers, strollers, skateboards — and worst of all, tourists snapping selfies while crossing the path without warning.

  • Guest

    Disingenuous misuse of language by Rosenthal’s office.

    “We’ve seen a number of incidents involving e-bikes and pedestrians.” If you read it quickly, “incident” sounds almost like “accident.” Except there haven’t been any recorded “accidents,” and the only “incidents” have been brief encounters where somebody on foot was surprised by an e-bike.

    “a special focus on businesses who use them” — i.e., the rhetorical “focus” in newsletters and press releases is on the businesses, while the NYPD really goes after the riders.

  • Maggie

    I agree with all your points, but just a quick note that the Amsterdam Ave and 106th Street intersection falls in Mark Levine’s district. The line is a little funny. He covers the blocks between CPW and Broadway down to 90th Street. IMO he and Helen Rosenthal should both already be speaking up about this.

  • Vooch

    Helen is in for a world of hurt next summer when this past year’s Citibike expansion North of 110th goes mainstream.

    There will be 3-4,000 additional Citibike trips each workday zooming through her district from the great forbidden Uptown districts. Outsiders Cycling to Zabars and Trader Joes !!!!!

    Meanwhile, back on planet earth, Cyclists trips on the UWS are already reducing motor traffic conjestion and saving lives.


  • Joe R.

    These are probably typical “incidents”:

    1) An e-bike almost hit me (in reality it was 8 or 10 away).
    2) I saw a speeding e-bike (since e-bikes can’t go over 20 mph, by definition they can’t be speeding)
    3) E-bikes endanger people by never following any traffic laws (somewhat true that delivery cyclists, regardless of type of bike, bend traffic laws but there is a need to distinguish between technical but safe violations, versus truly dangerous ones).

    Bottom line is you can’t govern or allocate police resources by anecdote. Show me the data which says e-bikes are dangerous and I’ll be the first to support an enforcement solution.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree even a steep hill is preferable all of the above. Besides, as you say, hills are part of biking (unless you’re in the Netherlands). Not too fond of climbing up hills but I absolutely love going down.

  • Andrew

    Motorists also “bend” (cute euphemism) traffic laws.

  • AMH

    They also bend everything they hit!

  • First I am a supporter of bicyclists. this discussion misses the pent up frustration against bicyclists in general and the lack of respect of the rules ( yes, I jaywalk also).

    Are you afraid of bees ? They are enormously useful and still if they come near to you, you will be afraid of their sting, while there is statistically no proof that they will sting you. Indeed if you are allergic , it is another matter.

    When a bicyclist rides on a sidewalk or run through pedestrian crossing at a red light, or comes the wrong way, the proximity to pedestrians is extreme and the unreasoned sense of fear very high, especially for older adults who legitimately fear a fall.

    Now that the population is just starting to get used to this, learning that the bee cycles are good and really do not hurt, we chose this tenuous transition to make it even scarier by adding a motor to the bicycle , a sort of bumblebee, or maybe a wasp..
    and predictably, the population regresses and revolts.

    The bicyclist movement is making great strides towards a comprehensive infrastructure. Community boards are embracing their installations. Now is not the time to focus the public on negatives, until the gains have been consolidated.