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Can Albany and the City Council Save NYC From de Blasio’s Backward E-Bike Policy?

E-bikes confiscated by the 19th Precinct

Mayor de Blasio's assault on delivery workers who rely on electric bikes is a national spectacle. As other cities welcome e-bikes as a spatially efficient and clean alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles, de Blasio's NYPD is confiscating bikes and punishing working cyclists with hefty fines.

Lawmakers in Albany have again introduced legislation to fix a quirk in state code that makes e-bikes legal to own, but illegal to ride. Responding to de Blasio's crackdown, Brooklyn City Council rep Rafael Espinal has crafted a resolution in support of the Albany bill, and is calling on the mayor to stop targeting commercial cyclists.

As in previous years, the state bill is sponsored by Sen. Martin Dilan of Brooklyn and Rochester's David Gantt, who chairs the Assembly transportation committee. The bill would classify e-bikes as bicycles, rather than motor vehicles, and limit the electric motors to 750 watts. To be street legal, the bicycles would not be able to exceed 20 mph on level ground while the motor is engaged.

Though he tries to sell it as a traffic safety initiative, de Blasio's campaign to harass delivery workers was prompted by a complaint he fielded on the radio, and has no empirical basis. In a Daily News op-ed, Espinal notes how New York's e-bike ban is out of step with other cities and states.

Other cities have fully embraced e-bikes and are making them more accessible to commuters. San Francisco recently announced a 250 e-bike pilot program, while Baltimore and Birmingham, Ala., have integrated e-bikes into their bike-sharing schemes. Even Texas and Florida have more progressive e-bike laws than New York does.

A facet of the Dilan/Gantt bill that sponsors should rethink is the helmet requirement.

For one thing, NYC already has a helmet law for delivery workers. Espinal sees e-bikes as one answer to the city’s "transit crisis," but since helmet mandates mostly serve to keep people from biking, requiring them for all riders would be a deterrent.

The Dilan/Gantt bill has a handful of sponsors in each chamber. The bill's chances this session are anyone's guess. In the meantime, Espinal says de Blasio should "implement a moratorium" on e-bike enforcement.

“It’s true that e-bikes are technically illegal to operate on our streets,” writes Espinal. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a wise enforcement priority for the city.”

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