TransAlt Backs Albany E-Bike Bill With No Helmet or Age Restrictions

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Thomas O'Mara of Elmira and Brooklyn Assembly rep Nick Perry, would enable adults to carry children on e-bikes.

Photo: Washington Bikes
Photo: Washington Bikes

Transportation Alternatives has issued a memo of support for an e-bike bill that is an improvement over the one introduced by Martin Dilan and David Gantt.

State Senator Dilan, of Brooklyn, and Assembly Member Gantt of Rochester have for years introduced legislation that would define electric bikes as bicycles, rather than motor vehicles, correcting a kink in state law that makes e-bikes legal to own but illegal to operate on public streets. Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to get the bill to the governor’s desk.

The TransAlt-backed bill, sponsored by Sen. Thomas O’Mara of Elmira and Brooklyn Assembly rep Nick Perry, is superior to Dilan/Gantt in a few ways.

Dilan/Gantt would require helmets for all e-bike riders, which would discourage ridership. It would also ban people age 16 and under from riding e-bikes, even as passengers — meaning, for example, parents would be prohibited from transporting children. The O’Mara/Perry bill does not have those restrictions.

Like Dilan/Gantt, O’Mara/Perry would limit electric motors to 750 watts and govern top speeds at 20 mph.

The O’Mara/Perry bill passed the State Senate last year but died in Gantt’s Assembly transportation committee.

Dilan is a co-sponsor of O’Mara/Perry, which according to TransAlt Legislative and Legal Director Marco Conner is backed by “a growing coalition of organizations and businesses.”

“It is the legislation with the buy-in and momentum to pass this session,” Conner told Streetsblog.

You can check out the TransAlt support memo here.

Brooklyn City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who publicly called on Mayor de Blasio to cease harassing working cyclists who rely on e-bikes, has drafted a resolution in support of the Dilan/Gantt bill. Streetsblog has a message in with Espinal’s office to gauge his position on O’Mara/Perry.

  • Joe R.

    Excellent! This is the bill which needs to pass this year. It not only legalizes e-bikes, but places no more restrictions on their use than regular pedal bikes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Like Dilan/Gantt, O’Mara/Perry would limit electric motors to 750 watts and govern top speeds at 20 mph.”

    Sounds reasonable, and it seems we are seeing the development of a new form of transportation. Like bicycles, and unlike scooters and motorcycles, e-bikes are light enough to hang on the wall.

    When you add this to Citibike and the like, barriers to getting around by bicycle are falling. You get an assist if you travel long distances or can’t make a hill, and if you have no place to put your own bike you can borrow one.

    Thank you France and China. We need technology to create new things as fast as prior generations use up the old ones!

  • AnoNYC

    According to the NY state DMV, you can a scooter/motorcycle/moped with a top speed up up to 20 MPH without a helmet and only a drivers license. If it goes up to 30 MPH, you must have a helmet but you only need a drivers license.

    https://dmv.ny.gov/registration/register-moped

  • Elizabeth F

    There are NO age restrictions in NY State for carrying passengers on motorcycles. That’s right… you can carry your six-year-old child on your Harley on the Cross Bronx Expressway or NY State Thruway. And this has not been a problem. Prohibiting child passengers from e-bikes would seem inconsistent and non-sensical.

    http://nysdmv.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/830/~/child-passengers-on-motorcycles

  • Elizabeth F

    The TransAlt-backed bill looks really good. Define e-bikes, then add “or e-bike” every time the word “bicycle” appears in the law. No extra, unnecessary regulations or restrictions.

    However… although this law might make people feel more comfortable about e-bikes, it doesn’t change their legal status in NYC. Class 1 e-bikes are legal today in NYC, and this law will legalize them statewaide. Class 2 (throttle-based) e-bikes are illegal today statewide, and they will remain so. Most delivery workers use class 2 e-bikes. So the problem remains that the sale and use of “illegal e-bikes” remains rampant in NYC, in spite of laws banning them. And delivery workers will still be subject to seizure of their class 2 e-bikes.

    This can all be solved by bringing existing e-bikes in line with the proposed law. That will require nothing more than: (1) Permanently disable the throttle with a bit of 5-minute epoxy, and (2) permanently affix a sticker to the bike. Every e-bike user in NYC should seriously consider these actions TODAY.

    E-bike shops also need to stop selling illegal e-bikes. There are laws against it, but they are not effective. City Councilor Rafael Espinal might consider local NYC laws that would work better. It makes no sense to ban class 2 e-bikes, but have them openly for sale across the city.

  • Abraham Lincoln once said:

    A dog has four legs. If you call its tail a leg, how many legs does it have then? Answer: four. Calling its tail a leg does not make it a leg.

    Likewise, calling an e-bike a bicycle does not make it a bicycle. An e-bike is a motorcycle, by virtue its motor. E-bikes do not, under any circumstances, belong in bicycle lanes or on any bicycle infrastructure.

    E-bikes should be legal, of course. But they should be treated as motorcycles, the same as 50cc scooters which go at the same speed. Therefore e-bikes should require a licence and registration.

    Any bill that allows the use of these motorcycles in bicycle lanes is unacceptable. We must keep these and all other motorcycles out of bicycle lanes.

  • Jason

    When I was in Milan last summer, I tried out their bikeshare system, which is a mixed system of both regular and electric bikes. Besides the things just being a ton of fun to ride, it really enhanced my trip—I was able to cover more ground than I would have otherwise, and even though it was ungodly hot out while I was there I was able to ride without getting covered in sweat.

  • Elizabeth F

    I know I will never convince you. But I will explain… again… for the benefit of other readers. Here is why e-bikes need to use bicycle infrastructure:

    1. Regulations on the use of bicycle infrastructure should be based on the size, weight and speed of the vehicle, not the source of its power. E-bike + rider falls within the size, weight and speed range of manual bicycles. Some manual bikers can routinely pass and keep ahead of e-bikes.

    2. Like pedestrians and manual bike riders, e-bike riders are “vulnerable street users” — meaning, they will be just as dead as anyone else when run over by a box truck. They need the same protection as any other bicycle rider.

    3. E-bikes are not allowed to use “motor vehicle only” lanes. Without being able to use either bike paths or highways, they would be confined to local roads and unable to efficiently go the long distances within and around NYC typically required day to day. This would increase conflict with automobiles and risk to the e-bike rider.

    4. Without the use of bike lanes or “motor vehicle only” lanes, e-bikes would not be able to legally cross most of the bridges in NYC — and the ones they can cross legally would be quite dangerous.

    5. Pedal assist e-bikes use bicycle infrastructure in Europe with few problems.

    6. The more people use bicycle infrastructure, the more we value it as a society, the more funding it is likely to get in the future, and the more infrastructure we will get in the future. This benefits everyone.

  • Joe R.

    Your last point is particularly relevant. E-bikes enable people to take trips they might not otherwise have the strength or stamina for. This in turn greatly increases the advocacy base for bicycle infrastructure. E-bikes enable lots of people who would otherwise see bicycle infrastructure as something only the young or strong can use as something they too can use.

  • Joe R.

    Nobody is calling an e-bike or pedalec a bicycle. Rather, the laws are allowing e-bikes to be legally treated the same as manual bicycles for the reasons Elizabeth gave. You or I may not use e-bikes now, or perhaps ever, but it’s in our long-term best interests for e-bikes to be treated like pedal bikes as it greatly increases the advocacy base for bicycle infrastructure.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s about weight and speed.

    E-bikes weight about 50 pounds. The legislation says they are capped at 20 mph.

    Heavier that a regular bike, let alone a racing bike, and faster than I ride.

    But a lot less than a Harley Hog, which is more than 800 lbs and can reach highway speeds.

  • Elizabeth F

    > weight about 50lb.

    ..which is double the weight of a typical manual bike. Sounds like a BIG difference… until you consider the rider and cargo. The average American man weighs 195lb, and average American woman weighs 165lb. Add another 10lb for U-lock, backpack and miscellaneous. So now we have the following weights:

    Man on e-bike: 255lb
    Man on manual bike: 230lb
    Woman on e-bike: 225lb
    Woman on manual bike: 200lb

    So… the man on e-bike weighs about 26% more than the woman on a manual bike. Does that mean they cannot share a bike path? A man on an e-bike is a LOT closer in weight to a woman on a manual bike than even the smallest car on the road.

    Should we ban men from the bike paths or make separate bikes paths for men and women due to the weight difference? If so, should we allow women on e-bikes to ride on the “men’s” bike path because they weight the same? Should we ban fat people?

    > faster than I ride.

    But not faster than some people ride.

  • Elizabeth F

    > As an aside, I also think e-bikes will make bike lanes safer by reducing the speed differential between weak and strong riders.

    If there are enough e-bikes, then bike lanes could become safer by forcing everyone to go at a moderate speed. But are bike lanes particularly dangerous as is? I cannot recall any reports of bikers getting seriously injured in bike lane crashes.

  • No absurd comparison is to a Harley has bern made. The type of motorcycle to which an e-bike may be compared is, as I mentioned, a 50cc scooter. The rules and restrictions that apply to that machine are the ones appropriate for an e-bike.

  • E-bikes are not allowed to use “motor vehicle only” lanes.

    A nonsense statement, because e-bikes are currently not allowed to use any lanes.

    Under the appropriate legal regime, e-bikes could use — indeed, would be required to use — motor vehicle lanes. They could then cross any bridge, just as a 50cc scooter can do.

  • Elizabeth F

    > A nonsense statement, because e-bikes are currently not allowed to use any lanes.

    Pedal assist e-bikes are legal in NYC today. They treated like any other bicycle by law. The proposed law in Albany will not change that in NYC.

  • Nobody is calling an e-bike or pedalec a bicycle.

    Read more closely. Some are indeed saying exactly that.

    You or I may not use e-bikes now, or perhaps ever,

    Who says? I could easily imagine using an e-bike when I get older, if they were legalised. The electric GenZe scooter, which is currently legal (though not allowed on bike infrastructure) is also something I could see myself riding.

    And, despite my dislike for gas-powered vehicles, I admit that I wouldn’t completely rule out a gas-powered 50cc scooter, as such a vehicle can get 100 miles to the gallon of gas.

    What all of these things have in common is that none of them are bicycles (and none merit being treated as bicycles). All of these vehicles should be subject to the same set of restrictions.

  • Joe R.

    Besides that the weight differential between a child cyclist and an adult is way greater than that between an e-bike and a pedal bike. The idea is bike paths are for vehicles which weigh within the same order of magnitude, say 50 pounds total for a very small child on a very small bike, to perhaps 300 or 400 pounds for a very fat cyclist on a heavy bike.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t know why you or anyone else would even consider a 50cc scooter these days. Buying one of those is like buying an incandescent bulb. It’s obsolete technology with a lot of downsides. The biggest one is having to get gas for it. Any type of e-bike or electric scooter can just be plugged in. All of them are small enough and light enough to be bought into any apartment where you can bring a regular bike.

  • Joe R.

    A lot of NYC’s bike lanes are really too narrow for safe passing but a lot of people try it anyway. My thinking is eventually many of the cyclists who are most likely to get passed, namely those who poke along at 8 or 10 mph, will eventually get e-bikes and start going between 15 and 20 mph. That should decrease the urge of others to pass them. For example, when I’m stuck behind someone going 10 mph I can’t wait to pass them, but if I’m behind someone going 18 mph, I’ll probably won’t bother, even on a day when I feel like riding at 22 mph.

    It’s isn’t that bike lanes now are particularly dangerous, but as bikes get more popular most of NYC’s bike lanes can’t cope with both heavy bike traffic and lots of passing. If we can normalize speeds of 15 to 20 mph with widespread adoption of e-bikes in the lousier bike lanes it would help prevent even a lot of minor incidents. It would also make riding more pleasant for everyone.

  • mobilemann

    scooters shouldn’t be prohibited from bike lanes either. You need to get with the times.

  • A vehicle that goes 30 miles per hour has no legitimate place in bicycle infrastucture. This is true regardless of whether the motor powering that vehicle runs on gas or on a battery.

  • mobilemann

    normal bikes can easily go 30, and do. Most of these bikes are limited to 20. I guess you don’t live near one of the east river crossings. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • A normal bike ridden by an ordinary rider can go at 30 miles per hour only on an extreme downhill. I have hit that speed on only a handful of occasions; I recall once on Broadway in Washington Heights, and once on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx. And I can state categorically that that is entirely too fast for a bicycle to go on a New York City street.

    The distance that I live from any East River crossing is irrelevant. But I will mention that, living in Woodhaven, I am about 7 or 8 miles from all the crossings. Woodhaven, sitting on the Brooklyn/Queens border and being an hour’s ride from the Financial District, Midtown, and Harlem, thus qualifies as the Centre of the Universe.

  • mobilemann

    Well then ebikes will only go 30 in those situations too. Either way, you’re insinuation that this is a normal speed is incorrect, and i’m out there in it daily. (I don’t ride an ebike) Please stop exaggerating to make your point, it discredits you.

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