De Blasio Moves to Permit Pedal-Assist Electric Bikes on NYC Streets

Advocates welcomed the announcement while pointing out that more needs to be done to prevent harassment of delivery workers by police.

E-bikes confiscated by the 19th Precinct
E-bikes confiscated by the 19th Precinct

The de Blasio administration plans to change city law to explicitly permit pedal-assist electric bikes, City Hall announced today. Advocates welcomed the softening of the mayor’s hard-line stance against e-bikes while calling for further steps to help delivery workers do their jobs with pedal-assist bikes without being subject to NYPD overreach.

De Blasio announced plans in October to crack down on restaurants and delivery workers who use e-bikes. At the time, he said that workers could still use pedal-assist e-bikes, which are not explicitly prohibited under city law.

But the city rules for “motorized scooters” are vague, and enforcement is left to the discretion of NYPD officers. Through the rule-making process announced today, DOT plans to modify the law to explicitly allow pedal-assisted e-bikes. DOT will soon set in motion a 30-day public comment period followed by a public hearing.

Once finalized, the new rule will permit the operation of pedal-assist electric bicycles with maximum speeds of 20 mph. Other types of e-bikes, with propulsion that doesn’t require pedaling, remain prohibited under state rules.

“We’re clarifying what we think is New York State law,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told reporters at a briefing this afternoon. “E-bikes, true electric bikes, which can generally go over 20 miles an hour, are not legal on the streets of New York, but pedal-assist bikes, which typically go at speeds lower than that, [are].”

The city has yet to produce data showing that e-bike riders pose a significant public safety risk. Despite being framed as a component of Vision Zero, the effort has been premised on complaints and anecdotes, not injury statistics. (No e-bike riders have fatally struck other people going back at least several years.)

Asked today for details, including crash data, on the safety threat posed by e-bike users, Trottenberg deferred to NYPD. “I’ll freely admit, it’s anecdotal,” she said. “I don’t have great statistics for you.”

Despite the mayor’s repeated assertions that businesses, not workers, would bear the brunt of e-bike enforcement, delivery workers do pay directly. Last month, NYPD officials readily admitted that workers themselves bore the costs of having their bikes confiscated.

For over a year, NYPD precincts have been ticketing e-bike riders and seizing their bikes. Since the official “crackdown” began in January, the department has issued 238 summonses for e-bike operation and confiscated 48 bikes, according to NYPD.

Pedal-assist bikes have not been targeted during the crackdown, Trottenberg said. In a statement, Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials said the new rule for pedal-assist bikes would benefit delivery workers by providing them “an alternative that is legal, sustainable (zero-emission) and safe.”

Whether NYPD will change its punitive approach to delivery workers riding e-bikes remains to be seen. There were no police representatives at today’s announcement. In the press release, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said only that “NYPD supports the clarification of the legal status of electric bicycles being operated on New York City streets,” and “NYPD will continue to work closely with the Department of Transportation to ensure the safety of the city’s bicyclists.”

Ultimately, the legalization of pedal-assist bicycles is a first step toward creating a system that’s not set up to penalize delivery workers. As Biking Public Project organizer Do Lee pointed out on Twitter, police can still abuse their discretion, and workers with limited English proficiency remain vulnerable to harassment and excessive enforcement.

In December, more than 200 delivery workers took to the steps of City Hall calling for the mayor to abandon the e-bike crackdown. Since then, a coalition including the Biking Public Project, Transportation Alternatives, the Asian American Federation, Legal Aid Society, and Make the Road New York has pushed the city to scale back the fines and help equip workers with pedal-assist bikes.

“Until City Hall establishes a way for workers to convert their bikes to comply with the new law, buy back or legalize their bikes, workers will continue to be criminalized,” the coalition said in a joint statement.

Trottenberg said the city will be reaching out to delivery workers in the weeks ahead.

“We are going to be working very closely, as we already do, with delivery groups around the city, immigrant groups, to help educate and work with them to encourage them to avail themselves now,” Trottenberg said.

  • Reader

    If only the city had figured all of this out before it unfairly cracked down on delivery workers.

    This policy should come with financial assistance for delivery workers and others who want to purchase an e-bike. At the very least, those who had pedal-assist bikes wrongly confiscated by the NYPD should receive a full refund for any money they paid to get their bikes back. Providing justice for people who were wronged by Mayor de Blasio’s foolish policy should be part of the solution here.

    Once we do that, then we can do what other 21st century cities are doing and provide tax incentives and rebates to people who purchase e-bikes, especially if they give up a car.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    delivery workers are the worst. I used to feel bad for them when they were on the regular bikes but now they just throttle it all the time! They are on their cellphones talking while wearing flip flops and have their legs dangling while smoking an listening to music and they are so joyful! they are filled with such glee as they ride up the sidewalks and salmon down the streets all at 20+ mph. It’s not a job. It’s fun. that’s why throttle ebikes should be banned and these delivery guys ticketed for breaking the law.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    wat

  • Boris

    You’ve just described every driver on the streets of New York, except they look like death and not joyful (I wonder why), and you can’t see their flip-floppy legs through the ton of metal and plastic. I used to feel bad for drivers too, but now I realize they deserve it. And they routinely get away with murder.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Other types of e-bikes, with propulsion that doesn’t require pedaling, remain prohibited under state rules.”

    Just to clarify, aren’t they simply defined as motor vehicles, and regulated like other motor vehicles (scooters, motorcycles)? Surely Streetsblog wouldn’t advocate ending the license and insurance regime for those. That isn’t a prohibition.

    A line has to be drawn, and it has to be justified. I think 20 mph with pedal assist isn’t a bad one.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    1. They’re defined as motor vehicles but aren’t a category under licensure/regulation and are thus illegal in NYS. Same power and capabilities as the ones that are legal. I would guess that e-scooters (the standing type) are also illegal despite most riders going even slower than on e-bikes.
    2. As far as I know they haven’t actually drawn that line. Nothing about this announcement makes 30mph pedal-assist ebikes illegal, they just haven’t “clarified the legality” of those bikes.

  • Reader

    Yeah, it’s the flip flops and the smoking – which have do not affect me in the slightest – that really annoy the hell out of me! Excellent point. Must also be a lot of fun to work for 12+ hours a day for less than minimum wage. Just so exciting.

  • I have a feeling Motivate wants to launch pedal-assist to compete with the upcoming dockless, which moved this forward

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    salmoning and silently riding on the sidewalk going 20mph do not affect you? ok.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Makes no sense.

    Harley Davidson is coming out with an E-Harley. Will that be illegal too?

    Maybe the state is just waiting for the payoffs — er campaign contributions — to be made.

  • Reader

    Sure, but your argument is undercut when you list things that don’t affect anyone. Makes me think this is about more than just bad behavior.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    no. it isn’t. people tend to have an argument about these “poor delivery workers”. How are they to be pitied when it’s fun? It’s basically a joyride. they don’t have to do anything! I bike every single day 22 miles a day and I hate cars but I also hate these delivery workers.

  • Sounds right

  • If there is financial assistance for Ebikes, why not extend this to all bikes ?
    Agreed that those confiscated should be compensated..

  • crazytrainmatt

    I was stuck on 1st ave behind a delivery guy not pedaling but going just fast and erratically enough that I couldn’t pass safely. Breathing his cigarette smoke for 15 blocks is just the icing on the cake. It’s not the worst thing about biking in the city but it certainly doesn’t add to the experience!

    Luckily he eventually made a wrong-way turn onto a side street.

  • qrt145

    Please try working as a delivery worker using one of those bikes and then get back to us with how joyful the experience was.

  • What about those delivery drivers in shorts with music blasting having fun at 50 mph in a truck ?

  • JarekFA

    Where’s @ElizabethF to comment on this?

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    it’s fucking easy. Press throttle. go to destination press buzzer. get tips. rinse repeat. People pay money to rent ebikes for joyrides everywhere else? you know why? cause it’s fun.It’s not a punishment. it’s a rewarding experience.

  • Robert Sheehan

    As a bike rider in Manhattan i will say this. Every day these delivery riders are on the sidewalk, being totally oblivious to pedestrians. You better be cracking down on this

  • theizaster

    Be lucky you haven’t had to work 12-16 hour days just to get by being a delivery courier. Have you no empathy?

  • theizaster

    This Altered Beast guy is a lunatic car fanatic

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    yes. when they were on regular bikes. now it’s not hard. they get base pay of 1000 from the restaurants then 2000 from tips so they make 30000-40k a year. they live in subsidized housing and get lots of government benefits and pay almost no taxes. All while riding no effort electric bikes on the sidewalks and talking on cellphones. not really empathetic anymore.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    I bike everyday. I fucking hate cars. AND delivery ebikes. I can do both. your argument is like a fucking trump supporter.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    I fucking hate drivers. this article is about throttle ebikes. next.

  • theizaster

    None of that is even remotely true. These people have to pay taxes or face strict penalty, have expenses ( such as healthcare) that aren’t covered by their jobs so that comes out of pocket, and live in areas (that need to be within biking distance) that are high in rent and take home probably 2/3 of that (if not less after basic amenities).

    You seem to be on some kick thinking that service workers “steal from the government”, but in fact make much less than most and have hard work still.

    This article wholeheartedly disproves the whole “welfare queen/king” myth” . I’d advise you read it before making nonfactual claims against the working class: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/welfare-queen-myth/501470/

  • theizaster

    Who hurt you?

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    how is it not remotely true? If their job pays them 1000 a month and 2000 in tips they are banking around 30000 a year. they write their income as 12000 (probably 9000). guess how much taxes they pay? not a lot as they don’t report their real wages. then they get crazy benefits from the government like obamacare and food stamps. they get a lot more assistance then you realize. You know how I know? they are my fucking neighbors.

  • theizaster

    So every e-bike courier ever is your neighbor? Dude, your claims only account for your direct environment. Don’t you think you are generalizing and blowing the financial aspect (which is in complete inaccuracy) out of proportion?

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    delivery ebikers who salmon who try to push me into direct traffic.

  • Rex Rocket
  • Jonathan Vaucher

    It was time that NYC make the move. Finaly a good move !

  • Gowanus Kings

    “Whether NYPD will change its punitive approach to delivery workers riding e-bikes remains to be seen. There were no police representatives at today’s announcement.”

  • A further indication that the police department does not consider itself answerable to the civilian government, which it regards as irrelevant.

  • David Michael

    I haven’t taken my Sondors to Manhattan for this very reason, but the NYPD still needs to keep taking these insane delivery drivers to task. They may not have killed anybody yet, but they’re often operated too fast and with complete disregard for traffic laws. Stop lights and crosswalks apply to bike riders also, including ebikes.

  • Manny

    These delivery bike are riding on the sidewalk in Brooklyn NY,

  • Manny

    I live in Brooklyn NY Southslope, Greenwood Heights, parkslope the delivery bikes are going up one way streets, speeding and no one is doing anything about this. I was with my grandchild and he was riding on the sidewalk, and went right in my stroller! They just speed like human life does not exist. I said you should not be on sidewalk, and the delivery boy didn’t understand me. they are so young they should be in school. Also he was on the motorscooter type electric no pedaling, no helmet no horn, no vest stating where he works!

  • Manny

    This is happening on 5th Ave starting from prospect avenue, going all the way down to 5 ave near Spectrum.

  • Allan Beamont Harmsworth

    Enforce existing traffic laws for ebikes instead of banning them and legalize them now. Return confiscated private property and refund all the fines with an apology and compensation.

  • Angel

    You’re an idiot! Just plain and simple.

  • DB

    Class 1 (Pedal assisted e-bikes) are, first of all, expensive and not affordable to
    the majority of the cyclist, so there comes a discrimination.
    People who are lobbing this option only are those who have their own business
    interest and don’t really care about public!
    Pedal assisted e-bikes are heavy and bulky and thus not meant to be used by a
    regular cyclist. For a cyclist that’s a whole new “machine” affordable to “elite”. These Class 1 e-bikes also have disadvantages with a standard bike chains being snapped due to increased stress caused by sudden increased torque.
    NYC should adopt a rules from the other states or countries (like California or
    Netherlands..) who have much more experience in this matter since, shame to say, NYC is “inventing a wheel” on this topic.
    It’s an absurd to insist on safety and allow Class 1, whereas Class 2 (throttle-assist
    e-bikes) have the same speed and power limits.
    Yes, traffic rule violators should be punished or those who have e-bikes that exceed 20mph or 750W, but keep in mind that regular bicycle can exceed this speed of 20mph.
    E-bike controller is the key element that limits the power – speed of e-bike.
    Pedal assisted e-bikes can go way faster than 20 mph if controller doesn’t limit the
    power. Same applies to throttle assisted e-bikes.

    Word “Factory certified” speed limit in the future law cannot prevent users to put different controller and “upgrade” their pedal assisted e-bike (same for throttle-assist e-bikes). It would make it difficult for police to examine and test if e-bike was modified.
    That is why the regulations should be focused on speed limit and motor power only, not pedal or throttle assisted.

    From my perspective, I find it discriminatory that I cannot use my own regular bicycle
    with a small 250W front hub motor (Clean Republic) with throttle button and 15mph speed limit without pedaling where the guy next door can cruise around with a $3500 pedal assisted bike because law allows only Class1.
    I live in a hilly neighborhood in the Bronx and I ride my bike mostly to go to work,
    some grocery trips and recreation and I find it really hard to concur couple hills on my way back home. That’s when this small motor helps me the most (I just press the button while pedaling and make it without bringing my pulse to 190 or injuring my knees). When I go on bike trails on weekends, I just swap my front wheel and my e-bike becomes regular bike.
    For me to buy another expensive pedal assisted e-bike, that can’t perform as a
    regular bicycle because it’s heavy and bulky, is not an option.
    From the prospective of the delivery drivers issues, I would like to suggest to legalize
    those throttle assisted bikes as long as they comply with 20 mph speed limit and 750W or 500W motor power.
    From technical point of view it is simple, affordable and possible to limit the speed of
    those thousands throttle-assist delivery e-bikes by changing a controller unit. Solutions would on the market within a weeks.
    Proposing a conversion from throttle assisted to pedal assisted is technically
    challenging, complicated and to simply say impracticable. So, if lawmakers are trying to propose this as a solution for existing owners of the throttle-assist e-bikes I would call it “sweeping the problem under the carpet” or ignoring a majority opinion
    that this issue concerns.

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