New E-Scooter Bills Seek to Stop NYPD Crackdown on E-Bikes

Councilman Rafael Espinal is crafting legislation that, he says, will bring throttle-controlled bikes favored by delivery workers out of the shadows.

NYPD's crackdown on electric-assist bikes could end under a proposed bill. Photo:  NYPD
NYPD's crackdown on electric-assist bikes could end under a proposed bill. Photo: NYPD

A Brooklyn lawmaker who hopes to legalize e-scooters in New York has another goal with his proposed legislation — he wants to stop the NYPD from cracking down on e-bikes popular with delivery workers.

Council Member Rafael Espinal told Streetsblog that his long-awaited e-scooter legislation will include some kind of wording to “have the NYPD back off going after the bike riders.”

rafael espinal

At issue for Espinal is the de Blasio administration’s ongoing crackdown against delivery workers who use electric bikes that are controlled with a hand throttle. Such bikes are considered illegal under state law, but earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio legalized e-bikes that get their batter boost through pedaling rather than flicking a switch on the handlebar.

Ever since that decision, cyclists and delivery worker advocates have blasted the mayor for a double standard that allows the owners of expensive pedal-assist e-bikes — and bike share companies such as Citi Bike and Jump — to ride fast and carefree while delivery workers are subject to $500 tickets and confiscation of their bikes.

Neither the mayor nor the police commissioner has ever provided evidence that e-bike users have caused more injuries or crashes.

Espinal (above) said his legislation would seek to “legalize throttle bikes in city code.”

“My main concern is that delivery bikes will not be penalized anymore,” he told Streetsblog. “We need to figure out a way to bring them out of the shadows and I am looking at a lot of little loopholes to do that.”

He added that he believes the state “will still have to act to create language to codify these bikes,” but believes his bill could force the NYPD to back off for now.

Streetsblog reached out to legal counsel for the NYPD, but did not hear back under tight deadline pressure on Tuesday. (We will update this story if either entity responds.)

This pedal-assist bike is legal, but most delivery workers' bikes are not. Photo: DOT
This pedal-assist bike is legal, but most delivery workers’ bikes are not. Photo: DOT

Espinal will introduce the legislation on Wednesdsay, the Times reports. Speaking to Streetsblog, he said he was motivated to help delivery workers partly because of the de Blasio double-standard, but also because popular e-scooters by Bird, Scoot, Lime and other companies are controlled with a hand-throttle.

“I felt we couldn’t move on an e-scooter bill without talking about bikes because they’re both throttle-control,” he said.

Espinal said his e-scooter bill, which he is co-authoring with Council Member Ydanis Rodriquez, would include a mandate to study how e-scooters affect pedestrian and cyclist flow. Other cities have had issues with scooter users riding on the sidewalk. And some cyclists are worried that e-scooters are faster than conventional bikes, potentially creating conflict in bike lanes.

The mayor’s office did not have a specific comment on the bill. Mayoral spokesman Seth Stein reminded Streetsblog that e-scooters remain illegal for now, but added, “the Mayor is committed to innovation as part of his all-of-the-above transportation strategy to get New Yorkers moving again.”

“We look forward to reviewing the proposals with an eye toward both transportation innovation and safety on our streets and sidewalks,” Stein added.

  • brainguynyc

    Mr. Rocket, are you being funny? Are you saying that you have never witnessed delivery bikes and “civilian” bikes going whichever way they feel like going, ignoring red lights, ignoring stop signs, riding on sidewalks?! OH PLEASE. By the way, whatever happened to the city rule of delivery people wearing an identifying vest?

  • Joe R.

    No, if a cyclist is going against traffic, they’re not only a hazard to pedestrians but also to other cyclists. The onus is 100% on them to make sure they ride in such a manner as to not endanger people. In general, there are few rationales for riding against traffic, anyway. The only good reason to do so is if the only legal path adds several blocks or more to your trip. But it’s still on the wrong-way cyclist to not endanger people.

    That said, it’s always a good idea to look both ways before crossing purely out of self-preservation.

    On the red lights, if you’re walking do you stand there waiting for the light to change if nothing is coming? If you’re going to bring up the law, well, the law says that’s exactly what you have to do but nobody does it because it’s stupid. For the same reason why should a cyclist sit there if nothing is coming? The reason it’s safe for cyclists or pedestrians to pass red lights but not motorists is the much better visibility they have of cross traffic. In a motor vehicle you may not be able to determine if the intersection is clear until you’re already in it. Not so on foot or on a bike. In fact, it’s often safer to pass an intersection on red while walking or cycling because you don’t need to worry about turning vehicles.

  • brainguynyc

    are you equating a person going against a light as an equivalent potential danger to a bike going against the light?

  • Joe R.

    Most cyclists need to slow to pedestrian speeds before passing red lights purely out of self-preservation, so any relative danger is roughly the same.

    And strictly speaking, under natural law, we only hold people accountable when they cause loss of life, loss of property, or injury, not for “potential danger”. So-called preventative laws have opened a huge can of worms penalizing people when they cause no actual harm. The sooner society does away with such laws the better.

    Finally, putting aside any relative danger, you’re the one who bought up the law. Funny how the same people who routinely cross against lights wave “the law” around at cyclists who do the same. If you want to say cyclists shouldn’t pass red lights when people are crossing then we’re on the same page. If you think a cyclist should stand there twiddling their thumbs at a two minute red light at 2 AM on a January day when it’s 5 degrees when nothing is there because “the law” then we’re miles apart.

  • AnoNYC

    Average US male weighs around 190 lbs and average US female weighs 159 lbs. Granted these are bicyclists (most Americans are very overweight, most bicyclists are probably not) so you could drop the weights down maybe 30-40 lbs each, so 160 lbs and 130 lbs.

    Ebikes weigh about 50 lbs+, which is less than or about the difference between a lighter female on one and larger male on a traditional bike. The difference is miniscule.

    Meanwhile, a Toyota Corolla weighs 2,000 lbs+, a Ford Escape is 3,600 lbs+, a box truck over 15,000 lbs empty, and an articulated bus 50,000 lbs+ empty.

  • inline_four

    “Anything gas-powered shouldn’t be promoted in the city.”

    Why not?

    “Nobody is suggesting something with 5 or 10 HP, and capable of highway speeds, should be allowed on sidewalks or bike lanes.”

    I think the pace of technological progress, as well as people’s personal modifications to these vehicles must be considered. What’s slow today won’t stay this way for long. Charge capacity, motor efficiency, manufacturing cost, aftermarket parts — expect all of these to improve over time. This is why I think we must figure out a good framework for classifying and enforcing rules for these vehicles.

    Do you want this on a bike path? https://www.electricbike.com/kuberg-freerider/

  • inline_four

    I wouldn’t expect status quo to remain so for long. Technology has a tendency to improve rapidly in the early stages development. Expect more variety and more performance on the market soon.

    Sharing local streets is not automatically a death sentence. A lot of surface streets are quite slow during busy times. The fastest things there tend to be the most nimble, smallest vehicles.

  • Joe R.

    Why not?

    If you’ve ever been woken from a sound sleep by those noisy, two-stroke engines on leaf blowers, plus had the fumes entering your room, you would know why small, gas-powered vehicles have no real place in cities. Think of thousands of these noisy, smelly things buzzing around. The car engines are bad enough. Eventually cities should ban anything not electric from their borders but restricting small vehicles to electric only is a good place to start.

    I think the pace of technological progress, as well as people’s personal modifications to these vehicles must be considered. What’s slow today won’t stay this way for long. Charge capacity, motor efficiency, manufacturing cost, aftermarket parts — expect all of these to improve over time. This is why I think we must figure out a good framework for classifying and enforcing rules for these vehicles.

    The primary development will be in terms of battery capacity. That means more range. We already have a good legal framework for classifying these vehicles. For starters, the federal law says the motor must be 750 watts or less to be classified as a bicycle. It also states the maximum speed under throttle control must be 20 mph or less. With these vehicles two things cause a possible threat. One is very fast acceleration which allows riders to zoom into every gap. This is actually a big problem now with today’s overpowered cars. However, the 750 watt limit effectively limits acceleration rates to rather sedate numbers, as does motor torque. I regularly out accelerate most e-bikes and I’m almost 56.

    The second potential issue is speed but here again the motor power limit, plus the upright riding position of most e-bikes, effectively limits top speed to about 30 mph, even with the governor removed. Granted, this might be too fast for some bike paths but if you can go 30 mph, that means you can keep up with motor traffic in most cities. You wouldn’t be using a bike path anyway if you were looking to get somewhere in a hurry. Also, the fact such a vehicle might go 30 mph doesn’t mean you have to ride that fast all the time. Do motorists always drive their cars at top speed, for example? If there’s a problem, I’d say it’s more with the riders than the vehicles. Maybe a good idea is a required training film or course when you buy a faster e-bike.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about personal modifications, either. For starters most people aren’t that handy or technically knowledgeable. The only mod some might make would be disabling the governor. However, as I mentioned that doesn’t necessarily make most e-bikes all that much faster. One with a 750 watt motor might be able to go 30 mph or so, assuming the motor holds its HP at the high end of the speed curve. Many don’t. Lots of e-bikes have 200 watt to 350 watt motors. A 200 watt motor will barely get you to 20 mph, if that. Even a 350 watt motor will probably be hard-pressed to exceed 25 mph with the governor disabled. A second mod which might be common is adding a higher capacity battery. That won’t affect the speed at all, only the range.

    There may be a tiny minority who custom build very fast e-bikes. However, it’s mainly something a technical person like myself might enjoy. Keep in mind given the time/expense, I’m not going to be riding it in such a way as to attract attention. I’d probably even have a hidden toggle to keep the bike within “legal” specifications if it were inspected. I might only use the “extra” power on empty roads during late nights where I don’t cause harm or attract unwanted attention. Bottom line, custom mods aren’t going to be a major issue.

    Do you want this on a bike path? https://www.electricbike.co

    Keep in mind this vehicle is expressly designed for off-road use. As such, it doesn’t need to comply with federal e-bike regulations. It also wouldn’t be allowed on the street unless it could be registered as a motorcycle (which is what it really is). That said, the 8 kW motor concerns me a lot more than the top speed, which is surprisingly sedate for that much power. Indeed, with 8 kW on tap if the motor were geared so the top speed was power-limited, not gearing limited, it could probably reach 65 to 75 mph. Anyway, with 8 kW on tap the bike would basically accelerate like a sports car until it hit top speed. This is dangerous on a bike path, period. As for the 34 mph, I’ve cruised that fast on my pedal bike for extended periods with a strong tailwind but only in car lanes. I wouldn’t do those kinds of speeds in bike lanes, particularly protected bike lanes. And that’s why we should focus more on the rider than the bike. The speed e-bikes can do is great and can be intoxicating. But we need a little bit of training to get potential riders used to it, as well as getting them to use speeds appropriate for the situation.

  • Arrow 26A

    Mopeds are illegal because they resemble motorcycles

  • Joe R.

    Since when are mopeds illegal? They just require registration, and in some cases a license and/or insurance. We’re not talking about mopeds here anyway. E-bikes are not mopeds. They’re a bicycle with a battery and a low-power electric motor.

  • inline_four

    I have not been woken up by a leaf blower. How do noise levels from unrestricted two-stroke engines relate to restricted four-strokes? I don’t think I follow your logic here. There are almost no two-stroke bikes to be found anymore and most smaller capacity bikes, like scooters, come with extremely quiet exhaust systems. Here’s a video of some traffic in Barcelona: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IidIA8QkFwE Notice the number of motorcycles and scooters you see and tell me if it sounds like that many leaf blowers.

    There are illegal exhaust systems that are excessively loud. I am 100% behind the need to enforce noise levels on bikes and other vehicles. NYS restricts bikes to 86 dB at 50 ft and from some charts I found online, it looks like diesel trucks and buses are in a similar range. How do you feel about city buses?

    As for speed and power limits, my concern here is that it’s going to be difficult to enforce this. Do you really think I’m going to get stopped by a cop if I’m on the wrong kind of electric bike going too fast? How do you foresee that kind of enforcement working?

    As you point out, the potential for high power output and speed and acceleration in bike paths is there and it’s a concern. You’re proposing rider education. How would you put that into practice?

    I think as time goes on, we’ll find it increasingly difficult to classify new kinds of vehicles if we’re not thinking about this now. A number of electric monowheels on the market today top out around 30 mph.

  • Joe R.

    They still seem noisy to me, especially compared to e-bikes, and yes, the noise from buses and trucks is bothersome to many, which is why I look forward to the time NYC converts its fleets to electric. Regardless of noise, there’s the pollution issue. No way would I want a gas scooter in a bike lane. Finally, there’s the fact small gas-powered vehicles are as functionally obsolete as incandescent light bulbs at this point. There’s just no real reason to make them when electric versions do everything better.

    The speed and power limits are best enforced at the point of sale. Sure, the end user can still disable the governor, but that’s a minor issue if the motor only has the power to go a few mph faster.

    Do you really think I’m going to get stopped by a cop if I’m on the wrong kind of electric bike going too fast? How do you foresee that kind of enforcement working?

    This isn’t how we should be enforcing anything. Rather, we levy sanctions only if there is actual death, injury, or damage to property. As a good example, in NYC motorists practically kill with impunity. This isn’t due to failure to enforce speed limits or other laws. Rather, it’s due to failure to hold motorists accountable when they kill or injure people by either fining or jailing them. We should start doing that. And we could do it for other vehicles. You’re only going “too fast” if you either hit something or you fall. Obviously, nobody wants to fall, so keeping speeds in check to prevent that on bad roads is kind of self-enforcing. It’s also kind of self-enforcing riding in such a manner as to not hit pedestrians or other cyclists as the cyclist can get hurt worse than those they hit. But in the event this self-enforcement fails, you can and should levy sanctions if reckless riding hurts or kills people. We don’t need the police standing there with radar guns issuing tickets. That will just lead to a lot of otherwise safe behavior resulting in fines. We do need them properly investigating crashes so the guilty party can be sanctioned.

    I think as time goes on, we’ll find it increasingly difficult to classify new kinds of vehicles if we’re not thinking about this now. A number of electric monowheels on the market today top out around 30 mph.

    Perhaps but in the scheme of things this is a minor safety issue. Some people are throwing hissy fits about these things when at the same time the streets are full of motor vehicles weighing thousands of pounds, most of which can do triple digit speeds with ease. And most cars these days accelerate like race cars did 25 years ago. They have more power than most people can handle. It seems to me if we’re going to regulate power and speed, conventional motor vehicles are the low-hanging fruit. Even if a small electric transportation appliance can go 30+ mph, that’s only a potential hazard in certain bike lanes at certain times, and only because NYC has many substandard bike lanes. In a general traffic lane, it’s far less dangerous than a car going even 15 mph in terms of kinetic energy.

    The real answer here is to build world-class bike lanes. The volume of users we’ll have with e-bikes will get us the political critical mass to do that. With proper bike infrastructure, you can easily and safely accommodate users going from 8 mph to 30+ mph.

  • inline_four

    You’ve written a lot and I don’t have the luxury of much time. So I won’t be able to address everything.

    When I visited Barcelona, which is the city in the clip I linked to, I was struck by how quiet and people friendly it was. Bikes of all kinds comprised large portions of the traffic, but noise wasn’t much of a factor.

    Pollution is an interesting thing when it comes to current state of technology. No question that motorcycles and scooters emit more than they could. Their standards in the US and Europe have been more lax than cars’, but that’s changing. You must also look at effective total pollution increase as a result of congestion. If I sit in traffic in a car or a diesel truck, consider the environmental impact of that, as compared to allowing more of these vehicles to flow freely. More people opting for non-clogging vehicles of any kind over cars and smarter road designs ought to be helping the situation.

    To your point about internal combustion engines being obsolete in the face of superior electric alternatives, that’s just not the case. Compare lifetime costs, performance, and convenience to see that we’re not there yet.

    To go back to the original point we started from, my feeling is that our city and the cycling community can benefit from a partnership between motorized riders and those relying on human power and from consistent rules and advocacy aimed at improving conditions for everyone.

  • Joe R.

    The noise is a bigger factor going down quieter residential streets. I recall the motorized kick scooters you saw in NYC occasionally about 10 years ago. They were as noisy and smelly as f*ck.

    Pollution is an interesting thing when it comes to current state of technology. No question that motorcycles and scooters emit more than they could. Their standards in the US and Europe have been more lax than cars’, but that’s changing.

    The problem is markets invariably gravitate towards the least expensive solution. That means overall these things will make more noise and emit more pollution that they could in theory.

    You must also look at effective total pollution increase as a result of congestion.

    Sure, I’d rather have a gas-powered scooter than a gas-powered SUV, but given a wider range of choices, I’d prefer neither. Yes, smaller vehicles are much better in terms of reducing pollution caused congestion. They’re even better if they don’t add to the pollution.

    To your point about internal combustion engines being obsolete in the face of superior electric alternatives, that’s just not the case. Compare lifetime costs, performance, and convenience to see that we’re not there yet.

    That’s more a thing for conventional motor vehicles, and even there we’re rapidly approaching the point within a few years where TCO is less with an electric. If mass-produced, EVs may even be cheaper to purchase.

    With smaller vehicles, whether or not there is a TCO difference is mostly moot given how expensive these vehicles are to start with. If an electric scooter costs a few hundred dollars more than a gas-powered one, that’s not a show stopper. And here again, efficiencies of mass production apply. Vehicles like e-bikes are already mass-produced, and they cost less than a gas-powered alternative with similar performance, like a 50cc scooter.

    There’s also the issue of installed base. In Europe scooters have been a thing for decades. As such, you have a huge installed base of gas scooters which will continue to be used until it’s no longer cost-effective to keep them on the road. In the US you’re essentially starting from scratch. It’s like building a new structure. Do you install incandescent lights or LEDs, even if the latter is a little more expensive? It makes no sense to start off with soon to be obsolete technology if you’re starting from scratch. That’s why we should just start phasing out smaller gas-powered vehicles, and eventually all gas-powered vehicles within a 10 to 15 year time frame.

    To go back to the original point we started from, my feeling is that our city and the cycling community can benefit from a partnership between motorized riders and those relying on human power and from consistent rules and advocacy aimed at improving conditions for everyone.

    No argument there. We need certain standards as to which vehicles are allowed in bike lanes and which aren’t. We also need to make sure vehicles sold comply with whatever regulations apply. Faster electric scooters/mopeds should have a place in our transportation system in addition to e-bikes. But those faster vehicles should ride in general traffic lanes.

  • Arrow 26A
  • Joe R.

    I don’t mopeds on that list. Here’s the section of the law dealing with mopeds:

    https://www.dmv.org/ny-new-york/other-types.php

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