City Council E-Bike/E-Scooter Legislation: What You Need to Know

Mayor de Blasio believes e-bikes are unsafe. Council Speaker Corey Johnson isn't a bill sponsor, but he's already pushing back.

Council Member Rafael Espinal, podium, is the lead sponsor on a package of bills aimed to allow e-bikes and e-scooters on city streets. Photo: David Meyer
Council Member Rafael Espinal, podium, is the lead sponsor on a package of bills aimed to allow e-bikes and e-scooters on city streets. Photo: David Meyer

When it comes to the legalization of e-scooters and e-bikes, Mayor de Blasio is already peddling the bogus talking points of hysterical opponents who claim the Council bills introduced on Wednesday pose an inherent danger to pedestrians.

He should know better.

City agencies, after all, track traffic fatalities. As of the end of September, 145 people had been killed in crashes. Every single one of them was caused by a car driver, according to DOT.

“These are not morally or safety-equivalent things,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson told reporters today. “One is very deadly, one can injure people — but not in the same way as trucks and cars.”

Since last October, when the mayor announced that NYPD officers would crack down on the city’s mostly immigrant e-bike delivery workers, the city has yet to produce any data showing that e-bikes pose any danger to pedestrians.

De Blasio refuses to acknowledge that. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, he justified his position with anecdotes, not data.

“We have a safety issue that is quite clear to me,” the mayor said. “I’ve heard it from so many people in the city.”

With actual legislation finally on the table, the debate over the future of e-bikes and e-scooters is finally in full swing. Here’s what you need to know:

The Albany Question

The legislative package unveiled Wednesday by Council Members Rafael Espinal and colleagues comprises four bills:

  • Intro. 1250 would legalize e-scooters and cap their speed at 15 mph.
  • Intro. 1264 would legalize throttle-powered e-bikes and cap their speed at 20 mph. Both of those bills would also decrease the fine for operating an illegal e-bike or e-scooter from $500 to $100.
  • Intro. 1266, would require that city DOT create a pilot program that sounds not unlike the one currently underway for dockless bike-share.
  • Intro. 1265, would create a city-run program to provide the necessary resources for low-income workers — i.e., workers whose incomes do not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty live — to make their bikes street-legal in accordance with Intro. 1264.

Without data to back up his claims about safety concerns, Mayor de Blasio tends to fall back on the fact the e-bikes are illegal under state law. He’s not incorrect: Federal law classifies certain types of e-bikes as bikes, as opposed to motor vehicles, but New York State law has never caught up.

The first two bills seek to exempt e-scooters and e-bikes from city rules prohibiting the use of “motorized scooters.” But the mayor may be right: Albany might need to act.

As such, Johnson wouldn’t give the bills an outright endorsement, but did say he’s “excited” about them. He also told reporters he hoped the council’s committee hearing process would help address the city vs. state issue.

“There are some legal concerns that we’re trying to sort through,” Johnson said, “but I still think it’s important to have a hearing on these bills.”

Step One for E-Scooters: A DOT Pilot Program

Intro. 1250 would legalize the e-scooters, but it wouldn’t give scooter companies carte blanche to drop their equipment willy-nilly all over the city.

The pilot would last from one to two years, and would focus on neighborhoods outside of the existing Citi Bike network or are affected by the L train shutdown.

Toward the end of the pilot period, DOT would be required to recommend whether to implement a permanent e-scooter-share program.

Material Support for Delivery Workers

Intro. 1265, which would get low-income workers resources to make their bikes street-legal, responds to concerns from delivery workers and their allies, who spent the greater part of this year arguing that the de Blasio administration’s move to legalize pedal-assist e-bikes unjustly penalized the city’s largely immigrant delivery workforce.

By and large, delivery workers use throttled-powered e-bikes, which are considered motorcycles under state law. The combination of fines, confiscated property, and lost wages means a single ticket can easily cost well over $1,000.

Since many delivery workers already own their e-bikes, many of which would exceed the 20 mph speed limit of Intro 1264, the Deliver Justice Coalition pushed Council Members to ensure workers won’t continue to face hefty financial penalties for doing their jobs.

Intro. 1265 would do just that.

E-Bike Champions Aren’t Protected Bike Lane Champions

E-scooter and e-bike proponents argue that the new technology will lead to a dramatic uptick in people biking and scootering around New York City. If that’s the case, we’re going to need a hell of a lot more protected bike lanes.

Council Member Robert Cornegy is a fan of the e-scooter. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Member Robert Cornegy is a fan of the e-scooter. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

But the City Council’s e-bike champions aren’t all strong advocates of protected bike lane. Of the bill sponsors, only transportation committee chairman Ydanis Rodriguez has stuck out his neck for protected bike lanes in his Upper Manhattan district.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Rodriguez said he would push the de Blasio administration and City Council to double the number of protected bike lane miles installed each year, from the current 25.

“We need to keep expanding the protected bike lanes,” he said at a press conference alongside Espinal and others.

Other Council Members on hand were less bullish on the issue of protected bike lanes. Espinal said the city should continue its current rate of protected bike lane expansion. Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera, another bill co-sponsor, argued that more people biking and scootering would inevitably lead to safer infrastructure — putting the horse before the cart.

“We’re going to see an evolution of more bike lanes,” Cabrera said, “The culture of transportation is going to demand the infrastructure to catch up with it.”

  • AnoNYC

    15 MPH vs 20 MPH is just enough to feel much more at risk in general traffic as drivers tailgate you. 20 MPH on a bike lane is achievable in a normal bike lane with a sprint or on a slight downhill.

    Any real enforcement is unlikely on this one though.

  • NYC is a unique city but it is the only place in the country with an anti-electric bicycle stance. The real question is why? Taxicab companies?

    You can park 7 bikes (electric or otherwise) in one parking place so they can help relieve parking challenges. They emit zero particulates so they can help with air quality.

    What’s the objection? Safety? Really? 146 deaths caused by cars and zero by bikes.

  • Mike

    Happy to have e-bikes legalized, but scooters would be a terrible nuisance in the bike lanes. It would be great to have more separation between the two issues, although I suppose it is possible that the e-bike bill will pass and the scooter one will fail.

  • Elizabeth F

    > But the mayor may be right: Albany might need to act.

    The mayor may also be wrong. See here, for how NYC really does get to set its own laws on this stuff:

    https://www.citylandnyc.org/scooters-hoverboards-bicycles-whats-legal/

  • Elizabeth F

    > Intro. 1265, would create a city-run program to… make their bikes street-legal in accordance with Intro. 1264

    Better would be a law requiring e-bike shops in NYC who have sold non-street-legal bikes to make them street-legal for their customers for free. Realistically, this will not be very costly, and the shops really are the ones that should bear this cost.

  • Elizabeth F

    It’s more likely that the scooter bill will pass and the e-bike bill fail.

    But really… what’s so annoying about scooters in the bike lane? They are neither as big, nor as fast, nor as heavy as e-bikes (which are fine in the bike lane).

  • Elizabeth F

    Enforcement comes by ensuring that scooters sold are in compliance. Even if a few people mod their scooters, most will not. And it will be easy to keep scooter share companies in compliance; they are expected to provide the bulk of scooters in the City.

  • Mike

    They have a side-to-side motion and make quick unpredictable turns. I’ve ridden near them, and they are a stressful nightmare to avoid running into — especially given all the other stuff that I need to pay attention to. Ebikes perform pretty much like bikes in terms of motion, and they aren’t a problem to ride near.

    Scooters also will clutter our already very limited sidewalk space.

  • Elizabeth F

    That’s what riding in a straight line, signaling your turns, and looking back before moving sideways are for. But I long ago concluded that most people forget whatever they learned in driver’s ed when they get on a bike. Probably no different on a scooter. I would recommend ringing your bell before passing them, and then passing with care. (You do have a bell on your bike as required by NYC law, right???)

    Inline skates are the worst in terms of side-to-side.

    > Scooters also will clutter our already very limited sidewalk space.

    No, scooter SHARE might clutter our sidewalk space. Personally owned scooters will not.

  • Mike

    1) There are very few inline skaters in the city, and nobody is proposing leaving a couple thousand pairs of inline skates all over the sidewalks so that they can start taking over the bike lanes.

    2) “Probably no different on a scooter”? That’s just wrong. I’ve ridden with people on scooters, and they ride chaotically.

    3) You don’t need drivers ed for a bike or a scooter.

    4) I do ring my bell. It doesn’t always help. It’s also absurd to suggest that I’m somehow responsible for how other people ride their scooters and that my bell ringing is the problem.

    5) Most importantly, people on scooters can behave in ways that are far more dangerous to cyclists than other cyclists can. The turn radius and maneuverability of scooters allows them to be far more dangerous than bikes can be, and from personal experience I can tell you that people on scooters take full advantage of maneuverability to ride in a manner that they enjoy but that is dangerous to nearby cyclists.

  • Reggie

    “E-scooter and e-bike proponents argue that the new technology will lead to a dramatic uptick in people biking and scootering around New York City. If that’s the case, we’re going to need a hell of a lot more protected bike lanes,” which is (in two sentences) exactly how we arrive at this strange-bedfellows moment. Having almost been hit by someone on a throttle-powered e-bike (aka unregistered motorcycle), I am not a fan of sharing the bike lanes with someone riding twice as fast as me on a device that generates no engine noise. If the city wants to legalize a new class of motor vehicles, the people riding them should ride in the lane established for the other motor vehicles, not the lane used by people on human-power vehicles.

  • Homo Eroticus

    AMEN!!! Not only that – these people fighting for immigrant rights want them to make more deliveries faster?!? Do they realize automation is about to come take their jobs? This legislation is near-sighted at best, and will immediately place undue burden on manual cyclists who depend on these bike lanes everyday for decades. What were these delivery persons riding before this technology? Right! This is a ploy for #BigBusiness and #Corporations to again make this city even less inhabitable for average-to-poor NYers. These machines cost over $1K. Anyone who can afford them and the maintenance of them are not speaking from a low-income persons perspective. And if they want to talk about ‘immigrant’ (though I prefer the term undocumented) workers’ rights – Investigate these restaurants that pay these people pennies; steal their wages; and demand their lives from them in order to supply already well-off NYers for their ‘takeout’. GTFO of here with the electronic trash. It’s not sustainable…do we really think these folks know where and how to recycle these batteries once they’re expired? This is A VERY VERY bad idea.

  • Homo Eroticus

    Besides the fact that anyone riding these scooters (that is above the age of 5) looks like a complete tool – fair point.

  • Homo Eroticus

    THERE IS NO INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THIS LEGISLATION. Do you ride a bike in the streets of NYC?!? Then you do not know what it is like to compete with 1) Food carts; 2) Disabled people in wheelchairs; 3) UPS/FEDEX/USPS workers; 4) Construction that removes patches of bike lanes at once forcing cyclists into traffic lanes; 5) Private restaurant deliveries not looking when entering bike lanes; 6) Parked cars; 7) Already inexperienced cyclists (esp. tourists) taking selfies on Citibikes; 8) Delivery persons with food bags hanging 1foot from both sides of their handle bars & speeding well beyond 20mph. Our bike lane infrastructure is 3rd rate at best – and at this present time – there is NO room for electric machines to be there.

  • motorock

    Your privilege is showing. I have seen normal cyclists (I am one of them too) that can go faster than 20mph continuously and many (esp those spandex wearing douchebags) who are cutting through traffic outside of lane, running lights and nearly running over people and just being extremely entitled with their yelling and hand gestures even when they are at fault. Dont be that guy. Learn to share the road- all these classes of vehicles, bicycles or ebikes or scooters- are vulnerable but help people achieve mobility. No one is going motorized-transport speeds here. Relax.

  • motorock

    Poor NYers? Most of the bike lanes cater to rich or gentrified neighborhoods- and show up pretty much in sync with gentrification. Just check the citi bike map for that it’s a pretty clear indicator. Research has shown most bike lane users tend to skew white, younger and male. Ebikes owned by the immigrants range from $200-600- and it gives them range and load carrying power at a very affordable (compared to scootes, motorcycles and cars).
    And don’t try to deflect the issue to restaurants- yes, they should be investigated but that’s not the issue here. People are trying to make a living. It is a fact that the delivery workers face harassment while they are trying to make a living.- whatever your problem with it be. In NYC, we need more alternatives for mobility and be forward thinking. Ebikes are getting popular the world over- maybe get out of you old world mentality and embrace technology and the future. Perhaps you are privileged enough to afford a house near where you work but there are thousands and millions who could do with some extra help doing the same. NIMBYs are a serious obstacle to progress and smart thinking for crowded cities like NYC and then we wonder why everything sucks here.

  • motorock

    There is no stat that says ebikes have been unsafe for anyone and yet they are banned by NYC- I think the Mayor is waiting for someone to give him some money so he can make them legal.
    And after having ridden the scooters in California and experienced their usefulness and efficiency, people who complain about them are just old farts who want to stand in the way of progress (and those who will ultimately fade away as the non-believers). Just my opinion.
    I am just surprised a “modern” city like NYC has taken so long to even think about these things. Well, I shouldn’t be because people’s old world American mentality has the city warring out against completely legal motorcyclists too and not passing laws to protect them. Everyone sees a motorcycle in one stereotypical way that they have been taught by their parents or media. And that’s why they also see ebikes and scooters the same way…same OLD way of thinking. Time to move forward..

  • Jemilah Magnusson

    It’s a false perception of a safety issue, the same thing that’s happening now with the discussion of scooters. Bloomberg, and whoever had his ear, just really didn’t like e-bikes. That’s about all there is to it.

  • Jemilah Magnusson

    Having more people use the bike lanes would actually help, since the problem there really isn’t space, it’s enforcement. If there is a steady stream of bikes, scooters using that space, it’s much harder for trucks, pedestrians, cars to block it.

  • Joe R.

    Same with me. The entire speed thing is a red herring. First off, just because the bike can 20 mph or more doesn’t mean the rider will be riding at that speed all the time. Just as riders on pedal bikes modulate their speed depending upon the situation, so do riders on e-bikes. Second, yes, lots of riders on pedal bikes can do 20+ mph continuously, even more on downgrades or with tailwinds. For example, I recall times I was cruising at ~35 mph when I had a strong wind on my back. I would have passed any 20 mph e-bike like it was standing still. Third, consider even my high-end cruising speed is about average for motor vehicles in this city, and many motorists go 40 or 50 mph. Given all that, I’m not seeing all the fuss over ~20 mph small, light motorized vehicles.

  • Joe R.

    Look at the big picture. Lots of people who would never ride a pedal bike will find either e-bikes or e-scooters useful. That increases the base of support for bike lanes. This in turn gives us the political critical mass to get bicycle infrastructure where fast and slow vehicles can safely coexist. Agreed that most of our bicycle infrastructure is third world, but it will remain that way if we only have pedal cyclists. There just aren’t enough of us to push for anything much better than what we already have.

  • Reggie

    What privilege are you referring to? I think you are making a bunch of incorrect presumptions not only about who I am but how I ride that aren’t backed up by anything I wrote.

  • motorock
  • Reggie

    I was aware of your condescending attitude without the graphic but it is always fun to upload pictures to blog posts.

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