Manhattan is Blocking E-Scooter and E-Bike Legalization

The borough's elected officials reportedly spurred the decision to take e-bike and e-scooter legalization out of the budget pending further review.

Manhattan CB 8 meetings like this one in July routinely attract hordes of cycling opponents. Photo: David Meyer
Manhattan CB 8 meetings like this one in July routinely attract hordes of cycling opponents. Photo: David Meyer

The push to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes has hit a pothole: the borough of Manhattan.

Manhattan representatives are apparently the reason legislators opted to table Governor Cuomo’s plan to allow localities to decide for themselves about the legality of the vehicles, a plan that was included in his proposed executive budget, but quietly removed.

“Neither house felt this was a budget issue, and so it was decided that it was best to deal with it afterwards,” said Justin Flagg, spokesman for Senate Finance Chairwoman Liz Krueger, whose district encompasses much of Manhattan’s East Side. “Senator Krueger does not feel that Manhattan streets and bike lanes can handle throttle e-bikes or e-scooters. She does not have a position on other boroughs or communities outside of New York City.”

New York City legalized pedal-assist e-bikes through the city’s rule-making process last year, but throttle-controlled e-bikes and e-scooters remain illegal under state and city law. Until the state acts, a city council bill that would legalize the vehicles remains stalled, putting workers who use them at risk of hefty fines and penalties.

Vocal opposition makes the future of the vehicles even more uncertain: No less than three Manhattan community boards have passed resolutions opposing the Council bill and questioning the logic of legalizing them in tandem with e-scooters.

Community Board 4, representing Chelsea and Hells Kitchen, favors e-scooter legalization, but has a laundry list of conditions related to rider education, top speeds, and ensuring the vehicles are used and parked on the street and not the sidewalk. The board opposes the presence of throttle-powered e-bikes in bike lanes and wants them treated as mopeds (i.e., with mandatory licensing.) [PDF] Community Board 2 in the West Village passed a resolution with similar conclusions.

The Upper East Side’s CB 8, meanwhile opposes both e-scooters and throttle-powered e-bikes. Its resolution suggests the e-scooters have a “high injury rate,” even though the data is inconclusive. The board justifies its opposition to throttle e-bikes on the grounds that the vehicles are “perceived as a serious threat” — implicitly admitting that there is no data to support the assertion that e-bikes are any more dangerous than regular bicycles. Mayor de Blasio often speaks of the perception of danger from e-bikes, yet never provides statistics to back up his fears as he orders the NYPD to seize delivery workers’ bikes, costing the workers several weeks’ pay.

At the same time, however, boards are grappling with the concerns for worker rights. Amid the ongoing crackdown, CB 8 did at least call on the city to restrict penalties to employers and endorsed reducing the fine for e-bike use from $500 to $100. CB 4 and CB 2 similarly nodded to the concerns of working e-bike users. All three boards endorsed council legislation requiring the city to provide funding and support for delivery workers to convert their throttled-powered bikes to pedal-assist.

“We encourage the Council to pass laws to raise bike delivery workers wages and mandate delivery charges — as the Council did successfully with Uber drivers and restaurant workers, rather than by legalizing excessively fast vehicles driven by unlicensed operators in bike lanes, where they do not belong,” CB 4’s resolution reads.

With budget season in the rearview mirror, advocates expect Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Nily Rozic to introduce new stand-alone e-bike/e-scooter legislation in Albany. Public hearings are expected.

Bird and Lime, two of the e-scooter companies hoping to enter the New York market, have spent big on lobbying at both the state and city levels, according to filings with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Bird has spend the most, paying a handful of lobbyists — including Tusk Strategies, MirRam Group, and Michael Woloz — $77,856 so far this year.

Krueger is a long-time e-bike foe. In 2012, she supported Council legislation that would have raised the fine for riding an e-bike to $1,000. But she’s hardly alone among elected officials representing Manhattan: In the Council, Helen Rosenthal, Corey Johnson, Keith Powers, Ben Kallos, and Bill Perkins have opted to co-sponsor only legislation piloting scooters in the outer-borough, and not bills permitting e-bikes and e-scooters use citywide.

Officials are caught between not wanting to crush immigrant workers with burdensome penalties and the need to respond to vocal constituents opposed to bikes and e-bikes, said CB 4 Transportation Committee Chairwoman Christine Berthet.

“The elected officials are hearing a lot of negative stuff about the bikes, and by bikes I mean bike behavior — being on the sidewalks, running the red lights, not being compliant,” Berthet told Streetsblog.

“You have older people, you have conservative people. People who are more likely to own cars. And they just hate the bikes. Period. So now with the e-bikes, it’s like, ‘What do we do?'”

[Editor’s note: Every single person killed in a crash on New York City streets last year was killed by the driver of a car or truck. Cyclists killed no one.]

  • 8FH

    I’m glad the proposal failed. It would have basically banned ebikes and had a bunch of ridiculous rules. (Yield at all times to both drivers and pedestrians?)

    I was also worried about how it would affect already legal pedal assist vehicles in NYC.

  • This article seems to lump electric scooters and E-bikes into the same column. E-Bikes may have never killed anyone but that is because they have an established right of way,there is existing infrastructure for them and they pose mostly, the same risks as normal bikes. The same cannot be said for electric scooters, though they have a very limited time in wide operation,the injuries they have caused both to users and pedestrian have resulted in a significant spikes in emergency room visits in the cities where they operate ie.Washington D.C. the only available metric for now.That on top of the key fact, that they serve no real need anywhere not in transit rich inner boroughs,given they aren’t free, and not in the outer boroughs as they would not go faster than perhaps the slowest worst form of transit,a bus.They a significant hazard to bystander’s and are a play thing that is health hazard to users themselves,as a lazy form of mobility for otherwise walkable distances.

  • Elizabeth F

    I agree, it was a proposal that needed to fail. Among other things:

    * It allowed municipalities to ban e-bikes, including pedal-assist ebikes. That would have made them (essentially) useless for going anywhere outside of NYC.

    * The “must yield at all time to cars” rule would have made it impossible to sue for damages in case of injury. And it would also have made it impossible to actually go anywhere on a road, since you’d always be yielding to cars instead. It went against everything we know about how to ride safely in traffic.

    * It banned carrying children on e-bikes, even if they are designed to carry children. This in spite of the fact that NY State has no bans or even regulations regarding carrying children on motorcycles. That’s right; you can carry your six-year-old child on the NY State Thruway or Cross Bronx Expressway.

    * It had a ridiculous clothing requirement, as well as helmet law.

  • Elizabeth F

    > This article seems to lump electric scooters and E-bikes into the same column.

    Because the proposed law did the same thing. It was a bad proposal.

    But your characterization of e-scooters falls short. Since WALKING is faster than a bus in Manhattan, it’s easy to believe that scooters are as well. And who cares if they are “free” — plus, people CAN actually own their own scooter, even though the emphasis has been on rentals. But I agree, I don’t think that scooters are as safe as bicycles.

  • Elizabeth F

    My first thought is… “I told you so.” When New Yorker lawmakers first started proposing legislation beyond pedal assist e-bikes for NYC, my sense was that the political will was just not there; and that the former opposition to throttle e-bikes was being glossed over, not addressed.

    I believe that NY State will be best served at this time with statewide legalization of pedal assist e-bikes, and classification of them simply as “bicycles” without any extra rules. Maybe we can revisit throttles and scooters a few years down the line.

  • It is important to establish that no vehicle with a motor be permitted to use bicycle infrastructure.

    I ride the Revel scooters (or, as the company calls them, “mopeds”, on account of the law’s inaccurate term for these vehicles that have no pedals). And they are forbidden in bike lanes. This would be appropriate for all vehicles with motors.

  • “the injuries they have caused both to users and pedestrian have resulted in a significant spikes in emergency room visits in the cities where they operate ie.Washington D.C. the only available metric for now”

    For one thing, if the scooters are operating in many cities and we only have data for one city, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to craft policy around a statistical extrapolation of that one city’s data.

    Second, we would expect injuries to occur – it’s not an activity without risk, particularly for reckless people just getting started – and we would also expect the injury rate to be an increase from zero, when the scooters were not around. Doctors have made the same mistake with bicycles, mistaking a rise in injuries for a rise in danger (when the increase in injuries actually trailed the increase in usage statistics). Listen to statisticians, not to doctors.

    Third, we have no data to conclude that it’s a particularly dangerous activity. We couldn’t even really define what is “dangerous” to begin with, as we do not know what kind of “injury rate” is acceptable to policy makers, and all of the conversation on this revolves around anecdotes and fearmongering (also echoing the rollout of bicycle infrastructure)

    Finally, scooter use should come with serious training & real enforcement efforts. I have been on one and I would not be comfortable throwing myself to the ground at top speed. I can imagine that a collision could lead to serious injuries. I also constantly see illegally-sized trucks flatten people like pancakes in New York & I see nobody react or demand reforms, so honestly everyone complaining about scooters (which haven’t even been tried here yet) can fuck off.

  • Dimitris Koutoumbas

    They’re? already? on?the? roads. Adjust to the times already

  • Seth Rosenblum

    Why? Why should a 30-year-old on a road bike, and a 65-year-old on a pedal assist citi bike, when they’re going the same speed, take up the same space, and are exactly as vulnerable to being hit by a car as each other not be able to use the same infrastructure?

  • 8FH

    We are in complete agreement! I actually contacted my state senator and laid out all the ridiculous problems with the proposal.

    We definitely need throttle e-bikes legalized, but this isn’t the right law. I would support treating them like motorcycles when using standard street infrastructure, treating like bikes on bike infrastructure (and requiring a switch to limit to 20mph), and banning from limited use roadways.

    This would ban most e-bikes from greenways, and also from using bike lanes over bridges. That’s where an exception would need to be made because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to cross bridges at all with e-bikes.

  • AMH

    A note to all the pearl clutchers concerned about sidewalk riding:

    YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE STREETS SAFE TO RIDE ON

  • I admit that I haven’t yet encountered people riding the pedal assist CitiBikes; if they really go at the speed of a bicycle, then I suppose it’s OK for them to be on bike infrastructure.

    But my experience is that e-bike riders and bicyclists rarely go at the same speed. People on e-bikes go significantly faster than people on bicycles. I have reguarly been smoked by e-bikes — and these are e-bikes with pedals — on regular streets and on climbs onto bridges. I mean, I know that I keep a pretty slow average; but even when I am approaching 20 miles per hour, e-bikes go right past me.

    When I ride a Revel “moped”, I am typically going at around 25 miles per hour, which is similar to the speeds that I witness for e-bike riders. So this is why I think that the same restrictions should apply.

  • JD

    I have reguarly been smoked by e-bikes — and these are e-bikes with pedals — on regular streets and on climbs onto bridges.

    So what? Why is this an issue? We’re not all out here racing each other. There is no “competitive fairness” question. People are trying to get from point A to point B.

  • It’s an issue because the regularly observable disparity in speeds demonstrates that these vehicles do not belong in bike lanes with people going 10 or 15 miles per hour.

    When I am riding at 20-25 miles per hour on a Revel “moped”, I do so in a regular traffic lane, alongside other vehicles going at a similar speed. Riders of e-bikes should be required to do likewise, as they keep a similar pace.

  • Joe R.

    Bike lanes should be usable up to the legal speed limit, and designed so bike traffic of different speeds can safely coexist. This isn’t rocket science. In the Netherlands I’ve seen videos of velomobiles traveling at 70+ km/hr (that’s 43+ mph) sharing the same bike infrastructure that school children use. Here we’re talking about an even smaller speed disparity. Should fast cyclists be banned from bike lanes also, even though they don’t have a motor? Back in my prime I used to ride at 26 or 27 mph, yet I could coexist with cyclists of all speeds in the little bike infrastructure we had back then.

    Note also the only kind legal e-bikes in NYC right now are pedal-assist e-bikes which top out at 20 mph. 20 mph is too slow to share space with motor traffic, especially in the outer boroughs. You might make a good case for requiring e-bikes to use motor traffic lanes if they could go, say, 30 mph, but not 20 mph. In fact, they have pedal-assist e-bikes which top out at 28 mph. If the law required these (but not the 20 mph ones) to use general traffic lanes then that’s something I would certainly support, provided the 28 mph e-bikes were otherwise treated like regular bikes (i.e. no license, registration, insurance, or helmet requirement).

  • Joe R.

    The helmet requirement especially was something I could easily see causing problems for cyclists on regular bikes. The cops would pull over any bike going fast, on the theory it was an e-bike, then issue a ticket for not wearing a helmet. You would then have to waste a day in court proving you weren’t riding an e-bike, and hence didn’t have to wear a helmet.

  • Joe R.

    What’s particular galling here is the Manhattan-centric one-size-fits-all approach. As an outer borough resident I’m tired of having laws which perhaps make some sense in crowded Midtown applying to the entire city. The general prohibition on sidewalk riding is one. It should be legal in the outer boroughs. E-bikes are another thing which should be generally legal in the outer boroughs. Pedal-assist e-bikes, both the 20 and 28 mph varieties, and 20 mph throttle e-bikes, as well as e-scooters, should be legal here as well. If they’re problematic in certain parts of Manhattan at certain times, then perhaps ban them at those places and times.

  • If we had wide bike lanes that dominated the road, then your point would be valid. But in our thin strip bike lanes at the margin of the road, no way is such disparity in speed a good thing.

    And that goes for human power, as well. If you are riding at 27 miles per hour, then you should not do so in a bike lane; you should choose one of the many streets that have no bike lane.

    Finally, note that the Revel “mopeds” are available only to people with driver’s licences. They require registration and insurance (both handled by the company); and riders must wear a motorcycle helmet (which the company provides).

  • Joe R.

    I’m aware of the moped laws. The point of treating e-bikes (which are generally slower and much lighter) like regular bikes is to encourage their use, which is certainly something you want to do in a place like NYC.

    And yes, we need bike lanes which dominate the road. Car lanes have dominated the roads for far too long.

  • Daphna

    Thank you for those details.

  • Elizabeth F

    By the same logic, we should ban Freds. Get used to it… different bikes and bikers travel at different speeds.

  • kevd

    “I admit that I haven’t yet encountered people riding the pedal assist CitiBikes”
    I think you probably have and didn’t realize.
    I see them every damn day.
    Look for the lightning Bolt logo.

  • kevd

    its an issue because ferd’s ego hurts, I think.

  • If emergency room visits are the metric, they should rush to ban cars.

  • Isabella Chu

    Cars crush injure a couple million and kill another ~90,0000/year by blunt force trauma (32,000) and soffocation (53,000). But yea, let’s crack down on scooters.

  • Isabella Chu

    Cars injure about 2 million people a year and kill another 90,000 by crushing (32,000) and suffocation (53,000) in the US. But yea, let’s worry about scooters.

  • AMH

    DC bans sidewalk riding downtown, but it’s legal everywhere else, which makes sense.

  • I wish legislators would separate ebikes and e scooters , evaluate what problem they are trying to fix, and build upon existing laws to resolved said problem.
    Meanwhile an engine is an engine, no matter if diesel or electric . I wish the advocates would put in place parameters of max speed, engine or not, and size for what goes in the bike lanes and can be driven without a license and registration

    By the way electric bikes are legal if you get a license and registration. Not sure what the big fuss is about .
    Do we want people driving a motorized vehicle at 28 miles per hour without a license and registration?What if they build mini cars that go at 28 mph ? Is it ok to drive them without license ?
    We need to put our heads together and be thoughtful about all of it. BEWARE of commercial entreprise who want to a billion $ IPO.

  • MatthewEH

    I can _sorta_ see the logic of a sidewalk cycling ban just on the grounds that it is (usually) less safe for the cyclist to ride on sidewalks. Issues with curb cuts/parking entrances, coming from intersections from unexpected places (easier to get right- or left-hooked), riding opposite-way, etc.

    I wonder if this is one of those cases like mandatory helmet laws, where what may be good for an individual rider to do is _bad_ to enshrine as a one-size-fits-all rule, though. (Though I’d say that the safety benefits of riding on-road as opposed to sidewalk are *pretty clear* in 98% of cases; safety benefits of helmets are more debatable.)

    I like Denver’s law on sidewalk cycling, actually, which is that it’s permissible, below 6 mph and within a block of one’s destination.

  • Joe R.

    My logic here is that in the outer boroughs especially there are a lot of arterials with fast motor traffic and nearly empty sidewalks. Why shouldn’t the sidewalk do double duty as a protected bike lane, with the proviso that cyclists must get out of the way of pedestrians, not vice versa, and also keep their speed fairly low (i.e. less than 10 or 12 mph)?

    Also, don’t all the issues you mention with sidewalk riding pretty much apply to protected bike lanes? That’s one reason a lot of experienced cyclists avoid them and actively campaign against them.

    The idea here is timid cyclists who also generally ride pretty slow (hence don’t pose a danger to pedestrians) will choose the sidewalk, while faster cyclists who are generally more comfortable in traffic won’t, except in really dicey places. For example, I ride on the sidewalk here:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.6663882,-73.8417816,3a,75y,167.79h,86.14t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sO9wJ4Ue7CV9ZdbyTI07cSg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    There are several lanes of fast motor traffic, and really no where for a cyclist to go if he/she gets squeezed. Generally though I hate sidewalk cycling because it’s a lot slower than using the street.

    safety benefits of helmets are more debatable

    In aggregate helmet use actually makes cycling more dangerous. On an individual level it depends upon how prone the rider is to falling, how fast they ride, and so forth. However, the latest studies show a neutral to slightly negative overall effectiveness of bike helmets from a protection standpoint.

  • Hoboken allows sidewalk riding; I believe that the standard named in their law is “walking speed”.

    In my experience, that policy has encouraged sidewalk riding to an unacceptable degree; and there is not nearly the enforcement necessary to insentivise people to adhere to the “walking speed” standard. The policy has been a failure, and should be changed to prohibit riding on the sidewalk.

    New York City gets it exactly right: children 12 years of age or under may ride on the sidewalk; anyone older than that may not.

  • EcoAdvocate

    Ha, you sound like you’re NYPD brass.
    Person driving a car kills someone on a bike.
    Next day NYPD harasses people (future victims) on bicycles.
    Drivers, as you were.

  • EcoAdvocate

    and I live in Upstate NY. These could be very good here. We don’t even have good late night transit to some locations, where buses can shut down after 10pm to get to some areas in/around this small city (of Ithaca). These, especially ebikes, escooters can help give people other options.

  • EcoAdvocate

    Sidewalk riding should be highly discouraged. It’s allowed here, in NYS for small kids of course, but we want to get people on bikes into the streets.
    It’s safer for the person on the bicycle, despite how they feel about it (e.g. approaching driveways and intersections, riding along crosswalks).
    More people on bikes riding in the streets does create more awareness for drivers. It’s certainly a bike complaint of x-brand name company bike share here, some hate the bike share because it leads to a lot of riding on sidewalks.
    GPS systems are not so accurate at the moment (bikes may not be exactly in the location of where they appear on the user app). I wonder how long it will be to have geofencing down to such exact measures where, NOT the bike itself, but the electric motor could cut down to say 5mph, were the bike to go onto a sidewalk.
    They’re sidewalks, not siderides!

  • EcoAdvocate

    Yes! I wish advocates instead of being anti-scooters, anti (e) bikes, would be more pro-traffic calming, more pro-bike lanes (where appropriate).

  • Elizabeth F

    This is why we need to stick with 20mph pedal assist e-bikes ONLY. 28mph e-bikes are not so different from 30mph (electric) scooters, which require license and registration and are legal today.

  • manny

    these bikes are riding on sidewalks in Brooklyn greenwood heights delivering food not caring about people walking on sidewalks.

  • al_frick

    Make up your damn minds libbies. Either you’re for bicycles/e-bikes/scooters or you’re not. You spent the last 10 years closing down lanes and streets all over the city, reconfiguring them for completely unused bike lanes or pedestrian areas (note: Pike Slip, 11th street btw 7th and 6th ave) and making traffic a misery. And now you don’t think ebikes can be handled by the double-wide bike lanes you’ve created that have zero people riding along on them most of the time?????

    I actually get it – you’re not pro-bike. You’re just anti-car.

  • al_frick

    What has me scratching my head is that you have designated bike lanes and also bike paths in parks and along the Hudson and East rivers in Manhattan. And yet it’s illegal to ride a 19 mile/hour scooter when you can get up to 30 miles/hour on a regular 10-speed bike? Set a speed limit and you’re done. That’s all.

  • al_frick

    Are you serious? 70% of the year, those bike lanes are completely empty. The other 30% in the summer, they’re ill-used and this is in Manhattan. Most e-scooters have a max speed under 20 and are lighter than a kid’s bike. How are they more dangerous in any way than a pedal bike?

  • al_frick

    Simple rule, bike lanes can be used by anyone, pedestrians, bikes, whatever as long as the combined weight of driver/vehicle is under 500 lbs and min speed is 10mph max is 20mph. Done.

    Yes, that includes allowing motorcycles in bike paths provided they go under 20mph.

  • Jason Chang

    How about instead of trying to ban these e-vehicles, work on setting laws and regulating them?

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