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Biking Public Project

Speaker Corey Johnson Fights 13th Precinct Over E-Bike Confiscations

5:09 PM EDT on May 23, 2019

Yes, the latest e-bike crackdown included a bicycle with a child’s seat. Photo: NYPD


City Council Speaker Corey Johnson trolled commanders of a Midtown Manhattan police precinct on social media this week after they boasted on Twitter about confiscating four electric bicycles that appeared to belong to delivery workers— including one with a child's seat.

The post by the 13th Precinct was tagged "#VisionZero" — an ironic nod to the city's ongoing efforts to reduce carnage caused by 2,000-pound automobiles, yet has involved crackdowns on people riding e-bikes, despite the fact that they cause minuscule numbers of injuries.

Johnson pulled out his own smartphone and basically called the crackdown dumb.

"We need to legalize e-bikes for delivery workers," Johnson tweeted. "This should not be our enforcement focus."

The fine for riding an e-bike is $500 and each e-bike is worth around $1,500. All told, the four delivery workers whose bikes the 13th Precinct confiscated lost thousands of dollars in fines and lost property and wages. The NYPD did not reveal their identities.

The 13th Precinct declined multiple inquiries from Streetsblog to comment, deferring to the department's press office. That office did not respond either.

Efforts to legalize e-bikes are moving slowly, after a jolt of momentum from the e-scooter industry last fall brought a slew of city council members on board. That effort stalled, however, when Johnson's legal team insisted that legalization requires action from the state legislature — a position contested by some advocates.

Governor Cuomo included such legislation in his budget proposal in January, but the senate and assembly scrapped it due to opposition from Manhattan legislators, whose constituents generate the most e-bike complaints of anywhere in the city. In April, State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Nily Rozic, both of Queens, introduced their own bills.

Mayor de Blasio defends the NYPD's enforcement practices, arguing that the city has no choice given the bikes' current legal status and the perceived public safety concern, which is not backed by NYPD data. He often cites anecdotes of constituents telling him that they are "almost hit" by cyclists.

“There’s plenty of evidence of them being used in a manner that’s reckless, that doesn’t conform to the way all the other types of transportation work," the mayor said on April 18. "What I hope we can do in Albany in the next couple of months is come up with a way to legalize, reduce the speed, have some kind of transitional effort to help the current folks, I think there’s a pathway to that."

The NYPD declined to provide the latest statistics on the number of e-bikes it has confiscated.

"The NYPD's continued confiscation of e-bikes from delivery workers puts the lie to Mayor de Blasio's 'working people first' rhetoric," said Macartney Morris of the Biking Public Project. "New York City would be a better place for workers — safer, greener, and more equitable — if the mayor spent less time talking to Iowa farmers and focused on having dialogue with immigrant delivery workers and working with them to pass state and local bills to legalize their e-bikes."

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