E-Bike Legalization Bill Will Pass on Wednesday, Thanks to Greenway, Manhattan Scooter Exemptions

Delivery workers recently rallied with State Senator Jessica Ramos (far left) before a state hearing Ramos's bill to legalize e-bikes. Comptroller Stringer supports the bill. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Delivery workers recently rallied with State Senator Jessica Ramos (far left) before a state hearing Ramos's bill to legalize e-bikes. Comptroller Stringer supports the bill. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

No shared e-scooters in Manhattan. No e-bikes or scooters on the Hudson River Greenway. No helmet requirements. Bike lanes filled with e-scooters. But, most important, e-bikes are legal.

There’s a fresh new version of the e-bike and e-scooter legislation coming out of the Albany sausage factory — clearing the way for Senator Jessica Ramos’s bill S5294 to be voted on this Wednesday. And, she thinks, signed by Gov. Cuomo. (The Assembly version of the bill is being carried by Nily Rozic.)

“I have been in active conversation with the second floor,” Ramos told Streetsblog, referring to the location of the governor’s office inside New York’s ornate state Capitol. “We believe we have his support.”

The latest version of the bill differs from the one your read about here. As with any form of transportation, there are a lot of moving parts. Here’s what we’ve learned today:

First, where were we?

Ramos’s original bill sought to define new classes of mobility for electric bikes and scooters not currently covered by state law, namely electric bikes that operate with throttle control. Such bikes have been the subject of crackdowns by the NYPD because they tend to go faster than pedal-assist electric bikes — and because they could not be regulated under state law because they don’t carry license plates even though they are motorized vehicles.

Ramos’s bill still creates three new classes of electric bikes: pedal-assist bikes that can’t go over 20 miles per hour, throttle-controlled bikes that can’t over 20 miles per hour, and throttle-controlled bikes that can go up to 25 miles per hour — except the new version makes that third class of speedy e-bike legal only in New York City. And it will be up to the city to regulate them (the Council has a package of bills).

But to be clear: this bill, if passed, ends the NYPD crackdowns, Ramos said.

“At the end of the day, this was always about justice for delivery workers,” she said. “We are eliminating the NYPD’s decision to stop delivery workers because the vehicles were ‘illegal’ or the law was too gray. We want to make it clear: they [will be] legal under this bill. They should not be stopped or ticketed or have their bikes confiscated.”

The new bill, like the original, also caps legal e-scooters at 20 miles per hour. Both newly legal devices — e-bikes and e-scooters — are sort-of considered cars in part of the law, but are exempt when it comes to the specific car regulations such as insurance and registration, said Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who specializes in bicycle-related litigation.

Manhattan to scooters: Drop dead

The bill says that localities can set up “shared electric scooter systems” in any county — unless that county is New York County: “No such shared electric scooter system shall operate … in a county with a population of no less than 1,586,000 and no more than 1,587,000 as of the 2010 decennial census.”

That population is pretty specific: Manhattan. (Update: Governors Island is also in New York County, so say goodbye to scooter-share there, too.)

Several sources confirmed to Streetsblog what everyone has been saying for weeks: That “Scooter-free Manhattan” language was a concession to senators from the borough who believe the devices are unsafe in the most congested part of the city (these same lawmakers have proposed no such restrictions on the most unsafe devices currently on our roads; car and truck operators killed 200 people last year in New York City compared to zero killed by scooter riders).

Here’s another twist: The bill defines a “shared” scooter system as a system where trips begin or end in “any public highway.” So it may be leaving the door open for private e-scooter rental, say from a bike shop. (More on that later in the day.)

Greenway exemption

The new version of the bill specifically bars e-bikes and e-scooters from the Hudson River Greenway, the world’s most popular bike lane. Officials from the Hudson River Park had testified earlier this month against allowing the new mobility devices on the greenway. Apparently, they won.

Connie Fishman of Hudson River Park Friends, one of the officials who testified at the state hearing, did not return a call for comment. She had told Streetsblog that the state should consider widening the greenway, given its popularity, including looking into taking a lane away from cars on the West Side Highway. But that’s a debate for the future.

The bill also has fine print that appears to bar e-bikes and scooters from the Niagara River greenway.

The state or the applicable city could legalize e-bikes and scooters on those two greenways in the future, the bill seems to say.

Safety issues

The latest version of the bill adds requirements for scooter operators:

  • They must always have one hand on the handlebar.
  • They must always yield the right of way to pedestrians.
  • They cannot ride on the sidewalk.
  • They cannot cling to other vehicles.
  • They must be at least 16 years old (this applies to e-bikes as well). If the scooter rider is over 18, he or she cannot leave the scene of a collision that causes injury (which was in the original bill as well).
  • They do not need to wear a helmet, which was part of the original bill.
  • They must ride in the bike lane (if there is one) or at the furthest right edge of a street to “prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic.”

As you might guess, this last restriction is going to cause some controversy, Vaccaro said.

“They’re ordered to be in the bicycle lanes, where the normal speed of vehicles is 10 miles per hour — but these are motor vehicles moving at 20 miles per hour,” he said. “The state is shoving them into the bike lanes, which will only overcrowd the bike infrastructure we have. What’s the plan for adding capacity? It’s one thing if the scooters were capped at 15, but they’re having them at 20.”

Ramos was not worried about conflict in the bike lane.

“We want the e-scooters in the bike lane because our long-term goal is to offer alternatives to cars,” she told Streetsblog. “If we create more access to micro-mobility, we will eventually need more space on roads for all these environmentally sensitive transportation. This bill will allow for that demand to be created.”

There also appeared to be language in the bill barring parents from using cargo e-bikes for the purposes of transporting their kids around.

“No person less than 16 years of age shall … ride as a passenger upon a bicycle with electric assist,” the bill says, a clause that was roundly criticized — though legally speaking, it might depend on the definition of “upon.”

But later in the day Monday, Ramos said banning cargo bikes was not the goal.

Advocates are mostly pleased

The e-scooter industry is the most excited. Hours after Ramos’s latest version was posted on the state legislature’s website, an official with the Lime scooter company offered his support.

“We are just one step away from better transportation options for New Yorkers — and there is momentum to cross the finish line,” said Phil Jones, the company’s East Coast government liaison. “Now the full legislature just has to deliver the promise of greater mobility so that New Yorkers can take advantage of micro-mobility, improving commutes, the environment, and quality of life across the state.”

Lime’s competitor, Bird, also issued a statement of support from its director of safety policy, Paul Steely White: “The weight of this moment cannot be overstated. New York is on the cusp of making its streets safer and more equitable for everyone — all our legislators have to do is vote yes.”

Activists from Transportation Alternatives rallied at 1 p.m. in Albany with their supporters. The Teamsters Joint Council 16 said it supports e-bike legalization so that crackdowns on delivery workers will be a thing of the past.

“Working cyclists can spend over 10 hours a day on their bikes for six or seven days a week. Especially for older workers, e-bikes allow them to support their families,” the union said in a statement. ” At this moment, we should be doing all we can to minimize the interactions that immigrant workers have with police. Criminalizing and policing an integral part of their jobs needlessly increases the fear in this community.”

The union had also written versions of that statement as letters to Manhattan Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman, who were seen as an impediment to the bill. Krueger and Hoylman were on increasingly shaky ground over the last few weeks, thanks to increased support from upstate legislators, including Southern Tier Republican T0m O’Mara, who specifically blasted “Manhattan liberal Dem Senators” for holding up the bill.

Lime’s statement also suggested that shared e-scooter programs are widely sought outside of Manhattan. A pilot scooter program in Hoboken that launched mere weeks ago is already being lauded as a success, with ridership numbers hitting global records.

Krueger did not return a call. Gov. Cuomo, appearing on a radio show on Monday afternoon, did indeed offer his basic support for legalizing e-bikes and scooters.

“There has been, there have been discussions, but I do not know where that was left, frankly,” he said, while Monday’s frenzy was still in mid-whirl.

“Well do you think it’s a good idea?” asked Ian Pickus, a fill-in host for Alan Chartock on the Roundtable on WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

“Yeah. I think the general concept is a good idea,” the governor said.

So does Mayor de Blasio, who has led a crackdown on e-bike riders, but more recently said he looked forward to clarity from the legislature in Albany.

“We appreciate this common-sense legislation that clarifies the rules around e-bikes on our streets,” said City Hall spokesman Seth Stein. “Safety for everyone on our roads is our priority, and we look forward to working with legislators and communities as we develop plans to implement the new law.”

Here’s the latest version of S5294 on Scribd

 

  • Joseph S

    I don’t need to ride a motorbike to know what a motorbike is.

  • Joseph S

    The greenway is both. And to satisfy the transportation need of actual cyclists motor vehicles need to be banned from it. I can’t use it if it’s full of motorbikes.

  • Joseph S

    All of this is a word games. Ebike advocates are trying to redefine ebikes as a bicycles when they are not. Opening up bike infrastructure to motorbikes won’t open up cycling to a larger audience, it will do the opposite. Novice cyclists need a safe space to start out. A greenway that is a highway for motorbikes is not that.

  • Joseph S

    There are plenty of other routes for motorized users. They are called streets. We don’t need to open our bike infrastructure to them.

  • TF

    As a curmudgeonly trad biker, what’s the outlook from the City on how many years/eons it will be before more auto-free lane-age will be created now that the exiting bike lines are to be stuffed with all this tasty “micro-mobility.” Also, I would love to see these beloved and beleaguered delivery ebikers stop: “salmoning”, riding on sidewalks, be equipped with lights, and overtaking me on my bike without a sound. Same issues as some “regular” bikers, but at a much higher speed and force.

  • You can call those Revel jammies by either name.

    But if you see one in a bike lane, definitely report it to the company.

  • Joe R.

    They’re not motorbikes any more than a mobility scooter is a car. You’re the one who’s playing word games.

    And you’re fighting a battle you’ve already lost. There’s no such thing as “e-bike” advocates. We’re alternative transport advocates, period. Due to changes in technology that transportation now includes not just bikes, but e-bikes, e-scooters, e-skateboards. Who knows, maybe at some future date people’s phones will also function as mobility devices, so we’ll support that as well.

    The greenway needs to be widened regardless. It was too narrow for the volume of traffic even before e-bikes became popular. Ditto for most of the city’s other bicycle infrastructure. Focus your energy on that. Any bike infrastructure which can’t support e-bikes also by definition can’t support faster cyclists. Also, the greenway isn’t a place for a novice cyclist to start out even without e-bikes. There are plenty of other places to practice cycling. There were almost no bike lanes when I first started riding, and yet I somehow managed, along with everyone else in my generation.

  • AMH

    This is huge! Thanks for the detailed analysis.

  • AMH

    It’s really time to devote half of most street roadways to bikes/ebikes/scooters etc. No more confining us to 5-foot lanes in the gutter/doorzone.

  • AMH

    At least they run in a straight line along the shoulder most of the time. I find rollerbladers to be much worse as they flail from side-to-side, taking up the entire lane.

  • Will

    I think simply the lack of scars on my head would refute any argument against helmets….

  • Will

    When I’m old and can’t pedal 20mph, I’ll ride slower, because my reflexes will also be less sharp. See how that works?A e-bikes should always yield to fully manual bikes, and often don’t. I don’t care how fast you get to work. 30% faster on a -10 mile ride? Cry me a river…. The East River.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t have scars on my head, either. In fact, I never hit my head once in a fall. I instinctively stretch out my arms to protect me head whenever I’ve gone down, which isn’t often. I had a minor fall last October. That was over 22 years after the last time I fell.

    The risk of TBI while walking is about twice that while cycling. Why don’t we exhort pedestrians to wear helmets? Why single out cycling? That’s always a big inconsistency among helmet advocates. Either an activity is dangerous enough to merit a helmet or it isn’t. If we apply the same standards then both walkers and car passengers should also wear helmets if cyclists should. Or none of these should, and neither should cyclists.

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  • Joseph S

    I’m a transportation advocate. You are a motor vehicle advocate. You want to take away badly needed space dedicated to nonmotorized transportation and give it to motorists.

    Yes the greenway is too narrow. It will never be widened because there just isn’t space. In order to widen it landfill will have to be brought in to make more land which would be super expensive and possible illegal because the federal government has rules about keeping the Hudson navigable to boat traffic.

  • Joe R.

    No, I’m an advocate for all forms of transportation which can get people out of automobiles. You’re a purist who can’t see past the ends of his own handlebars. If it’s any help, my reactions when e-bikes first came out were like yours, albeit not as extreme. I was thinking why can’t these lazy shits pedal, what’s the point of a bike if you’re not getting exercise, etc. That was my narrow world view. I’ve since seen what these can do to get cars off the roads, increase our advocacy base, and get us much better bike infrastructure. Perhaps in a few years we’ll have the political clout to take a lane or two from the adjacent roadways for bike and e-bike use. That’s how we’ll widen the greenway. Maybe we’ll also be able to have fast and slow sections to keep everyone safer.

    If instead we stubbornly oppose e-bikes, say they should require licensing/registration/insurance, prohibit even the slower ones from bike infrastructure, then we’ll have less than we have now. We won’t have a critical mass to advocate. The greenway will remain crowded and dangerous, even without e-bikes. We’ll continue to get half-assed bike infrastructure, if we get any at all.

    There’s one rule in nature, and it applies here. Adapt or die. Most advocates have learned that. Some have grudgingly accepted e-bikes and e-scooters, others have embraced them. I don’t currently own an e-bike, but if/when I get too old to ride at the speeds I enjoy I’ll certainly consider getting one. However, that possibility will be eliminated if people like you start requiring licensing, registration, and insurance and/or place some many restrictions on where e-bikes may be ridden as to render them functionally useless (i.e. death by a thousand cuts).

  • Joe R.

    I’m sure my reflexes will still be good enough to deal with a lousy 20 or 25 mph. When I ride that fast now, I’m not anywhere near the limits of my reflexes. I’m simply near the limits of my power output. Without my power limitations, I would probably feel comfortable riding at something like 80 mph.

  • Joseph S

    What’s the point of getting them out of automobiles and onto another motor vehicle? It’s also a bit presumptuous to assume that every motorbike trip is replacing one car trip. They might have use an actual bicycle or public transportation.

    I’d rather they be in cars than in a motorbike in my bike lane.

    The greenway will never be widened. It’s just not possible.

  • Joe R.

    What’s the point?

    Let’s start just with the fact an e-bike uses a fraction of the space of an automobile when moving, and about 1/20th of the space when parked. If enough people switch from cars to e-bikes, you suddenly have a lot more road space to make, guess what, more bike lanes, or bus lanes, or anything else except car lanes.

    Now let’s look at the fact an e-bike uses a fraction of the energy a car does per passenger-mile and doesn’t pollute. Even if we switched to 100% electric cars, the e-bike still wins. The grid can accommodate everyone using e-bikes. It can’t currently accommodate everyone using electric cars.

    While we’re at it, e-bikes also make things safer for both pedestrians and pedal cyclists. Cars kill about 200 people annually in this city. Thus far there’s not a single case of an e-bike killing someone. As a cyclist, on streets without bike lanes, which is the majority by far in NYC, would you rather mix it up with multi-ton behemoths which can zip up to highway speeds in a few seconds, or vehicles the same size/weight as you which go at most about 30 mph, often no more than 20 mph?

    Finally, let’s look at travel speeds. For travel within or near a city, an e-bike is no slower than a car most of the time, often faster. That’s exactly why they will revolutionize transport in cities unless we intentionally sabotage things with overly restrictive laws. An e-bike may not be suitable to go 40 or 100 miles, but that’s why we have railroads. E-bikes and regular bikes also make railroads a lot more useful by providing last mile transportation. So do cars I guess, but they have massive space/energy requirements, plus they pollute.

    E-bikes usurping bike infrastructure is a red herring in this discussion. It’s not going to happen. The reason there’s such a push back on the greenway ban happens to be because there are really no viable alternate routes. I’m sure if there was a parallel regular street with cars going no more than 25 mph most e-bike users would be fine with the ban. There isn’t. E-bikes aren’t allowed on the West Side Highway, nor would they be safe there. In most of the city that’s not the case. A rider on a fast e-bike probably wouldn’t want to be in a door-zone bike lane, for example, as it would slow them down. Ditto for a protected lane on the Manhattan avenues. Those lanes are already shunned by faster pedal cyclists. You’re not going to see massive numbers of fast e-bike users in them. If you see a few, it’ll most likely be timid novices who don’t yet feel comfortable going 25 mph. Slow e-bike riders like that are a non-issue in bike lanes. When they feel like riding faster, they’ll join the faster pedal cyclists and e-bike users in the car lanes. When the user base is large enough, they’ll even be able to convince the city to turn over one or two of those lanes for their use.

    I’m not really seeing much downside here, except of course for people in any automobile related business.

  • MatthewEH

    Some runners believe an urban myth that asphalt is somehow “softer” than concrete pavement, and running on the road/in the bike lane will make their runs more comfortable/somehow make them less prone to injury. The notion doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny, of course.

    I calm myself down about the runners by telling myself that any of them who are on the same insurance plan as me are at least lowering my premiums by being in the population. I have bumped shoulders with inattentive runners on the greenway once or twice, tho, and I’ve known people who’ve been crashed out by a runner who gets to the invisible halfway point of their run and then pulls a no-look 180 across the whole of the bikes area of the greenway. Once or twice I’ve come within a few seconds of being victimized by that move too.

  • Big_Vic

    Glad to see the city is finally getting on board with ebikes and scooters. I’ve been riding my Wing Freedom electric bike for almost a year now and it’s been such a game changer for me. Ebikes are here to stay.

  • Sfgeoninja

    Yes, but not in Manhattan.

  • Joseph S

    When the user base is large enough, they’ll even be able to convince the
    city to turn over one or two of those lanes for their use.

    And in the meantime actual cyclists still won’t have anywhere to ride where they are safe from motor vehicles.

  • Joseph S


    As a cyclist, on streets without bike lanes, which is the majority by
    far in NYC, would you rather mix it up with multi-ton behemoths which
    can zip up to highway speeds in a few seconds, or vehicles the same
    size/weight as you which go at most about 30 mph, often no more than 20
    mph?

    I’d rather share with cars. Cars behave better. I don’t have to worry about them coming at me the wrong way.

  • Joseph S

    E-bikes usurping bike infrastructure is a r
    ed herring in this discussion. It’s not going to happen.

    It’s already happened. Now it will be 100 times worse.

  • Joe R.

    Well, you’re in the minority by a milestone. Riding the wrong way is something regular pedal cyclists do also. It’s not going to disappear if you got rid of e-bikes.

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