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Have No Fear, Advocates: State E-Bike Bill Will Become Law

The real target of CB7’s wrath. File photo: Wilfred Chan

Buffalo State Senator Tim Kennedy — the Streetsblog interview.
Buffalo State Senator Tim Kennedy — the Streetsblog interview.
Buffalo State Senator Tim Kennedy — the Streetsblog interview.

Governor, we've got you by the bills.

The chairman of the State Senate Transportation Committee, which pushed through the overwhelmingly popular legalization of electric bikes and e-scooters last month, told Streetsblog he is "confident" that the governor will sign the bill because his veto will be overridden if he doesn't.

"I’m hopeful and confident the governor will recognize the extraordinary level of support this bill received," said Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo). "It passed the Senate 56-6. It passed the Assembly, 137-4, so it sure is veto-proof. I'm confident he'll sign it."

The governor's office would only say the bill is under review, and declined to cite any concerns that would prevent the Gov. Cuomo from signing it — but the fact is, it remains unsigned. Supporters had scheduled a rally last week to urge the governor to get out his signing pen, but canceled it, saying that they, too, remain optimistic that the Sphinx of the Statehouse would act swiftly.

In an interview with Streetsblog, Kennedy also took a veiled swipe at Mayor de Blasio, whose crackdown on delivery workers led, in part, to the statewide movement to legalize the very e-bikes typically used by the low-paid meal messengers. Kennedy may be an upstate car driver, but he said he was "unquestionably moved" by the stories of delivery workers being slapped with $500 tickets and having their bikes confiscated by de Blasio's NYPD.

"Each and every day, they are utilizing these bikes to make a living and support their families — anyone who isn’t sympathetic to that cause wasn’t paying much attention to their struggles," Kennedy said. "I was certainly drawn to that personal argument. And [the crackdown] was happening at an outrageous level. It needed to be addressed. The community spoke up, and the activists came together, and we came up with a robust and comprehensive bill. That's why it had such overwhelming support."

Some of that support came at a price: the legislation specifically barred electric bicycles — even the already-legal pedal-assist e-bikes such as Citi Bike e-bikes — from the Hudson River Greenway. Officials with the Hudson River Park Friends and the Hudson River Park Trust, who testified without evidence that e-bikes were dangerous on the greenway. Streetsblog asked Kennedy about the carveout and he went all vague:

The legislation we enacted took into account the information we got at that hearing as well as the information that we had gathered prior — and from communities across the state and our research on the topic. We also compiled research from states and municipalities that had legalized e-bikes. We took all that into account ... and recognizing the different needs in different areas of the state, between the different borough, different cities, urban, suburban and rural — all of that was taken into account. That was compiled and ultimately approved. And that would include testimony we heard from them [the Hudson River Park officials].

Streetsblog pressed further, telling Kennedy that advocates will demand that the world's busiest greenway be open to at least pedal-assist e-bikes. He seemed open to that.

"Any law is amendable," he said. "If there are pieces of the law that need to be revisited, I’m always open to revisiting."

Consider Jon Orcutt one of those people calling for a swift revisit.

"There is no logical reason to ban pedal-assist e-bikes on the greenway," said Orcutt, of Bike NY and a former Transportation Department official. "The Citi Bikes had a speed governor on them that kept you at a maximum speed of about 17 miles per hour. Plenty of road bikers go faster than that. Perhaps I could understand a ban on the truly motorized bikes, but there's no reason to ban pedal-assist."

The irony of the NYPD crackdown was that Police Department employees often order food for delivery. Photo: Ben Verde
The irony of the NYPD crackdown was that Police Department employees often order food for delivery. Photo: Ben Verde
The irony of the NYPD crackdown was that Police Department employees often order food for delivery. Photo: Ben Verde

There is hope, given that Kennedy repeatedly said he was swayed by advocates for delivery workers.

"The advocates were extremely, extremely engaged and they are the reason that this bill was passed," he said. "They came together. They messaged. They worked together. They explained the real life impact that [the crackdown] was having. Besides, e-bikes and scooters offer real opportunities for first-mile/last-mile travel, they cut down on carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and give New York State residents easy and convenient access to this new technology. But at the end of the day, for me, it was a human rights issue."

Ever ride one, Kennedy was asked.

"I couldn't because they're illegal," he said.

Asked to comment on Kennedy’s veiled swipe at the mayor, City Hall spokesman Seth Stein said, “As the Mayor has always said, his number one priority on our streets is safety. We are pleased that the Legislature provided clarity on e-bikes, and we will evaluate their place on our streets looking at safety first and foremost.”

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