NYPD Seizes Illegal Mopeds — Then Disseminates Misinformation, Lies and Anti-Cycling Propaganda

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, our Field Guide, and devices that the NYPD wrongly misidentifies as "e-bikes."
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, our Field Guide, and devices that the NYPD wrongly misidentifies as "e-bikes."

The NYPD has been caught again misinforming the public about the supposed threat of electric bikes — one of the safest forms of street transportation, and one that is increasingly the rigid spine of the city’s economy.

In a tweet on Monday afternoon, the NYPD claimed that it had seized “illegal e-bikes” in two Manhattan precincts earlier in the day — but the accompanying photo of the vehicles showed that they were mopeds, not electric bikes, which are legal under state law.

The agency also made the inaccurate, and easily debunked, claim that “e-bikes operators have been involved in 1,628 collisions, with 19 fatalities” this year.

“Involved” seems to be the key word. In a subsequent exchange with Streetsblog, agency spokesman Sgt. Edward Riley justified the department’s tweet about the apparent danger of electric bikes by claiming that electric bike riders have been “involved” in 627 crashes and 10 deaths, and moped riders have been “involved” in 1,001 crashes with nine deaths.

The problem is that the NYPD’s crash numbers do not differentiate between crashes caused by moped and e-bike riders (a tiny fraction) and crashes that injured or killed them (the vast majority).

In fact, in virtually all of the crashes and fatalities cited by the NYPD as part of its promotion of the confiscation of mopeds, the victims were the moped or e-bike riders themselves — a large portion of whom are delivery workers, whom even Mayor de Blasio described as “folks who have been heroic during this whole pandemic.”

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT

According to Department of Transportation statistics, 13 moped riders, e-scooter riders, electric skateboarders and other micro-mobility users have been killed on city roadways this year. Another 17 cyclists and users of e-bikes (which are legal) have been killed. And 47 motorcyclists (a classification which includes Revel moped riders) have been killed.

Activists were angry that the NYPD had once again decided to focus its propaganda effort on demonizing vulnerable road users who are, as the city’s own statistics show, responsible for a tiny share of injuries and fatalities on New York City streets. And according to those same stats, there were 99,341 crashes between Jan. 1 and Nov. 23 this year — all but 871 (more than 99 percent) were caused by the operators of cars, trucks, motorcycles or mopeds. Just 0.8 percent of crashes were caused by a cyclist or an e-bike rider.

“In a year of record-breaking traffic violence overwhelmingly caused by cars and trucks, it is irresponsible and wrong for the NYPD to blame bike riders for crashes,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “This year alone, at least 12 working cyclists have been killed [this year]. That’s the real problem NYPD should focus on.”

An organizer with the Workers Justice Project and Los Deliveristas was equally frustrated, especially since the group has been trying to educate the NYPD about how often delivery workers are themselves victims of crime and dangerous interactions with car and truck drivers.

MicroMobility.indd“The information on this post is wrong and misleading,” said Hildalyn Colón Hernández , the groups’ director of Policy & Strategic Partnerships. “This post highlights the need for NYPD to train their officers and staff on the different work tools delivery workers use. NYPD needs to work with Los Deliveristas on educating workers and target the stores that illegally sell this moped to hard-working people.”

There is no question that the NYPD is confused at the highest levels about the myriad forms of micro-mobility that are currently traveling on New York City streets. Earlier this fall, Streetsblog published the city’s first “field guide” to micro-mobility modes, which featured a long speech by NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea in which he admits he cannot tell the difference between legal electric bikes and illegal mopeds.

“From the policing side, it’s very complicated,” Shea told Streetsblog on Oct. 6, as part of its preparation of the field guide. “Between electric and gas and different sizes and throttles. There’s probably an opportunity to look at the entire landscape.” (As a point of fact, electric and gas mopeds are classified the same. And all mopeds are illegal if they do not have a license plate. The NYPD declined to answer follow-up questions from Streetsblog.)

Shea also said he is more afraid of micro-mobility modes when he’s a pedestrians, “not cars at this point in time,” despite statistics confirming that car drivers are the greatest threat to pedestrians. That comment came at a particular inopportune time, given that 2021 has been the bloodiest full year of Mayor de Blasio’s seven-plus-year Vision Zero initiative. When Shea made the comment, 200 people had been killed on the streets, virtually all of them by drivers. Drivers had also injured more than 35,000 people so far (that number is now up to 42,416 people).

Much of the latest round of fear-mongering about electric bikes stems from an initial piece of misinformation put out by the NYPD in June, after the death of actor Lisa Banes on the Upper West Side. At the time, the NYPD claimed she had been struck by either an e-bike or an e-scooter, but only after video emerged did the NYPD put out the correct information: Banes had been hit by the driver of an illegal moped. The driver was later arrested. Another West Side pedestrian, Hing Chung, was struck and killed by a legal e-bike rider when the pedestrian entered the bike lane mid-block, as Streetsblog reported.

Banes and Chung are believed to be the only two pedestrians struck and killed by users of electric bikes or mopeds this year. Meanwhile, 12 delivery workers — Salah Uddin Bablu, Tomaz Panto Chitic, Babacar Dia, Noe Amador Licona, Jose Garcia Gomez, Tarek Aziz, Federico Zaput Palax, Borkot Ullah, Xing Long Lin, Luis Alvaro Hernandez, Francisco Villalva Vitinio, and Juan Lucirgo Cruz — have died so far this year, at least 10 of whom while riding.

Ullah’s case is particularly relevant because video shows that he was killed by a hit-and-run driver who was being chased by an NYPD officer. The agency has declined to discuss the case.

The NYPD’s inconsistent support for Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative has long been documented, which no doubt prompted some of the outrage over Monday’s tweet.

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