Parks Department Still Has No New Plan for E-Bikes and Greenways

It's still illegal to use a legal e-bike on the Hudson River Greenway.
It's still illegal to use a legal e-bike on the Hudson River Greenway.

More like the Farce Department.

Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said that the agency, stuck in a medieval mindset regarding the use of legal e-bikes in city parks and on greenways, is still trying to figure out how to allow the increasingly popular mobility option in her emerald empire.

“We’ve met internally on it, we’re really focused on it,” Donoghue said on Thursday at an all-day “greenways summit,” before admitting that the agency didn’t have a timeline for figuring the issue out.

As Streetsblog has long reported, the Parks Department is trying to figure out how to catch up to the city’s electric mobility revolution, instead of relying on rules it made decades before e-bikes became a central part of the city’s transportation landscape. The state legislature legalized pedal-assist and throttle-controlled e-bikes in 2020, but the Parks Department has prohibited their use in city parks and greenways because the department defines “motor vehicle” as anything with any kind of motor, electric or combustion, bike size or truck size.

Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue, second from right, address the New York City Greenways Summit. Photo: Dave Colon
Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue, second from right, address the New York City Greenways Summit. Photo: Dave Colon

At Donoghue’s introductory press conference in February, she promised to put together a task force on how to legalize e-bikes in city parks. But for now the old rules are still in place, which means that everyone using any kind of e-bike, from Citi Bike pedal-assist bikes to throttle e-bikes is at risk of a ticket.

“We have our rules in place that exist in terms of motorized vehicles and parks,” she said. “Those continue to be in place and that’s not going to change. Our big thing is just safety of pedestrians and cyclists in the park. We are working on it and reaching out to relevant stakeholders just to figure out the best way to bring the conversation together.”

Some stakeholders were baffled by the claim that the Parks Department was having conversations on how to integrate e-bikes into city parks.

“I’m a stakeholder, I haven’t heard from them,” said Bike New York Director of Advocacy Jon Orcutt, who previously has suggested that the Parks Department open up its rule-making process because “we can’t have a bike network where the rules change randomly from segment to segment.”

One greenway activist suggested that the Parks Department should make some space specifically for electric motorized micromobility.

“There needs to be a different space, like on some spaces on the Hudson River Greenway, where they put pedestrians in one lane and bicycles in another, it feels like we need a third lane for this rapid transportation,” said Chauncy Young, the coordinator of the Harlem River Working Group, which is trying to bring a real greenway to the Bronx.

Young’s suggestion echoed that of local politicians and community organizations about the Hudson River Greenway, which many believe must be expanded to give more space for cyclists by taking a lane from the West Side Highway south of 57th Street. However, the state Department of Transportation, which controls the street, has never been interested in expanding the bike space on the city’s busiest bike superhighway.

Beyond putting people at the risk of tickets, the Parks Department’s e-bike ban has also done very real harm to people. In 2019, Dr. Daniel Cammerman was killed when he rode an electric Citi Bike on one of Central Park’s dangerous crosstown transverses instead of riding on a park road. The fact that people are already using e-bikes in parks and on greenways was not lost on advocates who urged the Parks Department to figure out a new policy soon.

“Now is the time,” said Anna Kemeny, the steering committee coordinator at El Barrio Bikes, which promotes cycling in East Harlem. “The time is now or even last year, or the year before. There are already people using like adaptive bikes on these pathways.”

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