OPINION: Reversing the Parks Dept. Ban on E-Bikes is a Matter of Equity
Over Memorial Day Weekend, an infuriating scene unfolded in Prospect Park. A now-viral tweet showed NYPD and NYC Parks officers setting up a sting in Prospect Park, stopping riders on e-assist bikes, including parents transporting toddlers:
Nypd has an ebike check point at prospect park this afternoon, apparently. stopped my husband on his pedal assist ebike from bringing our daughter into the park. Threatened him with a $150 fine and destroying his bike. #bikenyc pic.twitter.com/6ZgKqGSjLX
— Shay O'Reilly (@shaygabriel) May 29, 2022
According to the tweet, officers were even threatening to destroy the e-assist bikes, which are legal to ride on New York City streets, but have been banned in Prospect Park due to an arbitrary decree from the city Parks Department. This policy is discriminatory and ableist, and harmful to climate goals. Council Members Shahana Hanif, Rita Joseph and Crystal Hudson, whose districts border or include Prospect Park, all agree that Prospect Park needs a thoughtful policy to include e-assist bikes. I also urge Mayor Adams to right this wrong and set an e-assist policy based in fact, not fear, for Prospect Park.
The ban on e-assist bikes is something that has affected me personally. Riding my bike through Prospect Park used to be one of the greatest joys of my daily life. Yet, when the Parks Department banned e-bikes from park paths last year, it cut me off from the park — and some of the safest places to bike in the city.
Prospect Park’s bike paths are essential routes within the city’s very limited bike network, and e-assist bikes, which look and handle like traditional bicycles, already safely and legally use bike lanes throughout the city. Streets in the neighborhoods to the east and south of the park are notoriously dangerous for people biking. For many trips, Prospect Park is not only the safest bike route but the only safe route.
The ban is likely to be selectively enforced by NYPD. Take the Hudson River Greenway, for example: delivery workers have already been targeted for riding e-assist bikes along the path, despite needing safe routes to quickly complete their essential work under relentless pressure from delivery apps. The NYPD also has a history of disproportionately ticketing cyclists of color: Last year, 75 percent of tickets to bicyclists went to Black and Latino New Yorkers, who are already more likely to live in areas where the city has failed to provide safe bike infrastructure.
It’s impossible to reconcile the e-assist ban with the Parks Department’s belief that a park’s mission is to “provide an open space that is free and accessible to all.” E-assist bikes provide a lower-impact option for enjoyable physical activity, and they offer a more accessible biking option for less-experienced riders like myself. I’m not the only one embracing e-assist bikes. Council Member Hanif has said e-assist bikes made it possible for her to bike after her recent hip replacement surgery. And since Citi Bike introduced e-assist bikes, about 40 percent of all rides are now taken on an e-bike — despite the city Department of Transportation capping e-assist bikes to just 20 percent of the bike share fleet.
On an e-assist bike, the park is more accessible to everyone, including families and those who live further away. The Parks Department should be embracing the accessibility e-bikes provide instead of closing the park off to so many.
And they’re better for the environment: every e-assist bike means one less car on our congested streets and one less car polluting our air. The city should implement policies to make our city more sustainable and get people out of cars, not ones that encourage more driving.
Closing parks to e-assist bikes closes the park to so many New Yorkers — from families with children to essential workers to those with limited mobility. To correct the inequities created by this policy, Mayor Adams must direct NYC Parks to lift its ban on e-assist bikes in Prospect Park without delay.
Liz Denys is volunteer lead of the Flatbush Streets for People campaign. Follow her on Twitter @lizdenys.