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NYC Bans Electric Bikes (Again), Launches Bike Sharing System

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Smart ebike electric bicycle

Smart ebike electric bicycle

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About a month ago, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a bill that banned electric bikes from the city's streets.

(Like all bikes, they're also banned from sidewalks--not that every rider seems to know that.)

And as a Navigant Research blog post points out, e-bikes were already illegal under an existing ban on "motor-assisted bicycles" within city limits.

The new bill simply made it easier for NYPD officers to enforce the ban, and issue tickets to restaurants that use e-bikes for deliveries--even if they're just parked outside.

Throttles at issue

There remains some confusion over what kinds of e-bikes are targeted. The NYC law covers any electric bicycle that has a throttle, possibly exempting those where the electric motor only assists the pedaling rider.

E-bike makers hope the law will be clarified to permit the latter kind, while the former type will be considered electric mopeds and relegated to vehicle traffic lanes.

Selling electric bikes, however, remains completely legal in NYC. It's just using them that's illegal.

You might think electric bikes would be a boon to a city working hard to reduce vehicular emissions, not to mention its legendary and epic traffic jams.

Fast, heavy, silent

But in fact there are sound reasons for banning e-bikes, which became popular a few years ago as imports of cheap Chinese models soared.

By now, most New Yorkers have had their own encounters with e-bikes--and many of them will lay out the reasons in quite colorful terms.

For one thing, in their most common usage--restaurant food deliveries--the electric bikes didn't replace cars at all, but pedal bicycles. So there was no emissions reduction.

For another, the e-bikes are considerably heavier and potentially faster than conventional bikes.

And e-bikes are silent, without the squeaky chains and clattering that warn pedestrians of delivery guys approaching on regular bikes.

New York City traffic at night, by Flickr user paulobar

New York City traffic at night, by Flickr user paulobar

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Hundreds of injuries a year

Those factors make them far more dangerous to pedestrians--especially at night, when most food deliveries occur.

Thousands of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians occur every month, only a fraction of which are reported.

Still, several hundred require hospital treatment, and a few prove fatal to the pedestrian.

Adding heavier vehicles with more momentum that are less likely to be heard would not help that picture.

Indeed, there's a precedent for the ban: Almost a decade ago, New York City also banned the two-wheeled electric Segway from its streets.

The reasoning was that it wasn't a motor vehicle that could be licensed to operate in traffic, but on the other hand, it was too fast, heavy, and silent to mix safely with regular cyclists and pedestrians either on sidewalks or in streets.

CitiBike NYC racks in Manhattan, by Margaret Bedore (CC 3.0)

CitiBike NYC racks in Manhattan, by Margaret Bedore (CC 3.0)

Enlarge Photo

Instead: bike sharing

Instead, to make (regular) bicycling more accessible to all New Yorkers, the city launched its CitiBike bicycle-sharing program over the Memorial Day weekend.

While the program has come under vitriolic criticism from a certain part of the political spectrum--and more general griping from regular New Yorkers--more than 10,000 people took rides on its first day.

Operators are now fine-tuning the system based on early riding data, and planning to roll it out beyond the initial launch area (essentially Mahattan below 59th Street).

As of today, 37,000 members have taken more than 180,000 trips totaling more than half a million miles--and the system only opened on May 27.

What do you think? Should electric bikes be permitted on NYC streets? Should they be limited to bicycle lanes, or confined to the vehicle lanes with cars, trucks, buses, and taxis?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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Comments (38)
  1. Build a wall around the whole damn city, just like in the 80's movie "Escape from NY" only don't let anyone out under any circumstance! That way the people that elected that dumb ass into office won't get out and screw up any other locale in other states!
     
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  2. Well said Will.
     
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  3. [from the author] @Will: Thank you so much for your kind and generous comments about my city!

    When you visit (there's a high statistical likelihood you will, even if you say you loathe NYC), a few hints for tourists:

    - Walk to the right; we walk faster than you do, and you get in our way.
    - Spend lots of money, and try to keep your whining about our prices to a minimum.
    - Stick to the chain restaurants (Friendly's, TGI Friday's, Olive Garden); you'll find them reassuringly familiar, and it leaves the good ones for us.
    - But, whatever you do, don't rent a car here. It will cost you a stupefying amount of money and you'll hate every moment. Take the bus, subway, or cabs. Better yet, WALK.
     
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  4. Back in the early 80s, NYC had one of the worst large city crime rates. Only Detroit and Miami were worse.

    Today, NYC is one of the safest large cities. Only El Paso and Honolulu are safer. http://os.cqpress.com/citycrime/2011/CityCrimePopRank2011.pdf

    This is a complete turn-around. People who judge NYC based on 80s movies are missing the ball.

    At this point, the only real issue in NYC is real-estate. Prices have gotten so high that anyone with a normal job can't afford to live there.
     
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  5. Never been to NYC and don't plan to in the far future.
     
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  6. Good for you. Thanks for sharing. Let me see, what do I not like that that has nothing to do with this article that I would like share with random strangers. Oh, I know, black olives. I hate black olives. Ok, here I go. Ahem... Never eaten an entire can of black olives an don't plan to in the far future. That was fun!
     
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  7. Didn't realize to owned and operated the city.
     
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  8. I definitely think that electric assist bikes like mine should be allowed on NYC streets as bicycles. My assist is limited to 20mph and I still have to pedal to go places. The electric assist really helps in start and stop traffic, like at stop lights where bikers are notorious for not obeying the traffic signals.

    Those that are really just scooters, should be required to get a motorcycle license.

    Here's more about my e-bike including pictures.

    http://www.greenlifestylechanges.com/greening-my-commute-electric-bike-style/
     
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  9. When is NYC going to wake up? I made the switch to an ebike about a month ago and I couldn't be happier! I got a great ebook to show me how to build my eBike from www.UltimateEbikeEbook.com and I'd definitely recommend it to other beginners that want to build their own ebike.
     
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  10. Just proves Michigan and Ohio are better than New York (city and State). Michigan licenses ebikes as mopeds and in Ohio they are bicycles - as long as they have operable pedals. From 2004-2012 I used an electric bike. In 2012, I took deliver of my Chevrolet Volt and haven't used my eBike since. But, I credit the eBike to create the habit of plugging in every time I pull into the garage.
     
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  11. @Richard: Remind me again which cities in Michigan and Ohio have traffic as dense and crowded as NYC, please? I'm rather forgetting the names ....
     
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  12. This is so frustrating. I bought an eBike (an expensive one to boot) last August and it's so much more convenient on days when I don't want to pedal the 24-mile round trip from my home in Brooklyn to my office in midtown.

    The fact that they are legal to sell in NYC is SO maddening, because of course unless you own one, you don't realize they're illegal — because you see them everywhere. And of course the bike shop isn't interested in letting you in on that dirty secret.

    I ride mine respectfully, stop at stoplights (unlike almost every other cyclist), and generally follow all of the rules of the road...with the occasional right turn on red (illegal in NYC, in case you don't live here).

    This is just depressing.
     
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  13. There's some really prejudiced nonsense in this report – and in the NYC laws. Electric bikes quieter than pushbikes? BOLLOX! I've been riding electric bicycles in central London for years, along with my ordinary pushbikes, scooters, motorcycles, vans and cars. Throughout Europe electric bicycles are classified the same as pushbikes SO LONG AS they are limited to 250 watt motors and 15mph. Personally, I would like the limits raised to 350 watts and 20mph (which is still slower than most US states allow). Electric bikes are the perfect way to get people out of their cars, especially in cities; whether they are old and slightly infirm, or simply fat and lazy. Banning them is reactionary, short-sighted & stupid. THIS MUST CHANGE!
     
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  14. 'scuse me- chains neither rattle nor squeak. The H
    "heavy" electric bikes that have pedal systems that no one can use, are the culprits as they are not really bikes. Put a weight limit of 100 pounds(including batteries) and they will disappear.
     
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  15. @Ron: Do you actually live in NYC? The bicycles in question are those ridden by restaurant delivery workers. As the article clearly notes, the hazard is in restaurant deliveries. Those bikes are ill-maintained (if at all) by the restaurants who own them, and most of them clank, squeak, and rattle.

    The skills of their riders range from adequate & law-abiding to non-existent & actively hazardous--and they become much more dangerous when they're notably heavier and electrified.
     
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  16. The writer of this article is clearly not a serious bicyclist. "...without the squeaky chains and clattering..." No professional bike messenger in NYC would be caught dead with a "clattering" bicycle.
     
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  17. @Douglas: It's not bike messengers who pose the threat to New Yorkers. They're largely professional cyclists who know how to avoid pedestrians. (Their numbers are also falling rapidly as speedy delivery of paper documents declines.)

    As the article clearly notes, the hazard is in restaurant deliveries. The bulk of them occur in evening hours and those bikes are ill-maintained (if at all) by the restaurants who own them. The skills of their riders range from adequate & law-abiding to non-existent & actively hazardous.

    Most New Yorkers who cycle probably aren't "serious bicyclists" by your definition. We're casual to regular riders who want to get around the city. This is a problem ... why?
     
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  18. I have an electric assist bike. It is a pedal assist bike and the motor cuts out at 20 mph. The bike will go faster than 20 mph but there is no pedal assist. The battery and electric motor add about 18 lbs to the weight of the bike.

    It makes no sense to me for NYC to initiate a bike sharing program and at the same time ban pedal assist ebikes. Ebikes accelerate more quickly than a normal bike and can keep up better with automobiles in traffic. Ebikes make the same amount of noise as a normal bike.
     
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  19. New york City makes a high profit from bike sharing program look at the rates they charge. yearly is the cheapest but The program is not to target those who ride yearly but for those that ride casually.
     
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  20. you could buy a bike that would pay it self off in months and you would have it for many years provided ny bike thieves don't get it.
     
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  21. Why not just ban commercial ebikes if they are the source of most of the problems? Or require ebikes to adhere to all traffic laws or at worst require ebike riders to maintain a motorcycle endorsement on their licenses?

    I ride an ebike to work on most days. I doubled the operational voltage to be fast enough to keep up with traffic on the roads I use to get to work. Going slower than traffic in San Antonio is dangerous. Riding to work on the bike is so much more enjoyable than driving that I jest that the only reason I go to work is to have an excuse to ride my ebike. The bike is an A2B Metro and weighs in at around 100 pounds. I have had a M/C license for 25 years and treat the bike as if it were a scooter, following all traffic rules.
     
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  22. If I were a delivery person in NYC I'd just figure out how to make a high powered pedelec ebike. This is a bike without a throttle. The bikes have a strain gauge on the crank whereby the harder you pedal, the more power is delivered to the assist motor. Do a YouTube search for eRockit or Specialized Turbo. There's a way around everything. (Of course, these bikes cost a LOT!) I'd push every boundary if I lived in NYC.
     
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  23. Actually a pedelec works the opposite way. the less you work the harder the motor works vice versa the harder you pedal the less the motor works . Its the speed limiter set up in the senser hall
     
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  24. I'm not a New Yorker but I'm just curious...Whats wrong with using a motorless bike?
     
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  25. In China it seems every family has one or two electric ebikes. They have high speed chargers that can recharge a battery to full in 10 minutes. Also the new apartments and department stores have computer controlled multilevel parking, where one space holds 2 or three stacked cars on a computer controlled stacker. This leaves the roadway empty so that a 6 lane street will have 4 lanes for cars and two fenced side lanes for electric vehicles like ebikes.
     
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  26. I'm guessing the ban on e-bikes are being selectively enforced only in the more congested parts of NYC like Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn. Elsewhere in NYC like in Queens (where I am), I see plenty of above-mentioned restaurant delivery boys zipping around on e-bikes and the NYPD cops rarely even notice them.

    What I find disturbing is that now these restaurants are beginning to use gasoline-powered scooters. Those are some of the dirtiest machines out there with their two-stroke gasoline engines.
     
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  27. I live in Holland and have an electric, foldable, pedal assisted bike. That's the law here, to have it pedal assisted up to 15 mph. If it provides assistance above that speed it has to have insurance, moped license plate and a helmet. Pedal assisted e-bikes are very popular here. It's just as quiet as a normal bike (in fact my current e-bike makes a soft zooming noise so it's more noisy than a regular bike) and causes no extra accidents. Of course our bicycle infrastructure is a lot better than anywhere in the US, that helps. Restaurants usually deliver with moped-scooters. They are noisy and stinky. Fortunately dominos in Utrecht have switched to e-scooters. For safety they just added a recorded human sound: http://youtu.be/n17B_uFF4cA
     
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  28. I'm a bit puzzled why it's using a cycle lane - it looks just like a moped...

    Anyway, I'm guessing that a lot of the extra accidents NYC alleges it had due to ebikes are probably down to people using their hand held mobile phones whilst riding... Thinks that's crazy? Me too but in case you think it doesn't happen, check out the last few frames of Emile's video!
     
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  29. No they should never banned e-bikes. Cos it doesnt uses gas. Ebikes is great for ppl that delivers. Now they make harder for ppl try earn a living. Regular bikes goes fast too. It doesnt make sence. Thats a gery dumb excuse to banned e-bikes. Cos is heavy and doesnt make any noise
     
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  30. Ppl want there food to be warm when its deliver to them. The way they saying it goes to fast. It does not. Ppl that deliver just to make a living. They use e-bikes cis they dont get tired.. Its perfect for ppl that earn a living deliving.thats how mess up nyc is. Theres more ppl get hit with a regular bike then an e-bike. They go just as fast!!
     
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  31. Like what they did to the electric cars. Now its the electric bikes. Why cos it doesn't use gas.Live the ppl alone that tey to make a living!!
     
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  32. Might as well banned moped too. Why cos moped uses gas?! That isn't a good answer. Why its banned. Cos it doesn't make noise. Like regular bike makes a banging noise. If the bikes uses gas im sure they wont banned it!! Nyc is so in need for money. So they find a way to get it. Giving out $500 to a $1000 tickets for ppl try to make a living uesing e-bikes. Nayc so hungary for money. Everything is being raised the train. Even charge a $1 for a metro card. Even ppl that got arrested. They have to pay$250 just for a night in jail. Thinking its a hotel. Surcharge. Making seem like ppl renting a hotel for a night with crappy food they be giving. If the $250 is not paid. Your credit will be bad. Thats how they treat the poor.
     
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  33. The mayor got to go he ruined everything. Cant smoke in bars clubs. Cos he stopped. Ny is not ny any more. It use to be the best city. But not anymore
    Cos the mayor ruined everything. This is his last term. Hope the next mayor will be mayor!!,
     
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  34. Require them to make noise when they operate. I'd get one if it sounded like a 70's Harley. Seriously, all electric vehicles with any number of wheels needs to produce noise to warn pedestrians.
     
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  35. Biased piece of drabble from an Author who can not take criticism at all instead attacks posters who comment with a different view. Who plugs the New york city owned citibikes. Who will also continue to be unprofessional by stating Tourists In lamen terms are whiny, slow and dim witted folks. Instead of an Intelligent response attacks people for stereotypical views on New York yet demonstrates a Stereotypical rude Newyorker attitude back after the articile asks for your views.
     
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  36. I had built a 48cc gasmotor on my cruiser bike. I do live in fla and of course sidewalks are not that busy at all. Long story short, safety first I commuted for 3 months while my car was down. We have worst car drivers ever, rode only on sidewalk and alked it accross streets. It is suiced to use any bike lane or road with cars stay off of that unless bikd lanes are put safetly behind gaurd rails and use plenty of common sense. Illegal, shouldn't be unless you ban bicycles all together. I do thing however to fast ormore than 48cc or 20 mph should be the limit.
     
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  37. Many larger food-moving enterprises that operate in NYC are keen to make a modal shift from motor vans to freight trikes; however, lack of legal electric-assist motor bike legislation is holding back massive movement in the right direction like a dam to river water. A bit of subtle thinking on the issue would yield tremendous rewards to NYC. Revolutionrickshaws.com already works with these enterprises, and can't move ahead on rapid expansion due to head-in-the-sand legislators among others.
     
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  38. Hopefully this is just a temporary measure while they sort out the laws for e-bikes. It will be a complicated issue, not just for NY but every city. Especially as technology gets better and e-bikes approach motorcycle performance.
    Some common sense is needed: yes a 2000W e-bike is more of a dirt bike than a bicycle and should need a license. But those models can't be lumped in the same category as a 250W kit which just helps pedal so I think a global ban on them would be a bad decision.
    From what I've seen in practice the cops do apply common sense. From my experience unless you're on a powerful e-bike or going way too fast for the area they don't harass you.
     
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