Councilmen push e-bike legalization after crackdown

Posted

Joseph Bohm claims there’s no better way to zip through Kingsbridge and Riverdale than on his electric bicycle.

He used to drive his car to work on Sedgwick Avenue about a mile away from his Henry Hudson Parkway apartment.

“It was about an eight-minute drive, and then I would spend 30 minutes looking for parking,” Bohm said — either that, or a 25-minute walk, far from ideal in the dead of winter or stifling July.

But it was on a trip to Israel — where Bohm says so-called e-bikes are fairly prevalent — that finally nudged him to try one out.

“I was like, ‘What are these things?’” Bohm said. “‘These would be great for me.’”

Inspired, Bohm bought an e-bike from China online and parted ways with his car, putting an end to his days as a perennially parking-plagued motorist.

 

A two-wheeled commute

For years, Bohm commuted on his e-bike to his West 238th Street office, before the energy services company he runs moved to its current Fieldston Road location a couple blocks from his home. Now a quick stroll from work, Bohm still rides his e-bike to job sites, claiming it’s a more efficient, convenient, environmentally friendly means of getting around — especially when his stop is just a mile or two away.

The economics are irresistible, Bohm added, since an e-bike could cost around $1,500, plus a nominal monthly electricity cost of a few dollars. His bike is foldable, too, fitting compactly into his closet.

“It was faster,” Bohm said. “It was less expensive — no insurance, no tolls, no stuff like that. It’s a time-saver and a money-saver. If you’re driving two or three miles to your office, it makes a lot of sense to consider an e-bike.”

Now, if a couple local lawmakers have their way, it could be legal, too.

Councilmen including Ydanis Rodriguez and Fernando Cabrera have introduced a four-bill package that would legalize not just electric bicycles, but also electric scooters, while establishing an e-bike conversion program.

Electric scooters — which would be limited to traveling no more than 15 mph under the proposed legislation — provide an affordable, environmentally friendly, efficient mode of transportation as the city’s decrepit transit infrastructure continues to worsen and fares rise, Cabrera’s office said. E-bikes would be limited to 20 mph.

 

No support from de Blasio

The push to legalize these electric vehicles could spark a donnybrook in City Hall, according to published reports, since Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has insisted state law bans electric bicycles that operate with a throttle — the primary e-bike type food delivery workers use. The mayor has called e-bicycles a serious threat to public safety on the city’s streets and lauded a police crackdown last year that confiscated hundreds of e-bikes.

Immigrants’ rights advocates, meanwhile, have criticized crackdown efforts as unfairly targeting delivery workers peddling through long shifts.

Yet Cabrera insists e-scooters in particular could be a salve for the city’s throbbing public transit wound.

“We’re having a transportation crisis in the entire city,” Cabrera said. “Specifically, here in the Bronx, we have seen traffic jams like we’ve never experienced before. If we’re going to see a reduction of the use of cars on the road, we need to have some alternative.”

 

An alternative to mass transit?

Citywide bike lanes also could be used for e-scooters, Cabrera said, pointing to cities in Oregon and California where e-scooter sharing programs reportedly reduced cars on the road by as much as a third.

“New York City is a very compressed area, which makes it very feasible and practical for people to have e-scooters to go from one point to another,” Cabrera said. “If I live in Riverdale, and I want to get to Lehman College, it makes sense to take a scooter.”

Rodriguez — who chairs the council’s transportation committee — claims demand and widespread use already exist, so it’s high time the city legalize  electric scooters and bikes. But legalizing e-scooters and e-bikes also would be a boon to the immigrant riders who rely on them to do their jobs, Rodriguez added, as well as their customers.

“Think about someone who’s ordering food in Riverdale from a restaurant down the hill,” Rodriguez said. Legalizing e-bikes would allow eateries along Broadway’s commercial corridor in Kingsbridge to zoom up to North Riverdale delivering still-steaming meals.

Eric Soufer, a spokesman for e-scooter company Bird that already has implemented scooter sharing programs in dozens of cities from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, says e-scooters can be particularly enticing in places like Riverdale, where subway access often is problematic.

“There’s a real appetite for small, lightweight devices that provide increased mobility,” Soufer said. Riders “want a safe, affordable, environmentally sustainable way of getting from point A to point B.”

City council Speaker Corey Johnson hasn’t endorsed the proposed legislation, but said he’d follow it closely through the legislative process, while expressing sympathy for delivery workers getting “hit with tickets while they are trying to do their jobs.”

“I am open to alternative means of transportation,” Johnson added, which could make further service cuts a little less irksome for public transit users.

 

Rolling forward

Cabrera is gunning for a hearing of the legislation early next year, or even sooner.

“We want to expedite this, if needed, in light of all the traffic nightmares we’ve been experiencing,” Cabrera said. “There’s an urgency to do this. It’s going to be in the very near future.”

Given all the reasons e-scooter and e-bike champions have pushed legalization, Bohm hopes Cabrera is right.

“The city needs to do a better job of accounting for more sustainable transportation,” Bohm said. “I have no idea why de Blasio is deciding to take a hard stance of not allowing it. His perception is that they’re dangerous. For some reason he believes that e-bikes — even though there’s no data that shows it — are a threat to pedestrians.

“I think if the city was smart, they would regulate it. To have legislation is the first step of regulating it.”

Comments