Posted on June 9, 2021 at 9:01 pm by West Sider
By Maya Mau
A Community Board 7 committee voted to ban electric bikes from bike lanes at its meeting Tuesday night, citing crashes and near-misses involving e-bikes in the neighborhood.
The move comes after Hing Chung, manager of Upper West Side restaurant Jing Fong, was killed after being struck by an e-bike in the bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in April.
E-bikes, many of which are used by delivery workers, have become a flashpoint in recent months. Workers — many of them immigrants — have begun organizing for more rights, including for better pay from delivery apps, protection from police and even for the right to use restaurant bathrooms. A Community Board 7 committee was previously criticized for not being sympathetic enough to their concerns.
A Department of Transportation rep who came to the meeting shared that it has educational campaigns and communicates with precincts about these issues with the hopes of minimizing the number of accidents. Nevertheless, the rep noted that bikers still often ride through red lights.
Several community board members expressed their concern about pedestrian safety, with some citing their own experience with bikers – both human-powered and electric – who are negligent about street rules.
Under New York State law, e-bikes are now classified in the same category as regular bicycles. Some board members thought that the law is appropriate, while others believe that non-electric bicycles should be treated differently. E-bikes are currently permitted to travel up to 25 miles per hour, the same as the speed limit for cars in New York City.
Committee member Jay Adolf introduced the resolution, highlighting the two things he thinks can and should be done. The first is keeping e-bikes out of bike lanes. The second is calling for more enforcement of vehicle and traffic laws.
He also recommended a study into other issues including the potential impact of helmet requirements and age restrictions for e-bike riders. Members also discussed whether they should have to register the bikes, and issues of financial liability.
Committee members then debated the resolution. Many cited anecdotal evidence, while others emphasized the need for a data-driven approach. Some disagreed with parts of the resolution, arguing that removing e-bikes from bike lanes could encourage e-bike riders to ride on the sidewalk and lead to more accidents in vehicle lanes. In addition, some expressed concern that the transportation committee’s energy could be better spent if focused on cars and trucks.
Ken Coughlin, a committee member, believes that the resolution passed is misguided and proposed an amendment to widen bike lanes in an attempt to accommodate bikes going at different speeds.
“I understand that [the original resolution’s] objective is to make the streets safer but it would have the opposite effect,” Couglin wrote in response to emailed questions after the meeting. “It would banish any rider of an electric bicycle, including Citi Bike riders, from bike lanes and force them to mix with traffic. This is clearly more dangerous for these street users and it would be more dangerous for pedestrians and motorists as well because e-bikes and e-scooters would be all over the road in unpredictable ways.”
Committee member Richard Robbins also said that the resolution targets delivery workers, and will result in fatalities if they are forced into vehicle traffic.
First, the board conducted a vote on Coughlin’s amendment to widen bike lanes so that slow and fast bikes could ride separately, but that resolution failed.
Then, the board conducted a vote on an alternative amendment to recall the removal of e-bikes from bike lanes and hold third-party delivery services responsible for their delivery drivers. Adolf pointed out several times that this may not be legal. Again, among both committee members and non-committee members, more people voted against than in favor, so it failed to pass.
Lastly, the board conducted a vote on the original resolution, with some amendments. Seven committee members voted in favor while three voted against. Four non-committee members voted in favor and three voted against so Adolf’s original resolution passed. We have asked for a copy of the resolution with the amendments, and were told it is likely to be posted on the community board website in the coming days.
The full Community Board is expected to vote on the resolution on July 6.