‘Dangerous and unsettling’: de Blasio raises ire for e-bike remarks as Queens pols push for legalization

Photo: Mark Hallum

As Queens lawmakers try to move the legalization of electronic bikes (e-bikes) forward, Mayor Bill de Blasio reignited criticism against him on May 10 for policies banning the use of electronic bikes and scooters, resulting in fines and confiscations that impact those in the city who can spare the least, some say.

On Friday’s Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio, de Blasio responded to a caller question about whether there would be action against careless operators of e-bikes who do not follow traffic regulations by stating he would work with the Legislature to govern the speeds.

The mayor also said it should be the business owners answering for e-bike violations rather than the rider.

“We’ve seen them going the wrong way, weaving through traffic, going up on the sidewalks, all the things that many, many New Yorkers find dangerous and unsettling, and they can reach very high speeds. And they’re illegal in New York City,” de Blasio said. “We are trying to work with the state Legislature that has the jurisdiction on this, to figure out if there is a law that could legalize them appropriately, put limits on how they’re used, lower the speed at which they can go – there is a physical way to modify the speed and if we can figure out how to do that, for existing e-bikes, and help e-bike owners to do that, I’d be very willing to figure out a way to. But the current situation is unacceptable and is dangerous.”

Marco Conner with Transportation Alternatives called de Blasio’s Friday broadcast a “targeted harassment” aimed at immigrants of meager earnings while citing NYPD data that show injuries from e-bikes amount for only a fraction of accidents citywide.

“The inaccuracies he is spreading are reckless, and frighteningly targeted at a vulnerable immigrant population,” Conner said. “They are underpaid and face untold risk to make well-below minimum wage salaries. No one has ever been killed by an e-bike in New York City … for him to be so swayed by anecdotes in the face of his own police department’s data is outright dangerous and inexcusable.”

According to NYPD Motor Vehicle Collisions data, cited by Conner, there were 45,775 traffic incidents resulting in injury and only 31 involved e-bikes. That same year, 11,115 pedestrians were injured by cars and trucks; e-bike injured only about nine.

“If there is any way to determine who is employing the delivery person, the fine and the consequence should go on that business, not on the individual,” de Blasio added. “I find a little astounding about this, that for many, many years deliveries were made in this city many, many ways that did not involve e-bikes and there still were plenty of deliveries. I think we need to get back to the notion that until this is made legal and until we have real safety rules in place, because safety is the first consideration, why don’t these businesses and these restaurants find another way to make their delivery rather than an e-bike?”

On May 3, advocates in Corona called on the de Blasio administration to back-pedal on a change to the administrative code in 2017 that allows NYPD to issue $500 tickets to riders – including delivery workers – using e-bikes.

Speakers at the rally were Asian and Hispanic immigrants who required translators to get their message across, but told tales of woe through what they believed was not a far cry from stop-and-frisk or broken-window policing.

Eduardo Perez-Torres said he had not only been forced to pay $2,000 in fines, but also had to shell out money to get his e-bike out of NYPD holding. After leaving the bank with the money to pay, he was robbed by a man posing as a police officer.

After getting his bike back over a month later, he found it had been damaged under the car of the police.

Mengba Lee, 58, had also found himself in a similar position. But as an aging delivery worker, it would be difficult for him to make money without a motor to help him along.

The two men said that just the fines alone set them far behind on wages.

Hoping to guide the issue to favorable outcome for immigrant delivery workers are state Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic.

A bill introduced in Albany will establish four new non-auto vehicle categories: pedal assist e-bikes, throttle-powered e-bikes, pedal-assist e-bikes and e-scooters.

While the Legal Aid Society is challenging the city policy of placing fines on e-bike users rather than business, Rozic and Ramos plan to have their legislation passed by the end of the next session in Albany.

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