NEW YORK (BRAIN) — Don DiCostanzo has seen e-bike access battles play out successfully in other states and cities, but he’s skeptical a bill pending in New York — which also includes e-scooters — will become law.
“New York City is the only city in the country that’s been anti-electric bike, and that has had an impact on the entire state,” said DiCostanzo, CEO of Pedego Electric Bikes. “For political reasons, certainly not any other reasons, they opted to make it difficult for electric bikes.”
The state legislature approved the e-bike and e-scooter bill in June. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to sign it before the Dec. 31 deadline. The bill would give the three classes of e-bikes the same rights of the road as traditional bicyclists throughout the state and give local municipalities the right to regulate them at their discretion. Currently, only pedal-assist e-bikes are allowed.
The legislation recognizes three classes of e-bikes: pedal-assist and throttle-control with 20 mph maximum speed and throttle-control with 25 mph maximum speed. E-scooters would be capped at 20 mph. Riders would need to be at least 16 years old, and local municipalities would decide if they would be allowed on sidewalks. E-scooters would not be allowed in Manhattan because it’s the city’s busiest borough.
Cuomo has cited safety concerns and the use of electric transportation on public sidewalks.
“But at the end of the day, I think it’s the scooters that have messed it all up,” DiCostanzo said. “We’ve seen it in other cities — Austin (Texas) in particular — they infiltrate the place without following any rules, and then they categorize electric bikes in the same category. Same thing happened to us in Long Beach, and I went to the mayor and I successfully convinced the mayor: the scooters — I agree with you 100% — but with the electric bike, you’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. I got them not to include electric bikes as part of the scooter regulations. I think that’s the catch.”
Concerns over food delivery workers using e-bikes in a dangerous manner also has contributed to the New York City backlash against e-bikes. The city council’s public safety chair, Donovan Richards, said the New York Police Department has been harassing e-bike delivery workers. Mayor Bill de Blasio began an initiative in 2014 to curb dangerous driving, which included e-bike riders.
“Unfortunately, the delivery riders continued to get the short end of the stick,” said Chris Nolte, owner of Propel New York, a Brooklyn store. “This bill is different from others pushed forward historically because this one is pushed more to give the rights to delivery riders, but the challenge is New York City doesn’t really fully embrace this concept of 25 mph throttle-activated bikes.”
DiCostanzo said the delivery rider concern is an enforcement issue and shouldn’t result in curtailing e-bike use.
“I think Mayor de Blasio is doing political issues,” DiCostanzo said. “People getting mowed over on sidewalks. That’s a problem. This gets further convoluted because the same people doing the Ubers are doing the scooters and electric bikes. They’re going in kind of like bullies and saying you have to get this stuff passed. De Blasio was anti-electric bikes from the beginning. He’s blocking the state from passing the law. Why should New York City get to govern the rest of the state? Cuomo needs to sign that law, and it doesn’t look like he is or he would’ve by now.”
Nolte said regardless of the bill’s fate, he’s pleased the subject is being debated. He has owned Propel in Brooklyn since 2015. He also opened a location in Long Beach, California, last year.
“The good news from my perspective is that we’re getting more interest in this and eventually something can be introduced and passed that works for everybody,” he said.