A Crackdown on Electric Bicycles Coming from Two Directions

| July 20, 2012 4:00 AM

A deliveryman rides an electric bicycle down Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. The bikes are illegal and the city is starting to crack down. MetroFocus/ Georgia Kral

In New York City, ordering take-out meals is practically a way of life. Many people don’t cook, or work too much to cook, and depend on fast, reliable deliverymen to bring them whatever they desire. In many neighborhoods, especially in Manhattan, residents can call up a whole host of cuisines directly to their door.

Beyond wanting choice, New Yorkers want their food quickly, and they want it hot.

Restaurant deliverymen, in order to do their jobs well, often ride bicycles, and some have taken to riding electric bicycles. Either option is a known safety hazard. Reports of bicyclists riding the wrong way against traffic, riding on sidewalks and not obeying the rules of the road, are common.

The city has specific rules for bicycles used for commercial purposes. All commercial cyclists must wear a helmet, have a bell and a front and tail light and must carry identification, and electric bikes are illegal for any rider in New York City. According to the Department of Transportation, outreach is necessary to make sure deliverymen and their bosses know the rules. Earlier this week, the DOT announced its Delivery Cyclist Education and Enforcement Program.  On Monday, DOT representatives began visiting businesses on the Upper West Side to let owners and their employees know the rules of the road.  Next on their list is the Upper East Side.  The DOT will make return visits to make sure what they’ve advised gets implemented. If it hasn’t been, violations will be issued.

“New Yorkers are used to getting what they want, fast, but businesses that depend on bike deliveries can’t cut corners on safety,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement.

At the same time as the DOT crackdown on delivery cylists, Councilmember Dan Garodnick has introduced legislation that will double the fines issued to electric bike operators. Under the legislation, the maximum fine for riding an “e-bike” on a sidewalk would increase from $100 to $200.

“We have seen a clear proliferation of e-bikes [electric bikes] all around New York City,” said Garodnick in a phone interview. “They are deceptively fast, dangerous and illegal.”

A man rides an electric bicycle down Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. MetroFocus/ Georgia Kral

At a press conference last week in Sunnyside, Queens, where Garodnick introduced his bill, one senior citizen spoke about two instances in which seniors in wheelchairs  were struck by e-bikes.

An e-bike looks like a regular bicycle, but is powered by an electric motor that allows it to accelerate more quickly, upwards of 20 miles per hour. A rechargeable battery powers the motor. Although they are sold in New York City, their presence on city streets was banned in 2004.  But despite the law, e-bikes are prevalent.

“We want to create the proper economic disincentives,” said Garodnick. “At a minimum, we need to double the fine.”

When asked why the bikes shouldn’t just be confiscated, Garodnick said that would be too time consuming and costly for the police.

“We are open to other measures, but this is a first step,” he said.

Garodnick said the timing of his bill, which he introduced just before the DOT announced its campaign, was coincidental. But he also said it would be beneficial to his cause because the DOT will let businesses know that the e-bikes so many deliverymen ride are illegal.

In Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood densely populated with restaurants that do a brisk trade in take-out, MetroFocus found only a few managers that would talk about how their deliverymen get around. Multiple employees said they didn’t know about the deliverymen and said to come back later.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the managers who did speak to us said that the deliverymen they employed did not use e-bikes.

“They don’t use them here,” said Raj Kumar, the manager at Basera Indian Cuisine on Ninth Avenue.

But Kumar said he didn’t see a reason why they should be illegal.

“We need to get food to people quicker,” he said. “We’re in that business.”

David Sarmiento, manager at Arriba Arriba Mexican Cuisine on Ninth Avenue at 51st Street, said his deliverymen don’t ride bikes at all.  The restaurant’s website states the delivery area is 42nd to 59th streets and Sixth to Eleventh Avenues.

“We walk. In the city, using a bike is dangerous,” he said. “It puts employees at risk.”

At the Afghan Kebab House on Ninth Avenue, chef Muhammad Chaudry said that mostly Asian restaurant deliverymen rode the e-bikes.

“Chinese, Korean, sushi restaurants, they use them,” he said, adding that the bikes are very popular in China. The New York Times also reported last year that the electric bikes were widely used by Chinese immigrants delivering take-out.

And at Jerry’s Cafe on Chambers Street, near City Hall, manager Bryant Murphy said that while his deliverymen did not use e-bikes, he saw them often in his neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was in support of the proposed higher fine.

“It would cut down on accidents,” he said. “These guys are just buzzing around.”

Julio (who asked to be identified only by his first name), a Hell’s Kitchen resident who delivers take-out from Lucky’s Famous Burgers on 52nd Street for a living, rides a regular bicycle.

“I don’t like it [the e-bike] because it makes it too fast,” he explained. “You need to stop and you can’t stop quickly.”

Julio said he understood why others rode the e-bikes.

“They want to deliver more food. It’s more fast. They want to make more money,” he said.


“MetroFocus: Transforming Transportation” premieres on Tuesday, July 24 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21; Wednesday, July 25 at 10:30 p.m. on NJTV; and Thursday, July 26 at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

  • TJS

    Why would you ban the most efficient form of powered transport ever invented? No emissions at point of use, silent, congestion-beating. Get a grip, NYC.

    • http://scorcher.org/ Jym Dyer

      Human-powered bicycles are the most efficient form of ground transport in existence.  “No emissions at point of use” just means that the emissions elsewhere, generally spewing on communities of poor people.  But hey, out of sight, out of mind.

      • LoneStranger

        Not much electricity is used to charge the bike’s batteries. So not much on emissions elsewhere compared to if they were using gas powered scooters. 

        • http://scorcher.org/ Jym Dyer

          Certainly one can compare electric motors to something worse, and presto! an advantage can be found.  But the reality is that these are supplanting human-powered delivery.

          • Brian

            Ban cars too then.  These guys ride their bikes for hours in any weather. Of all the dangers on the streets of NYC, why this?

      • Ted Scheckler

        The electricity used to charge Ebikes produce a smaller carbon footprint than the food consumed by a cyclist to generate the same amount of power – look it up. Ebikes are definitely a step in the right direction versus vehicles using hydrocarbon fuels. You can’t compare a regular cyclist as an Ebike provides the opportunity to go longer, potentially quicker and can be used by folks that do not have the physical capability to ride a regular bicycle for any distance.

  • Wharvey9

    I think the electric bikes should be legal in NY.  I do not live in NYC but do live in the state of NY and should not be punished for someone elses neglect.  I am not able to drive a car and am stuck at home because we do not have a real bus schedule to get to the nearest town which is 5 miles down the road, if I was able to ride an electric bike it would allow me to get out of the house and be able to do some shopping, join a gym, or maybe even be able to volunteer.

    If the rider brakes the law by not riding the bike the way you are suppose to then definately give fines even double the fines but do not punish the rest of us responsible riders.

  • starrychloe
    • Wharvey9

      Thank you for the information. 

    • JoeWestcott

      Yes, thank you for the link! Ms. Georgia Kral, perhaps you can update this article to reflect the legal nature of some electric bikes?

  • Brian


  • http://www.electrobikeusa.com/ Bike Shop

    Very informative as well as traffic presence article. This article telling us lots.

  • John

    Seems like cars would be more dangerous than e-bikes.  NYC needs to stop over-regulating everything.

  • http://bartsz.com/ Bart

    Why do the e-bikes need to be outlawed completely? How about just defining speed limits and other rules that let people use them safely and fine just the people that use them dangerously? Are they more dangerous than Vespas? Motorcycles?

  • Simon

    The reason the e-bikes are illegal to ride is because they can’t and haven’t been classified as a regular human-powered bike, or as a moped/scooter.

    These e-bikes are deceptively fast and very quiet. I’m in Sunnyside and the delivery persons who use these e-bikes are often going wrong ways down one way streets, not following the traffic lights, but most of all zooming by on the sidewalks.

    This is a safety issue and those who do ride their e-bikes illegally without following the traffic laws or riding on sidewalks need to have bigger fines and/or their e-bikes confiscated.

    • Jibber Yoda

      then you give them a ticket WHEN they break traffic laws, not just ban the e-bikes completely. you know a gas powered bike can go on sidewalks too… this is bs.

  • fuck bloomberg

    Fuck dot bunch of morons

  • John M

    Lets ban Wheaties! It might male non electric bikes go faster! Pathetic!

  • “sick in the city”

    im not shocked that these rich snobs would keep something like the e bike from shining, too fast…? what about the cars and cabs zipping by at 40 to 60 mph or more while causing pollution and extreme traffic conditions. the only reason the city wants these bikes banned is because they cant get you to register, insure, and pay tickets on it. they want you to remain slaves to the system, relying on mta or dmv. alphabet boys just keep taking from our freedom and our wallets

  • john

    Bloomberg where are you on this?????electric power needs you

  • native new yorker

    The same people who complain about bicycle deliverymen et al are the same ones who will complain about cold and late food. Leave it to the city to spend millions on bike lanes for environmental snobs while financing it on the backs of hard working immigrants who rather hustle to provide a service than steal and sell drugs

  • JoeWestcott

    Why aren’t electric bikes legal already? Cars are far more dangerous and polluting, and it’s clear that the current fines and enforcement don’t do enough to stop car-related deaths. Bigger fines for e-bikes make sense due to the slight increase in danger over regular bikes, but let’s focus on the priorities, the bigger dangers roll around at high speeds on four wheels.

    This prompted me to donate to Transportation Alternatives, an organization trying to bring safety and sense to NYC streets.

  • China

    It might be far fetched to some ppl that I think the government is banning the E bikes because of petro. As I recall there was once an electric cars out there. The oil industry made the government banned them and confiscated them from owner that had them crushed every single one of them. I don’t know maybe I’m thinking much. I have asthma and I am poor ever since I brough the e-bike I saved alot of money not using mass transits and cabs. There reason for the banned is so hypocriticl because cyclists hit pedestrians even more.

  • Pattherealist

    Big oil is behind these laws I’d say, and also behind this article which is biased against e-bikes which are quite harmless, and are NOT causing accidents in the city! I have yet to see one being driven on the sidewalk! The city dont like the fact that owning an e-bike frees you from getting parking tickets, and thus loses a lot of potential revinue from fines, because you have no reg, no license requirements, dont need insurance.
    We need to stand up to these Nazis.

  • e Zeep mobility

    DUM politicians!! They think they are our MOM! YOU CAN’T STOP AN IDEA WHICH ITS TIME HAVE COME!
    Why don’t they focus more in providing infrastructure for e-bikes besides acting as dictator!

  • Ottoo

    This article had me slapping my forehead at least once for every paragraph, not so much for what the writer said or quoted others saying, but for the superb ignorance she/he displayed.

    The fact is that that the electric bike phenomenon appears to be EXCLUSIVELY a Chinese restaurant phenomenon. When seeing a non-Asian on an electric bike, you can be sure he is working for Chinese bosses. When a Japanese restaurant, they are Chinese owners. Taco restaurant — Chinese owners.

    Also, the phenomenon of riding on sidewalks is overwhelmingly a Chinese Delivery cyclist phenomenon. (Maybe it’s an acceptable practice in China. Who knows?)

    There is a story here, one which I have no seen written, about why a cheap Chinese takeout joint can spend, easily $10,000, or MUCH more (at $2000+ per bike), on bicycles for delivery boys to deliver piping-hot Moo goo gai pan and greasy egg rolls, but no other restaurant feels the need to send out dangerous riders on unnecessary missions riding a fleet of bikes that costing about as much as does a world-class racing bike?

  • Jibber Yoda

    god is the usa backwards. it’s incredible! electric bikes illegal??????????!!!!!!!! how is this EVEN possible? what dimwit bans what is better for the environment and the public’s health????? AMAZING stupidity.

  • Brigita

    What is the range of an electric bike (number of hours or miles before the batteries die)? Can you recharge the batteries at a restaurant during a lunch stop? Regards, (elektriniai dviračiai)

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