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Editorial: E-bike legislation covers all the bases

Editorial: E-bike legislation covers all the bases

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should have no qualms about signing it
Editorial: E-bike legislation covers all the bases
New York lawmakers earlier this year passed a comprehensive bill that would expand the use of power-assisted bikes, or e-bikes.

If state lawmakers had passed a reckless piece of legislation that didn’t consider all the potential safety concerns, regulatory pitfalls and people’s general reluctance to adopt new, unfamiliar technology, then we’d be joining Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his hesitation about a bill that would allow for the expansion of electronic bikes and scooters in New York.

But lawmakers — perhaps enlightened by the positive and negative experiences of power-assisted bikes and scooters in cities around the country — have crafted a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses virtually all legitimate concerns expressed by opponents.

Most states have had very positive experiences with legalization, and the e-bikes in particular have proven to be just about as safe as traditional bikes.

It’s time for New York to join the rest of the country in allowing the e-bike industry, and New York bike riders, to take off.

There are many reasons why it’s time for the state to allow e-bikes and e-scooters.

The most obvious one is that it will help older riders and those with limited physical abilities the opportunity to ride a bicycle and get some exercise. The electronic assist comes in handy for those people when they become tired or have trouble ascending hills.

One writer to The Gazette, whose letter will appear in Monday’s paper, wrote in support of the legislation as an “aging Baby Boomer with a sore knee.”

Others who will benefit are those who have limited access to other types of transportation for work and recreation, such as lower-income riders, female riders and riders of color, the bill memo states. Among those who rely on e-bikes and scooters to earn a living wage are food-delivery workers.

And as modes of transportation go, e-bikes and e-scooters are far less polluting that cars, and cities with e-bike initiatives such as Phoenix, Ariz.; Denver, Colo.; and Portland, Ore., have noticed a significant drop in the number of motor vehicles as more people have taken to the e-bikes and e-scooters. And Portland officials conducted a safety study and found a reduction in the number of injuries and fatalities due to greater use of these modes of transportation.

The New York bill (A7431B/S5294A), which handily passed both houses of the Legislature last month with unanimous support from our local lawmakers, essentially would treat e-bikes just like any other type of bicycle in the state and subject them to the same rules of the road.

It established three classes of e-bikes, depending on the top speed of the bicycle and when and how the electronic assist can be triggered. For instance, a Class one e-bike is defined as one in which the motor only operates when the rider is pedaling and only up to 20 mph. The motors on Class two e-bikes could operate even without the person pedaling, and would stop when the bike reaches 20 mph. The Class 3 designation of e-bikes relates only to New York City.

To protect pedestrians from e-bikes, the law prohibits them from being ridden on the sidewalk, as is the rule for regular bikes, and cyclists must yield the right of way to pedestrians. E-scooters have rules that reflect the rules for non-motorized scooters.

The legislation also prohibits e-bikes from being operated by anyone under age 16 and prohibits cyclists from carrying passengers under 16. 

One could argue that some communities aren’t conducive to having people riding electric-powered bikes and scooters on the streets and sidewalks.

Well, the law covers that, too, extending regulatory power to towns, villages and cities to set their own rules for operation, including where and when the bikes and scooters can be ridden, whether riders must wear helmets (the state law doesn’t specifically require them) and other safety provisions.

In fact, communities are entitled to pass local laws outright prohibiting them.

All of this positivity is not to say there won’t be potential problems. 

Some cities that have allowed electronic scooters in particular have been overwhelmed by their popularity, and pedestrians have complained or sometimes been injured by people driving them recklessly. For cities and towns that haven’t yet developed comprehensive transportation plans that allow a safe marriage of motor vehicles, bikes and scooters, these communities can control the expansion of their use until their streets are able to handle it. Again, if a city fears its sidewalks are too crowded to allow people to zoom around on scooters, it doesn’t have to allow them.

No community in the state is having these vehicles thrust upon them, a very important fixture in this law.

With the overall positive safety record of e-bikes and scooters nationwide, the ability to expand the transportation options for many New Yorkers limited by income or physical ability, and the right of localities to set their own regulations on use, this legislation passes all the tests.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should have no qualms about signing it.

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