Op-Ed: Legislate rules of the road for bicyclists, e-bikes and e-scooters

E-ScooterPolitical Cartoon

City driving was never for the faint of heart, but all the bicycles, e-bikes and e-scooters of various speeds and sizes has pushed anxiety to an all-time high. Driving down Coney Island Avenue recently, a cyclist weaving through traffic cut me off and sped right past my car. My breath caught in my chest as I slammed the break. Unfazed, he cycled on illegally crossing the double yellow line to speed off through oncoming traffic. It is increasingly common to encounter bicycle, e-bike and e-scooter riders navigating NYC streets like a video game, as if another life was just a click away.

The City is asleep at the wheel when it comes to regulating bikes and e-vehicles, though it strongly regulates drivers. Navigating sidewalks, streets and parks is a bloody battle for pedestrians, too. For every tragic headline, many more alarming reports pour into my office stressing the urgency to educate and regulate the swelling number of bicycles and e-vehicles. We all want safe streets, and we all must share the responsibility. One road, one rule is the way forward.

My VISION 2.ZERO legislation includes all legal personal mobility vehicles on NYC streets:

  1.     (S7203) Requires a helmet when operating a bicycle, e-bike or e-scooter. 
  2.     (S7204) Establishes a DMV Bicycle and E-vehicle Education Course and license. 
  3.     (S7205) Creates a double licensure path; be both a safe driver and cyclist/e-vehicle rider. 
  4.     (S7206) Requires registration and license plates for bicycles/e-vehicles.
  5.     (S7294) Requires liability insurance for bicycles/e-vehicles.  
State Sen. Simcha Felder

The City should have codified road rules and educated cyclists back in 2013 when it launched Citi Bike. Instead, it provided a false sense of security by promoting cycling to the mainstream. Vision Zero was introduced a year later, but the numbers of cyclist injuries and fatalities from 2013-2019 remain comparable. While failing to secure cyclists’ safety, the City went on to legalize a host of e-vehicles. While bikes and e-vehicles are not cars, they are responsible for a rapidly rising number of catastrophic injuries and fatalities. We must do better.

Eight years later, the city has no mechanism for education or enforcement. To operate a bicycle or e-vehicle capable of speeds above the average speed limit on NYC streets, a person simply needs to jump on and go. Drivers, by comparison, study road rules to pass a permit test, take a safety course and supervised practice, before passing a road test. Grab and Go options are great for lunch, but rideshare business models and unregulated forms of transportation promoting the same split-second decision-making, gamble with lives. 

E-vehicle riders are dangerously unprepared. This Consumer Reports national survey of adult e-scooter riders is telling: 51 percent ride on the sidewalk. 18 percent ride in the street, but not a bike lane, while close to 20 percent feel unsafe around cars. More than 25 percent say pedestrians got in the way, while 8 percent report malfunctions. 

Worse, the City has no idea how many people are zipping around on electric-powered vehicles; it doesn’t keep track. Leaving drivers, pedestrians and cyclists sharing congested roads with a growing array of unregulated vehicles that too often appear out of nowhere. Bicycles and e-vehicles must be visible and predictable to motorists and pedestrians!

To reduce injuries to New Yorkers, everyone in a passenger vehicle must be seat belted and everyone on a motorcycle must wear a helmet. It defies science and logic that NYC still has no helmet law for adult cyclists and many classes of e-vehicle riders. Many cities adopted the measure given a four-star rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but in NYC, you can weave through traffic and speed through red lights un-helmeted, often with no lights or reflective gear in poor visibility conditions, posing a grave risk to yourself and others. 

For years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) denied requests for interventions on streets with high rates of traffic accidents. Now, despite the details, every bicycle tragedy elicits the same Pavlovian response: The opportunists condemn cars and drivers to kingdom come and the City rushes in with an expedited safety improvement (aka painted bike lane). Painted bike lanes do not improve safety for anyone on the road. With all this uncontrolled chaos, calling this a safety improvement is madness!

If we want safer streets for everyone, then the next step forward is clear – the system that governs vehicles on our roads must include every legal vehicle. Ensure everyone is educated in road rules and held accountable for breaking them. Register and plate vehicles so we have hard data and license plates to aid enforcement. Update Drivers Education with a double licensure path – driving and cycling – creating a generation that considers their actions equally from both sides. 

NYC is the largest, most densely populated city in the nation. Brooklyn’s population alone rivals the top largest cities. On these streets, sanctioning a mushrooming mass of unregulated e-vehicles and bicycles is inconceivable. Allowing people to ride untrained, unprotected, and unaccountable among millions of cars, trucks and pedestrians, is not only disgraceful, it is deadly. 

State Sen. Simcha Felder represents the 17th Senate District encompassing the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood, Flatbush, Borough Park, Kensington, Sunset Park, Madison and Bensonhurst.