It took a Midtown fire caused by e-bike batteries, but action is finally moving toward controlling the hazardous, unlicensed vehicles. Senator Liz Krueger whose district takes in Roosevelt Island, starting in January, dived into waters no one touched before.
by David Stone
As e-bike, e-scooter and moped use grew rapidly in New York City, official diffidence alarmed many. To no avail. Unlicensed, uninsured two-wheelers raced through the streets, ignoring traffic safety laws with impunity.
People were injured or even killed as riders ran free, meeting the demands of New Yorkers eager for cheap food delivered fast.
Now, some efforts are underway to fix the hazards a lais·sez-faire approach created.
The Problem with E-Bike Batteries
The shortcomings in regulation that allowed six deaths by fire in 2022, so far, were slow to hit the mass media horizon. As we reported yesterday, the fires and loss of life from e-bike batteries were taken seriously only after one happened in Midtown Manhattan.
“When a piece of equipment has the potential to cause so much damage, we simply cannot have a wild west approach without any oversight,” Krueger said in a press release.
“Micromobility devices are here to stay, and their use is continuing to expand. So, we must act quickly to ensure they are used in a responsible way that doesn’t put other people at risk.”
To that end, Krueger introduced two bills in the State Senate. One bill prohibits the sale of e-bike batteries unless they are tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. The second prohibits the sale of reconditioned or second-use lithium-ion batteries.
But the Daily Barrage of Hazards on the Street Remains
Roosevelt Islander Anne Long, quoted in a WPIX article, says she sees e-bikes and e-scooters “[On the] sidewalk, a lot. A lot.”
This goes beyond limited concerns over e-bike batteries to broader daily risks that keep many, including seniors and the disabled, off the streets and sidewalks that are not safe.
Here on Roosevelt Island, the wild west Krueger mentions occurs daily. The free-for-all crosswalk and stop sign violations are worse because they often happen while public safety officers stand by.
Watch any crosswalk. The understanding among micromobility riders that they need not fear any enforcement is obvious. The majority race through without pause or concern for people and pets in marked crosswalks.
Is a Solution at Hand?
City Council Member Robert Holden introduced a bill that “requires that all two- or three-wheeled vehicles be registered, plated, and driven with a license, and, of course, insured.”
That’s exactly what should’ve become law when the powered two-wheelers became so much more active on the streets several years ago.
But it begs a question: if departments charged with enforcing the laws, like the Public Safety Department on Roosevelt Island, are not up to enforcing already existing laws, how will new laws make any difference?
The goodwill and advocacy of Krueger and Holden only go so far. Without motivated, committed professionals stepping up enforcement, what we have is just more paper shuffling around town.