Earlier this month, Local Law 39 came into effect in New York City. The law banned selling, leasing, and renting e-bikes that do not meet the safety standards established by the Underwriters Laboratories.

Local politicians and mainstream media have been quick to blame e-bikes for traffic safety issues in New York. However, this rhetoric is grossly unfair to e-bike riders. And here is why.

The police’s double standards

People who are advocating for bans or restrictions on e-bikes should provide clearer details about what they are specifically referring to.

In accordance with state law, bicycles without motors and e-bikes with pedals do not necessitate licensing or registration. However, users of these devices must adhere to speed limits, traffic lights, and yield to pedestrians.

In some instances, cyclists receive fines of $190 for passing through red lights, even if they stop and there are no pedestrians around. These penalties are equivalent to the fines that drivers of 4,000-pound cars face when they speed.

Some of these citations issued to cyclists are not solely for safety purposes. Otherwise, the police would also enforce red-light, failure-to-yield, and speeding laws on the busiest streets (which they do not). Cyclists are targeted more frequently for red-light violations because they are easier for the police to apprehend.

Contrary to what the politicians have been saying, cars and trucks remain the greatest threat to public safety in New York.

Car and truck crash statistics

The high number of people injured or killed by car and truck drivers is extremely concerning. Despite vehicles being registered and plated, the frequency of crashes remains unchanged. This raises questions about the lack of focus on these vehicles.

According to Gersh Kuntzman, car and truck drivers have caused 64,917 crashes since January 1. This averages out to more than 250 per day.

These crashes have resulted in injuries to 33,957 individuals, including 5,333 pedestrians. They have also caused 62 fatalities.

Should e-bike license plates be mandatory?

Encouraging bike ridership is in society’s best interest due to its health benefits, positive environmental impact, and comparatively low number of injuries caused by cyclists. Mandatory registration would disproportionately reduce cycling, particularly among casual riders. It would also undermine the safety benefits that come with larger numbers of cyclists on the road.

We don’t need to target environmentally friendly modes of transport or individuals working in food delivery in order to keep the public safe. What we need to do is to design safer roads for vulnerable road users.

In some parts of the city, pedestrians significantly outnumber both car drivers and cyclists. However, they’re provided with minimal space at corners, while drivers claim a majority of the road. These areas require pedestrian-friendly measures like wider sidewalks and lower speed limits.

Local officials should also implement wider and more numerous e-bike lanes. This is particularly important in bicycling hotspots.

Scapegoating New York’s e-bikes is a simplistic answer to a complex problem. It allows the politicians to look good while avoiding the hard work of sustainable urban planning.