Two city councilmen drew attention on July 12 in Sunnyside to what they say are reckless electric bike drivers in an effort to ramp up police enforcement and to start the engine on pending legislation to double fines.
Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), cosponsors of a bill to increase fines for electric bike violators, said they have received many complaints about these bikers riding on the sidewalks and running red lights. Electric bikes look almost like regular bicycles, but have a little battery pack typically located under the handlebars.
“If there’s one place we should feel safe, it’s on the sidewalks,” Community Board Chairman Joe Conley said.
“I think it’s ridiculous. They are trying to ruin Queens Boulevard,” Sunnyside born and raised resident Leonore Lazillotti said, adding she thinks electric bikes and standard bicylists are both dangerous to pedestrians.
The bill, if passed, would increase the fine for e-bikers riding on the sidewalk from $100 to $200 and the penalty for eating a red light from a maximum of $450 to $900. The bill should go before the council’s Transportation Committee in the fall.
The bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives said there shouldn’t be a distinction made between traditional bikes and electric bikes.
“The problem isn’t the bike; it is how it’s being ridden,” said Juan Martinez, general council at TA, adding electric bikes are a good environmental option for people who wouldn’t cycle on a traditional bike. “The bill is not the best solution, more enforcement of what puts people at risk is.”
“The need for better enforcement is clear,” Garodnick agreed.
However, enforcement can be tricky.
A City Council law passed in 2004 states that electric bicycles are considered illegal if they can exceed a speed of 15 miles per hour. State law says the bikes are motorcycles and need to be registered with the DMV. The DMV will not do this, Martinez said. Lastly, federal law says the bikes are legal up to 20 mph.
Federal law usually trumps city and state law, Martinez said.
Van Bramer added that he has spoken to the Sunnyside-based 108th Precinct, whose officers said they were doing their best to mitigate this “epidemic of reckless driving.” However, he added that more summonses should be handed out.
The bill would apply to all e-bike riders; but, Garodnick highlighted delivery drivers on July 12, saying they are part of the problem. Take-out deliverers must wear clothing or a sign clearly demarcating what establishment they work for, which sometimes is followed and sometimes not, he said.
The fine would go to the rider, but a note would be made of which restaurant employs him or her.
Conley added he would like to see these violations put online so patrons could see the infractions and make a difference by choosing to use the establishment or not. Also, in the future the violations could be referred to when a business applies for a liquor license.